Transitions and The Spiritually Healthy, Mature Church

This sermon was presented to a church that is transitioning between Lead Pastors, and dealing with spiritual health and maturity. These principles can be applied to many types of transitions and types of leadership transitions in the Church.


In this sermon we will be discussing how transition periods in the Church are important parts of becoming mature. As Churches transition between leaders, it is an important time and a wonderful time to grow and mature.

God plans things well. There are no coincidences with God. It is not a coincidence your Church is in transition. It is not a coincidence that you are hearing this today. It is not a coincidence that ‘To The Churches’ ministry has helped and been part of Churches during transitions and helping them become spiritually healthy and mature. There is a reason for all this. God has put us together for such a time as this. I am here by God’s providence to bring you words of comfort, guidance, encouragement, and even a road map. Our ministry team is available to help in any way possible during this transition period. We have your back!

Today we will talk about some challenging issues concerning Church and life transitions. But in the midst of this, we will talk about how spiritual maturity is fun. And what is more fun than puppies?  Since my wife and I are considering getting a puppy soon, I realized puppies, like kids, grow up to become adult dogs. And yet, even as adults dogs, they are still funny. So to set the stage for our discussion of fun maturity, here are a few statements that adult dogs might say to God.

  • Dear God: When we get to heaven, can we sit on your couch? Or is it still the same old story?
  • Dear God: If a dog barks his head off in the forest and no human hears him, is he still a bad dog?
  • Dear God: Why did you make cats,…since I have been told “The cat is not a 'squeaky toy'!”

Well, cat lovers may not like that last one so much.


The Scripture for this message is in Ephesians 4.

Verses 11-16 -- "Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming.  Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work."

Verses 29-32 -- "Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ, God forgave you."

3 Points

There are three points here regarding spiritual health and maturity. These truths can actually apply to us anytime, but are especially valuable during transition times.

  1. Know where you are. Don’t be stuck emotionally.
  2. Know where you should be. Seek solid spiritual food.
  3. Take the best action. Grow up to the fullness God has for you!

Point 1 – know where you are. Don’t be stuck emotionally.

For Churches who have lost key beloved Pastors and/or other leaders, it is difficult and creates a sense of grief. Loss creates grief and sadness. It is important to deal with grief. Research today clearly confirms that spending time grieving is valuable and healthy. Otherwise, grief will come back to you in unhealthy ways. It will clog you up. It will stifle new growth. It will hinder what blessings God has for you next.

When a leader leaves the church due to death, illness, or moving on to other callings, it is best to make a clean break from the leader and their family whenever possible, as your leader. You may still continue as friends socially, but that person is no longer your leader. God has moved them onto other paths, and you must allow them and yourself to move on also. Research shows that Churches that do this type of clean break are the best adjusted.

Sometimes it seems like God is so far away at times of deep or prolonged grief. But, God understands our grief very well. Jesus grieved in one of the most interesting verses in the bible it says “Jesus wept.” If you know anything about the Israeli culture, when they weep, they really weep – with profound emotion and depth. So Jesus did not just tear up, get misty, or cry,…he wept!

God also calls us to grieve wisely and completely.

Blessed are those that mourn, for they will be comforted.” Mathew 5:4.

How can you grieve well, in a healthy way?

First, recognize it is OK and actually healthy to be sad and cry for a time. Set time aside to remember your leader. Write down how you felt about them – journaling is a proven method that can speed emotional healing. I use a journal to write down my times of grieving – it helps to see the words written down. Talk about it – tell your close friends and family how you miss your leader. Then, seek scripture about those feelings, and pray through those feelings – allow God’s Spirit to comfort you and heal you.

Next, make a conscious mature decision not to be stuck, but to move forward. As the Bible says, there is a time for everything under the sun. A time for grief, a time to be comforted, and a time to move forward to new things. My pastor, Dr. David Jeremiah, often says, each pastor of a Church stands on the shoulders of the pastor who came before him. The next leaders will stand on the shoulders of your past leaders. We must make room for what God has prepared for us next. This is part of maturing.

Babies continue to cry over spilt milk, not knowing what to do – they just cry! Adults are sad over the spilt milk, maybe even get angry or frustrated, but they clean it up, assess the next steps, and move on. Then God supplies them something new.

What is beyond grief? Hope is beyond grief. Christ is our great hope. God will replace the grief with hope – hope in your future, hope for spiritual growth, hope for a healthy unified Church, hope that in the near future this Church will have moved forward and will be experiencing new and wonderful things. Psalm 30 says “You have turned my mourning into dancing.

So, Point 1 was – Know where you are. Don’t be stuck emotionally.

Point 2 – Know where you should be.

As indicated in the scripture, God calls his church to be mature: “…so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature

The words built up, unity, and mature are all grouped together in this verse for a reason, because these three actions all work together. When we are built up, and reach unity, we become spiritually mature. It is a very simple concept.

It is important to define the terms here, to make sure we are on the same page. The word maturity means “a final or desired state, fully developed, the qualities of an adult”. Let’s not confuse spiritual maturity with being boring, stifled, or old. This is not what spiritual maturity is.

Let’s also not confuse spiritual maturity with physical age – someone can be 25 years old and be spiritually mature, while a 70 year old person can be spiritually immature. For example, a famous contemporary business expert and author was about 60 when he came to the Lord. He was mature physically and mature emotionally and as a business man, however he was a spiritual infant at about age 60. He has grown immensely since his conversion, but God has given him a very humble spirit.

Spiritual maturity is the goal in our growth as Christians – maturity is an ongoing process throughout our entire lives – it is vibrant, exciting, full of zest and life, and it is what God wants for us. Spiritual maturity is understanding the deep ways of God, and living them out in love, mercy, grace, and unity. Spiritual maturity is also sobering – as we become more mature we are forced to understand and apply some very serious and difficult truths. Yet, in the midst of maturity is all out fun, since the author of maturity is God, who created laughter! Jesus was the most mature human that ever lived, yet children were attracted to him because he laughed and played with them. We can be fully mature, yet fun.

I have a personal experience about this. I was in college as a new Christian and I went on a white water rafting trip with a Campus Crusade ministry. A Senior Pastor of a somewhat large local church was on the trip, and 2 or 3 of his own kids were there also. He was probably about late 40s to mid 50s,…which at the time seemed ancient,…but now for some reason does not seem so old! He seemed very spiritually mature, wise, and balanced, and as a very visible Senior Pastor, he had a mature aura about him – before the trip. However, on the rafting trip another part of him came out - he was fun, and goofy and silly as any young person. He was splashing people, throwing them in the water, and acting like the biggest kid in the group. I was impressed by that and remember thinking, “I want to be like that when I get older. I want to be fun and spontaneous and silly, even when I am old.” I had no idea what that meant at the time, but now I do. Now it makes sense. So, if I throw a water balloon at you, you will know why!

In the scripture for today, God also tells us what not to be, which is immature. He wants us to move beyond it. “Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching…

Immaturity is the opposite of maturity. The word immature means “not fully developed, the qualities of a child”. When we talk about immaturity, it reminds us of kids of course. Kids however, in their immaturity are funny. Kids are simple, they see things in small parts and do not see the long term. They also see things only in terms of immediate gratification, so they tend to be somewhat selfish. Here are a few examples of immaturity at its finest, with kids talking to God.

  • Dear God, Thank you for the baby brother, but what I prayed for was a Puppy.
  • Dear God, my Grandpa says you were around when he was a little boy. How far back do you go?
  • Dear God, Please put another Holiday between Christmas and Easter. There is nothing good in there right now.

As new Christians, we are like children – during this time we are new to Christ’s ways and we drink spiritual milk. We are immature spiritually, because we are like newborn spiritual babies.

God says this in 1 Peter 2:2: “Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation.

A.    Spiritual Milk

Spiritual milk is easy on our spirit – it is simple, easy to swallow, and easy to digest. Spiritual milk is all about the basics – learning about what salvation means, why be baptized, how to talk with God in prayer, why reading the Bible is important, and simple truths about your new walk with Christ.

We revel in this time of spiritual simplicity where someone else takes care of us, and feeds us. God enjoys this time with us immensely. He enjoys coddling us, holding us in His arms like an infant, and taking us by our small spiritual hands to guide us step-by-step.

Some of you may just need spiritual milk right now due to where we are in your spiritual growth – you are a new Christian, or have recently re-committed yourself to Christ. You are just learning the basics about walking with Jesus. This is milk. It is OK to be in this stage for awhile. It is the first stage of being a Christian. The mature Christians around should be taking care of you spiritually and protecting you, helping you prosper during this early spiritual infancy stage.

Ironically, in America there are entire Churches and even Lead Pastors and Christian leaders who are still drinking milk – they are spiritually immature, when they should be way beyond that. They have not moved on to the deeper, mature ways of the Lord. As a result, their entire churches and ministries are full of spiritual infants that are stuck and not growing. This is extremely concerning. This is one of the reasons our American culture is faltering and the overall American Church is shrinking and weak. How can we as the Church live out and explain the deep truths of God, and how can we do as He commands to disciple entire nations, and be wise in the midst of the world’s horrendous problems, when the Church is itself an infant? A baby drinking milk is not wise and cannot lead.

God tersely admonishes each one of us as Christians and the Church on this issue:

Corinthians 3:1-3, “Brothers and sisters, I could not address you as people who live by the Spirit but as people who are still worldly—mere infants in Christ.  I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere humans?


Hebrews 5:12,13:  “In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, still being an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness.

Double ouch!

B.    Spiritual Solid Food

There is a time where God wants us to become mature,…to grow up, to eat solid spiritual food. Spiritual solid food, just like real food has more substance than milk. It takes more effort and concentration to eat it. It is sometimes more challenging to digest.

Spiritual solid food also tastes better than just milk, and there are many more interesting textures and wonderful flavors. Spiritual solid food has many more powerful nutrients and helps us grow spiritually stronger and healthier.

God wants us to eat spiritual solid food, to take a fork and dig into substantial ideas, actions, and growth. He wants us to push ourselves to grow, to seek him with new deeper hunger and yearning. God enjoys our maturing stages also, maybe even more than when we are infants, since we are now becoming more like Him. God wants us to express our hunger to Him, to ask Him to help us grow.  He yearns to hear us say “Lord, teach me more. Show me your face. Take me deeper. Teach me the riches of your ways.” Read the Psalms and your will hear King David saying this constantly. It is in God’s nature to take care of us, He is our loving Father, however…He will not force feed us. He wants us to reach for a fork ourselves – it is the free will He gave us to choose.

Some of you are at this maturing stage. You need and should be eating spiritual solid food. You have been a Christian for long enough, and you understand the basics about salvation, baptism, the Holy Spirit, prayer, and reading your Bible, you have seen God answer your prayers through several stages of your life, and you have begun to understand the spiritual gifts God has given you. At this point, you should be learning the deeper ways of the Lord, understanding how to determine His will in more complex challenging situations, and you in turn start helping grow the Church and grow others. This is solid food.

An important note here – If you do not understand the difference between spiritual milk and spiritual solid food, then you are probably drinking spiritual milk.

To understand what spiritual maturity looks like and feels like, a good starting point is the rest of the book of Ephesians in chapters 4, 5, and 6. These chapters talk about the characteristics of spiritual maturity we can aim for – here is a short list. These are great reminders for me, so I hope they are for you too.

  • Seeking to attain unity of faith
  • Not tossed about by false doctrines
  • Speaking the truth in love
  • understanding
  • Softness of heart to truth, not callous
  • Laying aside the old corrupted self
  • Able to manage anger
  • Good work ethic
  • Not grieving the spirit of God
  • Putting away all bitterness, malice, wrath, and slander
  • Being kind
  • Having a healthy marriage
  • And the list goes on…

C.    Where Are You?

So let’s pause here a moment to ask 3 important transitional questions, to take your temperature:

  1. Are you as a Christian and as a Church drinking milk,…or eating solid food?
  2. Do you want to stay spiritually where you are right now,…or grow spiritually in this next few months during this transition period?
  3. For a new leader to replace the one that left, do you want someone who bottle feeds you only spiritual milk, or someone who gives you both spiritual milk and solid food as appropriate?

Your answers to these questions will determine how you and your Church will move forward to what God has next. This is a challenging transition period. Be comforted that this transition will not last long, but there are some important issues to take on right now. Some will find it too difficult and may want to leave. This will not solve the problems for any who would leave, because you will take some of the issues with you, and you may find the same challenges or similar ones in other Churches.

IF your church is moving in the right direction towards spiritual health and maturity, I would respectfully suggest you prayerfully consider staying at your Church and fully commit to this group of believers during the transition period. IF your church is moving in the right direction towards spiritual health and maturity, I also suggest that those who have left the Church, prayerfully consider coming back. Why? Because, this is an exciting time that will be a time to grow your faith and walk with the Lord in ways you never thought possible. You may also get input to help select the new leader and be at the beginning of something new and fresh. This is a very rare opportunity!

So, Point 2 was – Know where you should be. Seek spiritual health and maturity.

Point 3 – Take the Best Action

Here are 3 key actions you can take during this transition period:

  1. Pray. Pray earnestly and constantly to God for his will here. Pray individually, as couples, as families, as ministry groups, as leadership groups, and together as a Church. Make prayer your deep reservoir to drink from. Again, make prayer your deep reservoir to drink from.
  2. Seek spiritual maturity, health, solid food. Do this in all your actions – in the speakers you select during this transition period, bible studies, leadership, followership, and in the leader(s) you select. Do not settle for milk alone. Seek maturity, health, solid food.
  3. Be unified. As I mentioned before, unity is a hallmark of spiritual maturity and health. Seek unity. In the first Church they had 100% agreement on major decisions. You may not have 100% agreement on everything, but you should be close if unity is the goal. So, seek unity.


As a final illustration, here is a heartwarming story.

A policeman was taking a routine vandalism report at an elementary school, and was interrupted by a little girl about 5 years old. Looking up and down at his uniform, she asked, "Are you a cop?"

"Yes," he answered and continued writing the report.

The little girl said, "My mother said if I ever needed help I should ask the police. Is that right?"

"Yes, that's right," he replied.

"Well, then," she said as she extended her foot toward him, "would you please tie my shoe?”

This is a wonderful picture of this relationship of spiritual youthfulness, spiritual maturity, and the interconnectedness of the two.

So, the three points for spiritual health and maturity during transition are:

  1. Know where you are. Don’t be stuck emotionally.
  2. Know where you should be. Seek spiritually solid food, maturity, health.
  3. Take the best action. Grow up to the fullness God has for you!
    • Pray
    • Seek maturity
    • Be unified

Elders and Board members please stand and create a circle around the edge of the congregation, with the Elders in front.

Everyone take a moment and look around at this circle and within the circle. All of you are inter-connected.

  • You leaders around the circle are currently in charge of this flock in the center. You have the responsibility to be mature, lead well, and protect and feed this flock. Model Christ-likeness for them. It is a sober call. It is a wonderful call.
  • You the congregation in the center, are the flock. The leaders need you to follow well. They need your support and help. Learn what it means to be a good follower – pray about this and search the scriptures about how to follow. If your leaders, like shepherds, try to guide you into an area, follow their lead – they have your best interest in mind and are seeking the will of the Lord. You do not have to be mindless drones, and there is a time and a way to disagree with respect if there is reason to, but learn to follow well. Give them grace and mercy along the way.

A Blessing - Now, go forth in unity, and live out God’s call to spiritual health and maturity! May the Lord bless you and keep you, may He make His face shine upon, and give you peace!

 “Lord, I pray over this beloved Church of yours. These brothers and sisters here need your care during this challenging transition time. For those who need milk, provide it to them. Protect their young spiritual innocence and fresh relationship with you. Lay the foundation in their hearts to eventually seek more than milk, when it is time. For those that need solid food, create hunger in them. Help them to have the courage and desire to pick up a fork and dig into your word to learn and grow deep and mature. Teach them the deep riches of your ways. Be with the leaders of this flock and show them how to protect and feed the congregation during this transition period. Please quickly bring a godly, wise, healthy, balanced, and mature Leader to this Church that can provide both milk and solid food. In Jesus name.

Remember, God truly loves you,…and so do I.

Study Questions

  1. Are you as a Christian and as a Church drinking milk,…or eating solid food?
  2. Do you want to stay spiritually where you are right now,…or grow spiritually in this next few months during this transition period?
  3. For a new leader to replace the one that left, do you want someone who bottle feeds you only spiritual milk, or someone who gives you both spiritual milk and solid food as appropriate?
  4. What maturity principles does God have you working on right now? Read Ephesians 4, 5, 6.
  5. What do you need to do to move toward becoming a spiritually healthy, mature Christian?
  6. What does your Church need to do to move toward becoming a spiritually healthy, mature Church?

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Copyright To The Churches 2015, all rights reserved.

Spiritual Maturity
Ephesians 4-6
Local Church
Gary Avant