Themes of Spiritual Growth

Let’s pick up on a thread that I started several days ago re: spiritual growth.  Remember that we discussed two basic principles:

  • spiritual growth occurs along three dimensions: knowledge, character and behavior.
  • growth on these three dimensions occurs by iterations of hearing, believing and obeying God.

And, we used the following as a picture to illustrate the basic concept.

Iterative Growth Model
Iterative Growth Model

Now let’s break down the components of knowledge, character, and behavior so we can get to something that each of us can use in our daily lives and help others to do the same.

Several months ago, some faithful buddies and I brainstormed “christian attributes”.  We asked, “what are the characteristics you would expect to see in a follower of Christ?”  Obviously, many attributes came to mind, including wisdom, righteousness, humility, generosity, love, contentment, etc.  We then organized them into four major themes: joy, humility, compassion, and perseverance.

Therefore, when we talk about growing in knowledge, we’re really talking about growing in knowledge of what it means to be joyous, humble, compassionate and persevering.  When we talk about growing our character (internal attitudes and unseen behaviors), we’re talking about developing a joyous, humble, compassionate, and persevering character.  When we talk about growing in behavior (externally observable behaviors), we’re talking about acting joyous, humble, compassionate, and persevering.

Clearly, there are many, many ways to organize these attributes.  This is just the way we did it, and I think it works pretty well.  In future posts, I can share the detailed “mind map” that describes how we organized the attributes and dealt with “super-themes” like righteousness and wisdom.

Now, remember the second principle that describes how we grow in the three dimensions and their four components.  Generally speaking, we grow in knowledge by hearing God; we grow in behavior by believing Him; and we grow in behavior by obeying Him.  Therefore, we grow in our knowledge of what it means to be joyous by hearing what God has to say on joy; we grow in chracter with respect to joy by genuinely believing these truths from God; and, we grow in joyous behavior when we obey these new truths that we genuinely believe.

I have lots of examples from Scripture and from my own experience to share, and will do so over time, but for now let’s start with one from Acts.  Do you remember Paul and Silas in prison (Acts 16)?  They behaved in an extraordinary way.  First, rather than grumbling (which I’m sure I would have been), they are singing and praying.  Then, when the earthquake hits and the prison doors are busted open, they did not flee.

Now look, I’m excited by the growth God has caused in me over the past several years, but I am nowhere near this level of mature behavior.  Paul and Silas were so focused on the welfare of their guard, they essentially sacrificed themselves for him…a non-Jew and a non-Christian.  Why on earth would they a) be singing in prison; and b) not leave when God “obviously” was trying to set them free by way of the earthquake?  In the first case, they had learned to be “content in all circumstances” (we bucketed contentment within the joy theme).  In the second, they had serious compassion for the jailor and knew what “the right thing to do was” (see my previous post).  Why were they so joyous and compassionate?  Because they knew the promises of God and they genuinely believed them.  They had already invested years into knowing God’s word and practicing the disciplines required for training themselves for just such a moment.  Of course, Paul (at least) had the additional experiences of supernatural encounters with God, but these are not necessary to grow to the point Paul was.  We can all get there by studying God’s word, proactively training ourselves to believe it, and them acting upon it in any circumstance.

And so my encouragement is simply this: know God’s word, believe what you know, and obey what you believe.  Over time, learn a little more, believe a little more and obey a little more.  Just keep moving forward and never stop. 

If you need help, please raise you hand.  I, and many others joining this community, are here to help you!

The Plight of the People

As we are approaching a time for a broader launch of this site, I thought it would be helpful to take a brief step back and frame the need SeqHim is attempting to meet for those that will be logging on for the first time in the next few days.

“They said to me, “The remnant there in the province who survived the captivity are in great distress and reproach, and the wall of Jerusalem is broken down and it’s gates are burned with fire.”  Nehemiah 1:3 (NASB)

 The people of God were suffering.  What as Nehemiah’s reaction?

“Now when it came about when I heard these words, I sat down and wept and mourned for days; and I was fasting and praying before the God of heaven.”  Nehemiah 1:4 (NASB)

His reaction was first mourning over his people and second prayer and fasting.  But what did he pray for?  Did he pray over a solution?  No, if you read the next few verses, you will find that Nehemiah prayed…

  • a prayer of confession on behalf of the nation. (Neh 1:6-7)
  • a prayer of reminder to God’s of His promises to His people.  (Neh 1:8-9)

Significantly, v11 ends with “Now I was cupbearer to the King”.  In other words, God had placed him in a position to help the people as he placed Esther in a similar position (Esther 4:14).  And I believe he is confronted with the same internal struggle as Esther…do I stick my neck out before the King to help my people who are in need?  With great personal risk, he did…just as Esther. (Esther 4:15-17)

What situation is the Church in today?  Is it really fair to compare it to the Israelites in the time of Nehemiah?  Certainly, the situations are different…but, the pattern and principles involved are the same.  I want to briefly mention three ways that I believe the people are suffering:

  1. Many are deceived into thinking that the world’s ways are God’s ways.  So, they think they are following Christ, but they are really obeying another master.  And as such, they suffer the natural consequences of it.
  2. Many want to genuinely follow Christ, but they do not know how.  They hunger and thirst for righteousness, but they do not know how to obtain it.
  3. Many are being deceived into false doctrine.  So many people who profess faith in Christ fall pray to obvious heresy.  Why?  Mostly because they were never taught the truth, the value of spiritual disciplines, or how to obey God in a practical sense.  

Why are the people suffering?  Well, there is much to say about this, but at the end of the day it comes down to the simple fact that we are not glorifying God in the ways he has taught us to.  We are, in a broad sense, embracing the world’s principles of success rather than God’s, and so we miss out on God’s blessing and suffer.

How are we to react to this?  Well, how about mourning?  Do you care that the people are suffering?  If so, how about praying and fasting over it?  What do we pray for?  How about confessing the sins of the Church on it’s behalf?  How about reminding God of His promises to build and protect the Church.  Nehemiah provides an excellent example for us.  Will you follow that example with me?

Then what?  Well, Nehemiah went and rebuilt the wall with great risk and sacrifice to himself.  What will we do?  I believe we must:

  1. Identify, mobilize and encourage faithful believers to genuinely follow Christ.
  2. Call out into the visible Church and help those God brings forward to genuinely follow Christ.
  3. Call out into the rest of the world, sharing the pure gospel of Christ, and helping those who respond in faith become genuinely follow Christ.

Will you join us in the mission?  I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again…we need all the help we can get.  There is much of work left to build this wall! 

What’s the first step?  The first step (of many) is to build the community of believers…let’s spread the word of this effort far and wide that all those God is calling to it around the world can join in.  The next steps will unfold from there.

http://seqhim.org

Is Spiritual Growth really Growth of a Spirit?

Let’s now turn our attention away from why and toward how

Willohroot made the comment of the year, “I don’t know how we’re going to pull this off”.  Of course, I agree, and if you are still reading this, I’m sure you do as well.  I’m sure all of you understand that we cannot do it…that if it is going to happen, then God is going to have to do it through us.  Our job is simply to be obedient, and I can tell you unequivocally that I’m personally compelled to push forward…to do otherwise would be a violation of my conscience and probably a form of sin (Rom 14). 

What I’m going to try to do now, over the next series of posts, is walk you through what I hope is a simple progression of some rather complicated thoughts that have been simmering for close to a year now between myself and a small number of like-minded buddies.

Shifting gears from the macro-issues of the church today, let’s talk about spiritual growth.  What exactly is it?  How does it happen?  How can Christians help other Christians to grow?

What is “Spiritual” Growth?

First of all, I believe spiritual growth is a bit of a misnomer because the reality is that a believer’s spirit does not need to grow – it is already perfect.  At conversion, all of us who believe in Christ, received a new spirit…a regenerated spirit…a reborn spirit.  This spirit is perfect and is one with the Holy Spirit.  The problem is not with our spirit but with our flesh.  All of the tools God gave us to interact with one another on earth are still corrupt; i.e. our minds and all they control.  Therefore, Paul can face the dilemmna that all of us face: what I want to do, I do not do; and, what I do not want to do, I do.  The desires of our perfect spirit conflict with the desires of the flesh.  Therefore, the goal os “spiritual” growth is to tranform the flesh (or, “renew the mind”).  It is to make our flesh obedient to our spirit as a slave.  It is to understand that the flesh has no power over the spirit (it is dead), and behave accordingly.  This happens over time, as we intentionally surrender our flesh to the spirit (which is one with God’s Spirit indwelling us).

Hopefully this is all sounding quite biblical.  If not, call me on it and let’s change it.

How does Growth Happen?

After years of careful observation, I’ve concluded that there are three dimensions to genuine spiritual growth: knowledge, character, and behavior.  All believers are called to grow in their knowledge and understanding of God’s truth, transform the way we think, and become increasingly compliant to God’s standard of behavior.

Iterative Growth Model
Iterative Growth Model

I’ve also concluded that the way in which we grow along these three dimensions is by hearing, believing and obeying God.  Generally speaking, it is by hearing God that we grow in knowledge; it is by believing God that our internal thoughts and attitudes change; and, it is by obeying God that our external behaviors change. 

And, this process is iterative…you don’t go to school or bible study, learn all you can, grow to maturity in knowledge, and then begin working on your character.  Rather, we all learn a little, apply the spiritual disciplines to train our belief to some extent, and obey what we have learned and become, then repeat.  And we do this forever.  Again, I think willohroot made the point that it’s not about the destination…it’s about the journey, and I fully agree.  We can’t think of this as winning a race; it’s about running the race well and finishing strong.

How Can Believers Help Other Believers to Grow?

First of all, let me say that it’s not necessary.  There is biblical precedent for God capturing and growing His people without much help from other believers; e.g. Abraham and Noah.  The core of my own personal testimony is that God used mainly unbelievers and ‘fringe’ to drive my own growth, not by encouragement but by friction.  That said, I’ve also concluded that this is the exception and not God’s desire for His Kingdom today.  God’s desire is that his people work together to build-up the Kingdom together.

In short, I believe the most effective means of helping other believers is not to call them but to personally lead them.  It’s not to talk about it, but it is to provide them an example to follow.  And, once that example is provided, then you have the right to talk about what you are doing, why you are doing it, and give advice to another on what you think they could do to grow in the same way.  This is the essence and purpose of practical, intentional and effective one-on-one discipleship.

In the next few posts, we’ll keep diving deeper into how we can make this real together.  In the meantime, I’d love to hear your feedback on these thoughts!

Are ‘fringe’ building churches such a bad thing? Maybe not…

The problem is not so much with what churches are doing; it’s with what they are not doing. 

Many churches are so focused on growth that the majority of their resources (money, materials and people) are focused on growth initiatives; i.e. building campaigns, community events, etc.  This leaves little left for internal growth initiatives.  In other churches, particularly those overseas, there is precious little resource to invest in either external or internal growth.  Either way, churches are struggling to help people to grow.  We are adding to our numbers, but we’re adding ‘fringe’ and we’re not helping ‘fringe’ move to the core.

BUT, what if there existed a community of ‘core’ believers whose sole purpose was to birth new believers from the ‘world’ and develop baby believers in the ‘fringe’? 

If this community was effective, it would complement churches of all sizes, shapes and styles while filling this all important gap of internal spiritual growth.  It would have to be orthodox and yet inter-denominational.  It would have to be united on the essentials of the Christian faith, but mature enough to give and receive the freedom granted by grace.  It would have to be seemlessly global, not bound to a region or local church body.  It would have to be large in number, but it would have to be more concerned about the maturity of the community than it’s size.  It would have to be simple for community members to communicate with one another; it would have to be accessible, transparent, authentic, and helpful to those outside of the comunity.

If such a community existed, ‘fringe’ building churches could leverage the community to supplement their existing internal growth initiatives, practically free.  If such a community existed, a small town church in west Texas, an isolated body of believers in Zambia or an underground small group in a communist or muslim country would have equal access to the same global support structure as a mega-church in the USA.

Does this sound exciting?  Do you want to engage?  Let me know…

[polldaddy poll=1334431]

Zero Church Aptly Named?

A few posts ago, I alluded to a mailer I received that provided a pretty good example of a “fringe building” church rather than a “core building” church. 

Note that I have never attended this church nor do I know anything about it or their leadership…I’ve only received the mailer.  Therefore, the only comments I intend to make are about the mailer and the audience it is obviously designed to reach.

A mailer I received from Zero Church
A mailer I received from Zero Church

Here are some observations:

About Zero Church

  • “Most churches are okay, but we think…”.  In other words, if you are unhappy with the church you are currently attending, then come to zero church.  Is this church reaching out to unbelievers or to people who already have a church home but are hoping to find a church that is more entertaining?
  • “We have a talk, but no preaching.”  Can you imagine the apostle Paul or any hero of the faith telling it’s audience, “hey, i’m not here to preach…let’s just have a talk.”  God calls us to teach His Word…why are we ashamed of that?
  • “We have an offering, but not for us…”  Does this mean that 100% of what people give to zero church goes to the poor and oppressed?  If that’s true, wonderful!  But, I wonder where the money comes from to pay salaries, rent space, buy office supplies, etc?
  • “We have a band, but not much worship music”.  If it’s not worship music, then what is the purpose of the music?  Entertainment is all I can think of. 

“Talk” Series

The good thing about how this series is described is that at least the word “biblical” is included.  These topics are wonderful for a Christian counseling session.  And, believe me, I’m all for Christians helping other Christians “learn how to say no”.  But, the mission of the church is to make disciples, right?  How do these topics help us make disciples?  How do they call people to Christ?  Again, my point is not about style of worship/preaching…it’s about what the style is producing.  Series like this educate people on how to live their lives in a western materialistic culture, but they do not educate people as to their sin condition, God’s grace, genuine faith in Christ, and the ultimate importance of obedience.  People become better parents, spouses, friends, and co-workers not primarily by studying how to become a better parent, spouse, friend or co-worker…they do it primarily by learning God’s word, believing is, and obeying it.

At the end of the day, I just don’t understand why churches feel like they cannot be proud of the God we serve and that somehow God is pleased when we hide Him for the sake of “building His kingdom”.  My belief is that God does indeed save people in churches like these, but he does it despite faithless methods and not because of them.  The natural fruit of churches like these is ‘fringe’ which, as I have argued, is actually hurting the Church not building it. 

We ought to be going out into the world, sharing the good news of Christ, and serving them in His name; we should not be not pulling the lost into our communities and calling them part of the Church when God has not made them part of the Church.

I understand my stance is probably not very popular.  My intent is not to be unpopular…just aligned with the God we serve as best I can be.  I’d love to hear your thoughts and observations.

Choosing Sides in the Unseen War

“When surrounded by war, one must eventually choose sides.”

The opening line to a recent Star Wars: The Clone Wars episode (above) struck me as applicable to our discussion.  In his comments from a couple of posts ago, Bob ended with “At least we’ll all know where we stand!”  One day, we will certainly know where we all stand b/c all will be forced to take up sides at some point.

Over the past few years, I’ve spent considerable time researching and developing small group strategy.  I’ve participated in small groups, led small groups, coached small group leaders, and helped churches start and grow small group ministries.  Through all of this, I’ve tried to keep the focus on the role a small group plays in the spiritual war we are presently engaged in (Eph 6:12).  Unfortunately, the momentum is to think of small groups more as social clubs than army platoons.  Small groups ought to be more than friends being friends; they ought to be a means of mobilizing God’s people in our struggle against the “spiritual forces” Paul speaks of. 

This trend is another driver toward the need to go back to one-on-one discipleship.  If the Church has an effective means to grow people (and the forming consensus is that small groups are not an effective means to grow people spiritually), then small groups can safely be more “communal”.  You would train your small group leaders to identify those in their small groups who are willing to be disciples, then take them aside for deeper training or pair them with someone else who can.

To bring this back to where we started, the point is that we in the Church are indeed “surrounded by war”.  Not a war with flesh and blood, but with the spiritual forces that are trying (and will ultimately fail) to overcome God’s people.  Only the most core of the ‘core’ remember this on a daily basis and live their lives accordingly, yet all of us should. 

What does that mean in a practical sense?  It simply means taking spiritual growth (i.e. knowing God and his Truth more, developing a Christlike character, and obeying God in all things regardless of the potential sacrifice) more seriously than anything else.

Have you chosen a side?  Are you engaging the enemy?  If not, will you?  If you will, keep coming back and we’ll continue to discuss how we can do that together.

Fringe to Core; World to Core

So far, we have presented our fundamental mission as moving people from the ‘fringe’ to the ‘core’ and from the ‘world’ to the core.  In this post, we’ll begin to explore how we might do that.  Before we begin, let me say that while many of these terms may sound familiar, you will see in the next few posts that we’re going to land on an approach is that quite unique.  The drive toward a unique approach is not simply to be different but because I believe that if the current techniques were working, we would not be getting worse instead of better.

Let’s begin with a reminder that while God sees the black and white lines between “believer” and “non-believer”, we cannot.  To other people, it is a continMoving people from the fringe to the core and from the world to the core.uum of people who range from the obvious “non-believer” (world) to the obvious “believer” (core), with a wide variation between the two.  An obvious “believer” might be the apostle Paul or Billy Graham; and obvious “non-believer” would be anyone who does not profess belief in Jesus Christ (regardless of how good their behavior is).  The rest of us fall somewhere in between…we profess Jesus as Lord, but we either have not actually been spiritual born (i.e. we profess Jesus as Lord for social reasons and not because we actually want to follow him) or we have not “grown” spiritually to the point of, say, an apostle Paul.  More accurately, we have not grown to the point of being just like Christ (the perfect human and standard for all of us), in a spiritual sense. 

And so, our charter is to a) challenge people in the ‘world’ end of the spectrum to profess Jesus as Lord (spiritual birth); b) ensure that the ‘fringe’ understands what it really means to follow Christ as a genuine believer (maybe spiritual birth; maybe first steps of growth); and c) challenge, encourage, and support all those who profess genuine faith in Christ to move toward the ‘core’ end of the spectrum (spirit growth).

What is the technique that we use to accomplish these goals?  This is where we’ll spend most of our time in the next several posts.  Right now, I’ll set it up by simply saying that the technique varies per person.  Where the person is squarely within the ‘world’, pure evangelistic (or apologetic) techniques are appropriate.  Where the person is squarley within the ‘core’, pure discipleship techniques are appropriate.  Where the person is somewhere in between, a personalized mix of evangelistic and discipleship techniques are appropriate.

If you are interested to hear further on a unique approach, specifically targetted at discipleship and enabled by community and technology, keep checking back!

Who is living on the ‘fringe’ of the Church?

I don’t want to belabor the ‘problem statement’ too much before getting into some thoughts on the solution, but I think it’s wise to go one level deeper before moving on.

Let’s briefly elaborate on ‘core’, ‘fringe’, and ‘world’ then conclude with “so what?”

Core

These are obviously genuine believers in Jesus Christ.  They know their Bibles, or are working hard at knowing their Bibles.  Internally, they struggle to think and act as Christ would, whether that is popular or not.  When they mess up, it really hurts yet move on in God’s forgiveness.  The core is seen by the fringe and the rest of the world as generally loving and ‘good’ but also a threat to principles they hold dear such as ‘tolerance’ and ‘relative truth’.  The core’s firm belief in one God and one Savior makes the world and the fringe very uncomfortable, and this causes constant friction with these groups yet also unites the core in one Faith.

World

These are obvious non-believers in Jesus Christ.  Whether they label themselves athiest, agnostic or a believer in some other faith or cult, all deny one of the beliefs that make Christianity, Christianty.  These include historic essentials such as the diety of Christ, the atonement of Christ, the resurrection of Christ, and the return of Christ.  In general, these people are not upset by being called ‘non-Christian’, for they are not trying to be Christian. 

Fringe

For those thinking I’m being kindof black and white, here is the gray area…the vague overlap of the ‘core’ and the ‘world’.  The ‘fringe’ includes those people who would call themselves a Christian but who think and act differently from either the world or the core.  People in the fringe may or may not be ‘regenerated’ (born again). Some are genuine believers and simply immature; others are not believers but really like being in community with other believers.  Regardless, they all look about the same; they have little knowledge of the Bible, little motivation of study it on their own, little motivation to be more like Christ, and little motivation to act as Christ would act in situations where that “Christlike action” comes with personal risk or sacrifice.  Their focus is largly on conforming to the norms of the “church” community; and, because the ‘church’ community is mostly fringe (more on this in a later post), these norms align more with the world’s guidance on how to become happy and comfortable and less with God’s guidance.

So, what does this mean?  It means that you, the reader, fall into one of these groups.  If you are in the world, you probably don’t care much about any of this.  If you are in the fringe, I am praying that God would call you to the core.  If you are in the core, I’m praying you might help me help those in the fringe whom God is calling to the core get there.

More to come…

What does today’s inauguration teach us about the need for discipleship?

I think it has less to do with who is being inaugurated than with the perspective that the ‘fringe’ (see my last post) currently has…a perspective that has led to the decision the we have made together as a country.  The fringe seems to have bought into the world’s idea that any change brings hope.  The very fact that we’re changing is what gives us hope.  In this way, the ‘fringe’ is being conformed to the way the ‘world’ thinks.

I believe the ‘core’ would disagree with this idea; the core would argue that change may or may not be good for the country, the world and for the Church.  It all depends on how well that change aligns with Biblical principles.  If the change is toward Biblical principles, then yes, on the basis that our hope is in Christ we can say that change is good.  But, if the change is away from Biblical principles, then what “hope” do we really have?  Hope in ourselves is false hope.

Why then is discipleship important?  In my view, one-on-one relationships between those in the core and those in the fringe whose purpose is to help build biblical principles into the practical lives of both is the most effective way of conforming the norms of the Church to those of Christ and preventing them from taking on the norms of the world which run contrary to God’s desire of blessing for us. 

In future posts, I’ll continue to drill into how we can work together on this.

Let’s begin…

…with a couple of assertions and see what happens.

There are three kinds of people in this world: “Core”, “Fringe”, and “World”.  The ‘core’ includes obvious, genuine, mature believers in Jesus Christ.  The ’world’ includes those who are obviously not believers but one day still could be.  The ‘fringe’ includes those who either are believers and yet look like the world or are not really believers yet look like believers.  Either way, those in the ‘fringe’ look and behave in a very similar way; and, it’s often really hard to tell the difference between a believer and a non-believer because of the way each have been ‘conformed’ by the culture around them.

For the most part, western evangelical local churches…especially ‘large’ churches…are doing a really good job of growing the ‘fringe’ but are not doing much to grow the ‘core’.  Therefore, the ‘fringe’ is growing at a faster pace than the ‘core’.

How are we so far?