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October 20, 2017
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Four Stages To Christian Maturity For The Marketplace Professional

Os Hillman • Theology of Work
There are four distinct stages to Christian maturity. Os provides the Apostle Peter as an example of the various stages most of us will pass through.
We live in a day in which there are more Christians on the earth than any previous time. There are more churches and more conversions taking place in our lifetime than any time in the history of the church. George Barna, noted researcher on the church, sites that by the upcoming year 2,000 less people will be interested in absolutes, preferring those perspectives which allow relative values to gain credence. Pluralism is becoming the rule.

Barna states that 30-35% 1of the population states they are born again Christians. Yet, America has the highest number of single parent households among major countries: 22.9% compared to the next largest being West Germany at 17.5%. 1

Barna also sites that we are a society that is more often driven to afford leisure activities than achieve a purpose. "We are not a society that simply enjoys its time off. Our leisure appetites drive us. It is increasingly common to hear of people turning down job offers because the hours or other responsibilities would interfere with their hobbies, fitness regimens and other free time activities. Even our spending habits show that playing has become a major priority. The average household spends more money on entertainment than it does clothing, health care, furniture or gasoline."

Several years ago Christianity Today did a study in which they found that Christians give only 2.5% of their money away. 2 Several studies have been done on this subject that all confirm similar disturbing trends.

The workplace fares no better for Christians.  In December 1983, The Princeton Religion Research Center published a landmark survey conducted for The Wall Street Journal by the Gallup Organization. The researchers measured a wide range of moral and ethical behaviors, such as calling in sick when not sick, cheating on income tax, and pilfering company supplies for personal use. The results were disappointing, to say the least.

But what the researchers found most startling was that there was no significant difference between the churched and the unchurched in their ethics and values on the job. In other words, despite the fact that more and more people attend churches, churches seem to be having less and less of an impact on the moral fiber of their people, at least in the workplace.

To quote the researchers:

"These findings...will come as a shock to the religious leaders and underscore the need for religious leaders to channel the new religious interest in America not simply into religious involvement, but in deep spiritual commitment."

 

                        - Princeton Religion Research Center

I have had the privilege to work with men and women in the marketplace movement for several years. Over these years, I have noticed a pattern of spiritual progress among individuals that is consistent with the way God has worked with his leaders in the Bible. These four distinct stages are the 1) Evangelism Stage, 2) Equipping Stage, 3) Empowering Stage, and 4) Engaging Stage.

I have noticed that those who are being greatly used in the Kingdom of God in and through their business life have successfully walked through each stage successfully. Let me briefly explain each stage.

Evangelism Stage

The Evangelism Stage is the first step in all of our pilgrimages. We meet Christ personally. Our lives are changed. A new birth has occurred. When Jesus called the disciples, all of them were active in their place of work. Peter was fishing. Matthew was collecting taxes.  Luke was a physician. At some point, each of them met and began to follow Jesus. This is the first stage of any walk with God.

Equipping Stage

The next stage is the Equipping Stage. This is the time when the believer is discipled through Bible studies, local church attendance and personal Bible study. During this stage, the individual grows in their understanding of the way of God and the knowledge of God. The disciples were personally discipled by Jesus himself. They learned more by what he did than through just his words spoken.

The problem with the Equipping Stage is that many never advance beyond the Equipping (or knowledge stage). In the early church, the Hebrews learned wisdom through obedience. The Greeks learned wisdom through reason and analysis. After the first several centuries passed, the Greeks came along and began to have influence church. Their knowledge-based learning systems  began to impact the church through more Greek oratory (the modern sermon) and speaking skills. The early church rabbis did not speak from podiums, but sat with the congregation in a circle. They were there more as quality control than the main focal point. Even Paul acknowledged this when he made the statement in 1 Corinthians 2:4,5: "My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power, so that your faith might not rest on men's wisdom, but on God's power." This Greek influence led to a more programmatic influence within the church, which is largely what we see today.

So, this is why many Christians never make it to the next stage.

Empowering Stage

The third stage is the Empowering Stage. It is the most difficult of all stages and many men and women never get to this stage. It comes with great cost. There were many in the Bible who had their personal Empowering StIt usually involves a crisis.  Peter denied Jesus three times and questioned his own belief in Christ. Moses was banned from Egypt for 40 years. Joseph was thrown into a pit, sold into slavery, and spent years in a prison. The apostle Paul spent many days persecuted and jailed for his faith.

The Empowering Stage is the point of decision for the Christian. He is forced to go outside his own strength and rely on Christ as never before. It is the circumcision of heart for every person. Many people come into this Empowering Stage as a result of some personal crisis - a business failure, a marriage crisis, a death of a loved one - any number of events can bring the individual to the "end of himself." That is precisely the point God wants to make with each of his children - there must be an end to self. God wants a death to take place in every individual. "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. "The life I live in the body, I live by the faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me" (Galatians 2:20).

The church has often even prevented this from taking place. When a person enters this circumcision process, we often want to free them from crisis under the guise of Christian mercy. Don't get me wrong; we do need to respond to difficult things people go through. But we must not be quick to solve every problem. This may not be what is needed.

A mentor and Godly man once said to me, "It was all I could do not to cut open the cocoon and let you fly out. However, I knew that if I did I would be a hindrance to allowing you to become the man God wanted you to be." At the time, these words were not comforting. But today, I am glad he withheld his physical assistance. I was a Christian businessman for twenty years before God allowed me to receive a circumcision of heart that allowed me to experience Christ fully. And that is the purpose for the death experience. To experience new life and more abundantly.

R.G. LeTourneau, a successful businessman who gave millions to Christian causes, had his own circumcision of heart after experiencing many ups and downs as a Christian in business. In LeTourneau's own account of that time in his life, he recalls:

 

"The words were few, but the meaning ran deep. All that long night I reviewed my past, and saw where I had been paying only token tribute to God, going through the motions of acting like a Christian, but really serving myself and my conscience instead of serving Him. Instead of being a humble servant, I was taking pride in the way I was working to pay my material debts at the garage, while doing scarcely a thing to pay my spiritual debt to God.

           

For my lesson that night I can now say that when a man realizes that spiritual things are worth more--and certainly, they will last when material things are gone--he will work harder for spiritual things. I discovered then that God loves us so much that He wants us to love Him in return. He wants us to cooperate with His program. Alluding to Matthew 6:33 regarding seeking the kingdom of God first, he added, That I had not been doing. I had been seeking first my own way of life, and I firmly believe God had to send those difficulties into our lives to get us to look up into His face and call upon Him for His help and guidance." 4 

The Empowering Stage is the missing ingredient for many Christians today, especially in the marketplace. This is why we do not see Christians impacting our culture.

When a Christian businessperson successfully passes through this Empowering Stage, he becomes a powerful force in the Kingdom of God. R.G. LeTourneau cites this time as the turning point in his life with God. J. C. Penney had a similar encounter that changed his life in his fifties after he had lost everything in the great stock market crash. The men and women who are impacting the Kingdom of God today through business have all gone through an Empowering Stage. It is the right of passage.

Gunnar Olson is a modern day example of a man who is impacting the Kingdom of God through business. He is the founder of the International Christian Chamber of Commerce, now operating in over 80 countries. Several years ago God spoke to Gunnar and told him to give all of his money away to a needy family. He was alarmed. When he shared it with his wife they questioned whether this was God. They fasted and prayed and believe it was God. He had been saving to purchase a business and he had two small children at home at the time. Once he determines this was God speaking, he was obedient, giving every cent to the needy family. He had nothing left in savings, checking account or even on his person. He did not know where the next meal would come from. He told no one outside his family. This was Gunnar's own Abraham-Isaac experience. What you don't know is that Gunnar had been asking God to prove that He was faithful as a provider outside the realm of business. God showed him how He was going to do this.

It was a tremendous test that became the central point of Gunnar's relationship with God. Gunnar learned that God could be faithful because he saw firsthand how God miraculously provided for he and his family. Some time later God had a man come and give Gunnar a business.

The Engagement Stage

The Engagement Stage is the last stage. It is the stage when faith becomes works. So often stage one and two are the only stages that many ever achieve. However, those who have successfully gone through the first three stages are motivated to impact their world out of a genuine love of God, not guilt. Their works become an outflow of a life lived in obedience and fellowship with Christ.

Gunnar Olson has impacted nations because of the fruit from his life. R.G. LeTourneau has impacted Christian causes greatly from his giving. It was said he gave 90% of his income away toward the end of his life.

Today, we live in a culture that encourages the Engagement Stage without ever passing through the Empowering Stage. This Engagement Stage can often result in a work of the flesh. You see, many good people want to do good works based on their belief in God. God wants God-things, not good-things. However, unless someone has gone through an Empowering Stage, they may be responding out of guilt and shame. This becomes a sad commentary. Business people begin to use their fleshly business skills to make a spiritual impact. And it doesn't work. This can often create more harm than good.

It is believed that there were 5,000 who believed in Jesus during the time he walked on earth. Of those 5,000 it is estimated that 500 actually followed Jesus from place to place and put into practice what Jesus was teaching. However, there were only 12 who lived the life Jesus lived, who died like Jesus died, who identified completed with Christ in all aspects of his life. These had an ongoing, daily relationship with the savior. Jesus is asking us to have that same kind of relationship with him. 

So, where does this leave us? If you are a business person who desires to follow God you need to make sure you have had an Empowering Stage to your Christian experience. It does not always mean you must have a crisis in your life. It does mean you must have a death. A circumcision of heart that changes your focus from you to others -- from self to Christ. Only Christ can really bring about an Empowering Stage. But when it happens, you will be free, and you will see spiritual fruit like never before.

 Further Reading: Faith & Work: Do They Mix?

Visitor Comments (1)

This is truth

Thank you so much for this. This article brought confirmation to what God is doing in my life. A circumcised heart is what God desires and dying to oneself is his will, so he can move and build us up.




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