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…

And so, our mission is…

… to help willing people move from the fringe to the core (discipleship) and from the world to the core (evangelism).

My observation is that the majority of local churches today, particularly evangelical churches in the west, are focused mostly on the evangelistic portion of this mission using mostly a strategy of “attractive” worship services.  It’s staggering to see how much money is being poured into these ‘attractive’ worship services; it’s even more staggering to observe that many churches are coming to the conclusion that to make the service ‘attractive’ they must minimize the role of God and the Bible in it.

This weekend, I received a flyer in the mail for a new local church in my area.  I don’t have it with me at the moment, but I saved it…maybe I’ll scan it and upload it if I think about it later.  But I noted that it did not have the word “God” anywhere on it.  It also contained a number of comparisons between it’s style and other (obviously, less ‘attractive’) styles of worship. The phrase, “we have a talk, not a sermon” comes to mind. 

Now, I understand the concepts and purposes of the “seeker” church and the “emerging” church, but what kind of a church believes they have to hide God to be effective?  Would God really call us to something that requires us to hide his Name to be successful?  Isn’t the power to save in the gospel itself?  Isn’t the biblical model for evangelsim Christians sharing their faith unashamedly with other Christians, in large group, small group, and one-on-one settings?  Looking at today’s churches, you would think that the power to save is in concerts, dramas, social events, community service, and pop psychology ‘talks’…that it’s more important to go to church, be in a small group, have a good marriage, help people find their parking spots and not be stressed out than it is to have a genuine, personal, saving relationship with the Savior of the world, Jesus Christ which demands that we give up many (not all) elements of comfort to do the right thing and not just the popular thing. 

My purpose in saying these things is to make a very specific point. 

That point is that unless something is done to reverse the trend, we will soon find the visible Church dominated by the fringe…an intermingled group of lukewarm believers and Godless non-believers united not by one faith in God but by one faith in the world’s system.  The core will be reduced in size, influence, and effectiveness.  We will all rejoice in our election of leaders who promise a hope that is of ourselves and not of God.

If the core is going to do anything to reverse the trend, it has to rise up now.  Time is running out …