the weblog of Alan Knox

Maturity and Education

Posted by on Sep 17, 2008 in discipleship, synchroblog | 26 comments

This post is part of a monthly synchroblog. The topic of this month’s synchroblog is “Maturity in the Light of our Faith”.

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post called “Mutual Hermeneutics“. In that post, I started a discussion about biblical interpretation, and the tendency of modern believers to place the responsibility of interpreting Scripture in the hands of trained professionals. In a follow-up post called “Toward Mutual Hermeneutics“, I made some suggestions that I think would help believers move from a professional-only hermeneutic to mutual hermeneutics.

In the comments of the second post, David from “Love Each Stone” started a good discussion concerning the relationship between education and spiritual maturity. David suggested in one comment that “The contrast and comparison between “mature believers” and those with “training and expertise” is an interesting discussion that would probably be worth a whole separate post”.

A few days later, I found myself consider the topic of maturity again – this time for this synchroblog. Originally, I wanted to write a post on the topic of the role of the church meeting and edification in spiritual maturity. I am very interested in this topic, and I’ll probably write a blog post (or perhaps a series) on this topic later. For now, though, I wanted to continue the discussion on the relationship between training or education and spiritual maturity.

Let me start my stating that I teach in a college part time. When I finish my PhD – hopefully within the next calendar year – I hope to find a job teaching full time. I am not against education. I believe that education can be good, helpful, and important. However, education is not the same as discipleship, nor is education the same as spiritual maturity. And, I think that modernity has equated (or misunderstood) education for spiritual maturity to the detriment of the church.

Let me start by quickly examining a passage of Scripture that is often used to defend the necessity of education:

Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. (2 Timothy 2:15 KJV)

I quoted the KJV here because it is the only major English translation to translate the command as “Study” (other early English translations also used “study”: the Bishops Bible of 1595 and Tyndale’s translation of 1534). Yet, that word “Study” has stuck in our (or at least mine and those I’ve talked with) memory and affected the way we understand what Paul said. Now, look at the ESV:

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. (2 Timothy 2:15 ESV)

Thus, Paul was not calling Timothy (and others) to study, but to diligence. The difference is in the change of meaning in the word “study”. Similarly, Paul was not telling Timothy to study the Bible in order to be approved, but to do his best (be diligent) in the way he lives according to the gospel. (For “rightly handling” see Prov 11:5 where it is translated “keeps his way”. For “word of truth” = “gospel” for Paul, see Eph 1:13 and Col 1:5.)

So, right away, let’s get this passage out of our system. Paul was not telling Timothy to be educated by studying the Bible. He was telling Timothy to make every effort to live his life according to the gospel. In so doing, Timothy would be like an approved work who has no need to feel ashamed.

But today, we place such an emphasis on education that it has become almost synonymous with spiritual maturity. When someone graduates from Bible school or seminary, they are often hired right away by church organizations, with the assumption that the degree indicates maturity. Since the church does not know the individual personally, they only have the degree and a few hours of acquaintance.

However, while a degree may indicate a certain amount of knowledge – hopefully – the degree does not indicate spiritual maturity. The degree does not indicate that the person demonstrates love toward those who are “unloveable”. It does not indicate that the person knows how to deal with “opponents” with grace, patience, and gentleness. The degree does not tell us that the person is hospitable or willing to share what God has provided. Even passing classes in theology, hermeneutics, New Testament, Old Testament, Hebrew, and Greek does not indicate that a person knows how to interpret the Scriptures, much less live according to them. Graduation does not make a person spiritually mature.

Of course, our church system is based on the assumption that an educated person is spiritually mature. Most church leaders (pastors) would not spend the time getting to know people and letting the people get to know them before they accept a position in a church organization. Similarly, for the most part, the people would not wait to determine a person’s spiritual maturity level before recognizing this person as a leader. We expect our leader’s to be ready-made by Bible colleges and seminaries.

Its time to move beyond the assumption that education equals spiritual maturity. It may mean that the system has to change – so be it. The church needs leaders who are spiritually mature more than they need educated leaders. Again, I’m not disparaging education. Instead, I’m simply pointing out that we need spiritually mature pastors more than we need educated pastors.


Here is a list of bloggers who are taking part in this month’s synchroblog on the topic “Maturity in the Light of our Faith”:

Phil Wyman at Square No More with “Is Maturity Really What I Want?
Lainie Petersen at Headspace with “Watching Daddy Die
Kathy Escobar at The Carnival in My Head with “what’s inside the bunny?
John Smulo at with “Christian Maturity
Erin Word at Decompressing Faith with “Long-Wearing Nail Polish and Other Stories
Beth Patterson at The Virtual Teahouse with “the future is ours to see: crumbling like a mountain
Bryan Riley at Charis Shalom with “Still Complaining?
Alan Knox at The Assembling of the Church with “Maturity and Education
KW Leslie at The Evening of Kent with “Putting spiritual infants in charge
Bethany Stedman at Coffee Klatch with “Moving Towards True Being: The Long Process of Maturity
Adam Gonnerman at Igneous Quill with “Old Enough to Follow Christ?
Joe Miller at More Than Cake with “Intentional Relationships for Maturity
Jonathan Brink at with “I Won’t Sin
Susan Barnes at A Booklook with “Growing Up
Tracy Simmons at The Best Parts with “Knowing Him Who is From the Beginning
Joseph Speranzella at A Tic in the Mind’s Eye with “Spiritual Maturity And The Examination of Conscience
Sally Coleman at Eternal Echoes with “vulnerable maturity
Liz Dyer at Grace Rules with “What I Wish The Church Knew About Spiritual Maturity
Cobus van Wyngaard at My Contemplations with “post-enlightenment Christians in an unenlightened South Africa
Steve Hayes at Khanya with “Adult Content
Ryan Peter at Ryan Peter Blogs and Stuff with “The Foundation For Ministry and Leading
Kai Schraml at Kaiblogy with “Mature Virtue
Nic Paton at Sound and Silence with “Inclusion and maturity
Lew Ayotte at The Pursuit with “Maturity and Preaching


Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 9-17-2008

    You know Alan,

    I wanted my maturity to be validated by pursuing a seminary degree. I really did. I felt (and sometimes still feel) that if I am able to but a T.h.M or a M.Div by my name then I will finally get the respect I deserve (as if I deserve respect). This is what I have been taught not only that it is what those I respect in ministry expect if you are to have any voice for their ears.

    Great topic I will explore the other posts also. Thanks for dealing with this topic

  2. 9-17-2008

    Lionel, your openness is refreshing and encouraging. The reality is so many of us judge ourselves by the world’s standards rather than by God’s – by the Kingdom’s. The world says maturity is defined by a college degree. But even that isn’t enough – the location of your college is key, too. And then what degree. How many degrees. Etc. and Etc. God defines maturity by character and relationship, contentment and love.

    Great discussion, alan!

  3. 9-17-2008

    Alan, this is awesome. It’s not just about knowledge but about following.

  4. 9-17-2008

    Alan, as an Elder
    as a guy working on his Doctorate
    as someone who looks to teach in the future…

    I agree! 🙂

  5. 9-17-2008


    I agree with you. I’ve been teaching and preaching the word for 15 years, but, I have never gone to Bible college.

    Though I feel like my lack of formal Bible education has limited the number of doors that have been open to me, I have just never felt lead to go that way.

    What I see in 2 Timothy 2:15, (the KJV vs. ESV), is that as followers of Jesus we are not only to study the scriptures, but we are to seek understanding of them. For the purpose of rightly applying them to our lives.

    It’s possible to know the scriptures and not understand them. Knowledge without understanding, can be a dangerous thing. I have seen some who have formal education and therefore have the knowledge. But they lack understanding.

    I have also seen some who lack formal education who really just don’t have the knowledge or the understanding.

    Both cases lead to a lack of maturity. It’s only when a person has a relationship with the Lord that they will gain the tools that lead to maturity in Christ.

    There is no doubt that I can learn something from those who have the formal education. I have nothing against it. I have just never felt like I was suppose to go that way.


  6. 9-17-2008

    Great post, I agree with you that education does not equal maturity, in fact it may equal the opposite… this is a topic that warrants further discussion

  7. 9-17-2008

    Alan, so well said! I’ve often meditated on Acts 4:13: “When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.” Your post sums it all up beautifully.

  8. 9-17-2008


    There’s nothing wrong with education. But, it won’t make you mature, nor will it make you a leader.


    Character… relationship… contentment… love… That’s a good definition of maturity.


    Thanks. Yes, maturity is about following – absolutely!

    Joe (JR),

    Thanks. Where are you working on your doctorate? What’s the topic?


    Good discussion. You said, “Its possible to know the Scriptures and not understand them.” Yep.


    If you decide to continue the discussion on your blog, please let me know.


    Yes. And, today I think we have plenty of people who are “schooled, extraordinary men” but haven’t been with Jesus.


  9. 9-17-2008

    I am doing a DMin through Talbot School of Theology in CA. I am now down to my dissertation which is on hold until January. The current theme is building missional teams for church planting, but that could change with some new leadership at the school..

    Here are some early survey responses I got when doing some networking.

    My original hope was to do research on developing teaching teams in churches as opposed to one man as “the” teacher (learning in community and celebrating the giftedness of many teachers, etc…). The head of the program was not a fan of the idea and I fear that I would never be allowed to matriculate in doing that project.

    You know what is it like, sometimes in academics you have to play the game. 🙁

  10. 9-18-2008

    Alan, I am FINALLY caught up on your blog after not being able to keep up for a while. I made it through about 50 posts tonight….whew! You are one prolific blogger…hehe

    Anyway, thanks for taking the time to point out the poor translation of this verse, and the faulty thinking that it has fostered.

    Education has been completely substituted for spirit-led discipleship in our culture, and it’s very sad to watch.

    And no, I’m not just bitter because I had to leave seminary before finishing my ThM. 😉

  11. 9-18-2008

    I am someone who has never went to college and I come here and read a lot even though I must say that I don’t always understand all the ology stuff. I do understand suffering, and that has matured me so much. The greatest lessons I learned, came through my suffering. It brought me so much closer to God in a way I can’t explain. I see others in a way I never did before. My heart is with the hurting and those who are lonely.
    I don’t have a degree to show what I have accomplished, but I do have a life that shows what God has accomplished.
    Education is important as people need it to do many different careers, but if we are doing it to teach others about God, yet we do not see others as God does, then what good has the education become? If our hearts are not right, then what good is all the knowledge?

  12. 9-18-2008

    Joe (JR),

    I hope you’re able to complete your research soon. It sounds very interesting!


    You read 50 posts in one night? Wow… I’m impressed.


    You said, “If our hearts are not right, then what good is all the knowledge?” Yes, I agree! Paul said it this way: Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.


  13. 9-18-2008

    It was my only hope of catching up. Now I know why I didn’t know about your eye problems when we chatted the other night, though. I feel bad that I was out of the loop for so long that I didn’t even know my brother needed prayer. 🙁

  14. 9-19-2008

    alan, thanks as always for your thoughts. i do believe that an inordinate amount of focus on education/training/knowledge is really limiting and misses the mark on true discipleship & following of Christ, ways that can only be learned by actually doing them, not learning about them. thanks for sharing, kathy

    ps: j.r., i'd love to hear more about your project (i ultimately ended up losing a job for proposing and advocating for the exact thing that your first project was about! we are currently doing it and yes, it works :)) i will check out your link!

  15. 9-19-2008

    Hi Kathy, I am still developing our teaching team despite the setback. Academics is one thing, but life goes on an we move forward 🙂

  16. 9-19-2008

    Hi Alan–
    As someone with a BA in elementary education (from a religious school) and and MA in religious studies from a liberal seminary, I can’t agree with you more! It’s about the heart opening. The mind has it’s part to play: mostly to keep us physically safe and functioning in the world. But the heart itself, as the Bible teaches us, has wisdom and perception that are ignored and subjugated by our culture–and that are connected with Love.

    Thank you for the good work you are doing–I’m enjoying your site!

  17. 9-19-2008


    Don’t feel bad. Its completely understandable.


    You said, "an inordinate amount of focus on education/training/knowledge is really limiting and misses the mark on true discipleship & following of Christ…" Absolutely!

    Joe (J.R.),

    You said, “Academics is one thing, but life goes on an we move forward.” Amen!


    Yes, exactly. Knowledge is important, but not nearly as important as heart issues.


  18. 9-19-2008

    I was one who in my younger days equated spiritual maturity with seminary education. That is until the day I saw our pastor of music have a(we call it a hissy fit)cow because the deacons( I was one at the time)decided money he wanted for a special was better used in a different area. I had not at any time before seen a leader in the church act in so immature way and the other pastors(4 others) let him get away with it. He never apologized for the incident either. That is when I learned that Education does not equal spiritual maturity.
    “And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ. 2 I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still not able; 3 for you are still carnal. For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men?”

  19. 9-20-2008


    In my position, I’ve seen some of the most educated people act the least mature. It happens all the time.


  20. 8-12-2011

    Wonderful post, Alan! The marginalized old saint with the 6th grade education, having had a long walk with Jesus, may have more of Him to impart than anyone! Maturity comes from spending time with Him.

  21. 8-12-2011

    Leah, I can honestly say that I’ve learned more of the character of Christ and true followership from the marginalized humble spirit-filled saint who knows the heart of God through her experience of walking with Him for many years. Discipleship is more than knowledge of God through reading a book, but that’s what we’ve made it out to be it seems. That’s why we elevate those who appear to know the book best.

  22. 10-19-2011

    The other day I was talking with a woman in my IC. We were working on a project together, and she was really troubled and started to tell me about problems with her teenage son. She started crying and then said, “I know I shouldn’t be upset and worry. I’m a mature Christian and should know better.” I blurted out without really thinking, “That’s OK, mature Christians cry and lament to God. It’s a sign of maturity, I think. Everybody in the Bible does it.” I’ve been thinking both about her statement and my answer ever since.
    — Why did she think she was mature? I think it’s because she leads small groups and is in the worship team. Maybe she is mature. I don’t know.
    — Why did I say what I said? I think because experience has showed me that to be the case and it is true that everyone in the Bible lamented and complained to God. I’ve known lots of people who know a lot from seminary or wherever, but they don’t seem to have a heart for people and seem more concerned about their careers, etc. I don’t want to be like them.
    — Why do so many Christians worry about being “mature” when Jesus said we’re to be like children?
    — Is maturity being like a child?
    — What does a child look like? Possible answers, trusting, filled with wonderment…

  23. 5-21-2012

    A response to Lightbearer.
    Gary, you are on target brother. I pastored 3 churches that all grew – including one that had been broken assumder by a seminarian – over a 35 year period. I had always been told that the Call to Preach was a call to preopare – meaning “go to seminary”
    I never had time to do that. I was too busy preaching the gospel.
    Like you, I have nothing against education – but to the best of my knowledge, David, Peter and even John ministered to a lot a people and dcquired “Materity” as they grew in — Wisdom.
    I hope I wrong but is it possible that Seminary training could be killing our churches because it would appear that they are teaching how to keep churches “doing business as usual”

  24. 5-21-2012


    I think that a seminary education (or any other kind of formal education for that matter) can be a good thing or a bad thing. For many, though, formal education (especially a seminary education) is often associated with (sometimes equated with) spiritual maturity. This is detrimental to spiritual growth for the church, I think.


  25. 11-15-2012

    Great post. Thank you.

    Academic learning is fine. I’ve enjoyed pursuing it throughout my 40 years of Christian growth, often studying more rigorous seminary-level resources than most Christians seem to even know about and reading and listening to a broader swath of high-calibre authors and teachers than the average pastor.

    BUT . . . my most significant growth, in my humble opinion (if one can talk about one’s growth humbly), has come through the day-to-day process of family life, work, community involvement and church service. This has helped me mature in ways that academic training alone could never do, as I have struggled and learned from bearing significant responsibilities, facing many real-life challenges, and occasionally enduring severe suffering.

    I believe spiritual growth in the Bible as a whole focuses on faithful daily service (loving God and one’s neighbor) in all areas of life: home, work, church, community. Second Peter 1:5-11 and 3:14-18 are a couple of passages among many more which underscore this in the NT.

    Learning and growing as a disciple of Jesus means learning to obey all that He has commanded (Matt. 28:20). How much seminary or other academic training do we really need to do this?

  26. 11-17-2012


    Yes, spiritual maturity develops as we follow Jesus in our lives, step-by-setp and day-by-day. In order to help one another in this daily obedience, we must be part of each other’s lives.



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