It’s that time of year again. The kids are back to school, and more than a few parents are relieved. We ask a common question of students this time of year: “What grade are you in?”

This is going to seem obvious, but stay with me for a moment. In our educational system, we have a very systematic progression for students. If a child is 5 going on 6, that child is probably in first grade. If a student is 12 going on 13, that student is probably in 7th grade. Finally, if a student is 22, they are probably graduating college. From the cradle to college, our system tells us how to measure our accomplishments. Our grade system automatically conveys the concept of growth, learning and maturity.

But what about “grade” 19 (the number of years of formal education I received after kindergarten)? When you receive your final diploma, the automatic measurement stops. Suddenly, we are responsible for setting our goals, figuring out the steps needed to reach those goals and remaining motivated in the grind of every day life. Because of this, we should consider borrowing or transposing the idea of grades into our spiritual lives and ministry efforts. One year should equal an increase in growth, learning and maturity. So, what grade are you in? Here are three thoughts:

#1 Don’t Be Peter Pan

Wendy: You are both ungallant and deficient! Peter: How am I deficient? Wendy: You’re just a boy. —J. M. Barrie, Peter Pan

We remember Peter Pan as a fun fairy tail that includes flying kids, Neverland, pirate ships and crocodiles. But, there is a deeper message in the story. In his bestselling book The Vanishing American Adult: Our Coming-of-Age Crisis and How to Rebuild a Culture of Self-RelianceSenator Ben Sasse explains:

“He [Peter Pan] ultimately cannot remember his past, and thus learns nothing from it. Near the end of the book, Wendy tries to reminisce with Peter: ‘Who is Captain Hook?’ he asked with interest when she spoke of the arch enemy. ‘Don’t you remember,’ she asked, amazed, ‘how you killed him and saved all our lives?’ ‘I forget them after I kill them,’ he replied carelessly. Though Peter never grows up, each of his Lost Boys does. So does Wendy. She has a daughter, Jane, who visits but eventually flees from Neverland. And Jane has a daughter named Margaret, who similarly refuses to be trapped in Neverland. And on it goes. Everyone moves on. Except for Pan. Peter never changes; he never grows up.”

Senator Sasse uses this example to illustrate the problem with perpetual adolescence in our society. His book is profound and has sparked a much needed discussion. Though I am deeply concerned about perpetual adolescence among Americans, I am also deeply concerned about perpetual adolescence among Christians (Hebrew 5:12; I Corinthians 3:1-3). Are we, as Christians and Church Leaders, systematically progressing in our spiritual lives?

#2 So, What’s the Plan?

This is the perfect time of year to launch new initiatives. People are switching from summer vacation back into work, school and church responsibilities. So, how should we measure our efforts? How can we reach the next “grade” level by next year? We should focus on three things:

  • Discipleship: Are we actively developing our relationship with Christ and are we actively discipling others? (Matthew 28:16-20)
  • Unity: Are we as a group of believers focused on the following questions: “How can we, as a group of believers, in this place and with these resources most effectively do our part in fulfilling the Great Commission?” What about intergenerational unity? Many churches struggle with unifying members across generations. But, this should not be so. The young should not see grey hair as a sign of irrelevance but rather as a source of wisdom and spiritual maturity (Job 12:12; Proverbs 16:31). The old should not “despise” the youth and energy of the younger generation and should encourage them to reach their generation (I Timothy 4:12. Generations in our society are hyper-segregated and a bit hostile to one another. This should not be the case in the church, for we are a family. Great quote by Pastor Ron Jones: “The Church isn’t a loveboat. It’s a battleship. We are on the front lines of spiritual warfare.”
  • Outreach: When was the last time you led someone to Christ? Personal evangelism is certainly not something that church leaders can delegate.

#3 I Can’t. Yes You Can.

Do you remember your mother or teacher telling you to stop using the word “can’t”? Sometimes, we can get discouraged as Christians and church leaders. We feel like we have tried everything. We feel like nothing is working. We simply want to quit. But, we can’t quit. The Gospel is too important.

We should work on our vision and mindset. In this sermon, I touched on the specific vision of Cornerstone Baptist (my church) and how we should measure our progress over the next year. Here is the conclusion: It’s time to put down the monster of mediocrity and its time to graduate to greatness. With God’s strength and power, we can change our cities with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. But, we will have to set intentional goals and accomplish them over time. And we will have to stay determined along the way. Christian and church leader, what grade are you in?