22 Jul How do you grow a spirit?
I’ve been having an interesting conversation with folks around Living Water & other churches lately about that thing we call “spiritual growth.”
The Bible most often refers to followers of Jesus as either “disciples,” “believers,” or “followers/followers of the Way.” And there are multiple calls in the New Testament for those people to “live, walk, grow” in their “call” to this new life in Christ. In simple terms we’re called to exercise more & more of the Christlikeness that the Spirit plants & forms in us…in other words “spiritual growth.”
For those of us who grew up in and around the church, it was assumed you did this by hanging out around the church & doing the things the church did: worship, Sunday School, helping out around the church building, serving on a ministry team or project…you took part in those many activities. Our Practices of Discipleship (PRAISE) reflect a bit of that understanding. The “R” reads “Regularly participate in ministry activities.”
But the history & trajectory of the Christian faith in the last century shows us that simply hanging out & being involved didn’t really develop deep faithful disciples across the board. Sure…it may have worked for you or me in some sense; we’re still here. But vast numbers of baptized folks faded out of our fellowships, & even greater numbers didn’t pass on their faith to a new generation or to anyone they knew. The growth & expansion of the church reversed in our Western world. Even worse, many folks who self-identify as Christian have a worldview, belief system, attitudes, aspirations, hopes and dreams that are no different from the not-yet-Christian world in which we live. They view our “essentials” (worship, prayer, Scripture engagement, service, generous sharing of resources, etc…) as “optional” or even “non-essential”…you can believe & do as you please. And the statistics from the census & other insightful researchers, tell a sad tale of decline not growth.
So…how do you grow a spirit? How do you grow in the Christlikeness the Bible commends as essential? What does spiritual growth look like?
I’m convinced that “R” in PRAISE should better be lived out as “Relate to others for spiritual growth.” Relate to other people around reading & exploring the Bible…ask it questions & let it ask you some. Sharing your discoveries & questions with others in your faith family. Pray not only privately but with someone else regularly & intentionally. Engage God’s Word in the company of those who will walk alongside you and help you discover that fuller more abundant expression of Christ in you.
At Living Water we encourage doing that in a few different ways:
- Worship weekly – our Faith Chats are not just a clever device to keep you awake until the sermon puts you to sleep. It’s practice in sharing meaningful pieces of your life with someone else. I’d always rather we moved around the Guide Hall so that you didn’t talk to the same people you live with…but start close & learn to move that conversation more widely.
- Small Groups – After the pandemic lockdowns & rolling isolation most of our small groups have struggled to re-start. Now might be a good time to re-engage with a few people around a brief meal time to pray for one another and catch up on how everyone is handling life right now. My sense is the struggles are deeper and more widespread than we’d imagine, & the anxieties are at a pretty high pitch.
- LTGs – Life Transformation Groups – a 2-4 person one-hour gathering to share insights & questions around a specific measured section of the Bible that you can read before you meet. It could be as little as a chapter or two of a book read over the course of a few weeks or months…or more if that suits.
The church team from California who developed the LTG process built a rigorous accountability system into what they produced. I’ve always recommended that meeting with another disciple to engage the Bible & each other’s lives in prayer & encouragement & support was the goal even if you didn’t go through their whole process, but you can set your own LTG pace…go lighter at first & ramp it up over time, if that’s your preference. Or…read, meet, discuss, share & pray…If you do that with one or two other people weekly or fortnightly, you’ll be surprised at what happens over the course of a year…or two or three.
- I’m often asked about the “where, when, what” of an LTG. I think that depends on what is workable and at the same time challenging for you.
- I always recommend starting with a gospel. Start with 1 or 2 chapters at a time. It isn’t necessarily a Bible Study, as such, but more of a “What do I hear the Word of God saying here? How does this fit in my life? What does it call me to do?”
- I like meeting in a café for an hour. The public witness of reading the Bible & praying for someone in public opens the opportunity to pray for the “place” & the “people” around you. But your schedule & budget may set your “where & when.”
- Personal devotional reading – Living Water encourages reading as much of the Bible as you can over & over in some deliberate way. The Psalmist writes, “I’ve hidden your word in my heart…” The only way to do that is to soak yourself daily in the Scriptures…read it read it read it & allow it to abide in your life. We’ve provided a variety of reading plans; including the F260 for this year. I know others who buy the devotional books from a publishing company and use them regularly. I’m a bigger fan of simply reading the Bible & reflecting on & praying about those parts of the text that God uses to touch your heart…but however God gets his word into your life is great by me! I’ve mentioned before that I journal my prayers & the passages that are at work in me. I commend that too.
Above all, these are all God’s gifts to you, not jobs to be performed or duties that will be evaluated upon completion. God wants his Word to saturate you so fully that “you learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.” (Rom 12:2) God wants your life to be so interwoven with his that he works through your every word & deed…that his thoughts become yours more and more in the likeness of Jesus.
Let’s see what God can grow in and through us…It’s sure to be awesome!