I can imagine asking a small group or team member in a church “Is spiritual growth important?” and hearing them answer, “Absolutely!” Then I would take a risk and follow that with, “Ok, but is it actually possible?” With some trepidation, most would likely say, “Yes, it’s possible.” Ok…now the defining question, the one I really want to ask. “Is spiritual growth possible for you and, if so, how is that happening now?”
Silence. Confusion. Fear. Shame. Doubt.
Welcome to “Awkward Moments in Spiritual Conversations” – the hottest new reality show.
To be clear, I believe growth is possible. And I have seen growth in my life. But not without much pain, sorrow, heartache or effort. And almost never without OTHERS!
Spiritual Growth is Intensely Communal
Church leaders remain convinced that people find hope and strength for their journey when they gather regularly with a small community for mutual support and wisdom. But it is no secret that they are seeking so much more. Inwardly they wonder whether real, lasting change is possible or if a group experience will play a role in their progress toward Christ-centered living.
I’m talking about your group and my group here. Group members are asking, “Is it possible? And if so, how does it happen? How do we know it is happening?” And for many of us in positions of leadership, “What role do group leaders play in this grand communal kingdom adventure of spiritual growth?”
Yes, publicly we are quick to declare that intentional, relational community is essential for life-change. But privately many fearfully wonder, “Can our group actually produce disciples? Can we become radically transformed human beings who are nuts about Jesus, instead of just nuts?”
Let’s be honest. We expect John Ortberg’s group to change. And we’re certain that a few weeks with Dallas Willard will take us just a few feet from the throne-room of heaven. And is there really any doubt that if we invited Richard Foster and the Renovare team to lead our group or team we would experience non-stop spiritual growth, upward and to the right, 24/7, every week of every year?
That’s what most of us believe—really. For THEM it is possible. But not for US. THEY are Transformational Titans and WE are Spiritual Slugs.
Don’t you believe it. Not for one minute. They are not super saints. (Trust me. I have seen Ortberg make a mistake, bumble in the pulpit and sweat in a staff meeting. And once I heard him say a bad word in public.)
BREAKING STORY…Ordinary Person says, “Spiritual Growth is Possible!”
All kidding aside, what attracts us to our spiritual heroes is that they are pursuing a life of devotion, seeking to make themselves available to the transforming grace of God in every part of their lives. But in this they are neither unique nor specially equipped. But they (and many others around the globe) are doing something. And it is something we can all do. It’s normal. And it is normal to need others to pursue lasting change. It is what the church is supposed to do and be.
Todd Hunter puts it this way, regarding the church and the good news it offers the world.
“We are cooperative friends with Jesus, living in creative goodness, for the sake of others, in the power of the Holy Spirit.” – Christianity Beyond Belief
Thankfully we had guides throughout the ages who have experienced this kind of life. And apart from a few mystics called to a more solitary way of prayer and life, they will all tell you that intentional group life – communal living in the way of Jesus – is a major contributor to lasting progress and permanent change.
Such change is both the opportunity and possibility for every Christ-follower. And it is the potential for every team and group in your church – to become a catalytic, change-oriented community of people in hot pursuit of a new way of life.
But it will take effort, something we “grace-focused” people think is downright heresy when it comes to all things spiritual. I am not talking about works—I am talking about effort. Go ahead…look at the phrase “make every effort” in the Bible. Peter, Paul and Jesus all use it. Why? Because they have given up on grace? No. Just the opposite – because grace makes the effort possible!
The spiritual life takes effort. We do not drift into growth or wander into deep, transforming community. Words like strive, labor and effort are not foreign to the bible, or to spiritual growth. In fact, they are essential. Look for yourself.
Dallas Willard has often remarked, “God is opposed to earning, but not to effort.” The words of the bible and saints through the ages bear this out. Effort is powered by grace. Earning is fueled by pride.
So make every effort – to persist in prayer, to work through conflict, to listen with intensity, to serve despite weakness, and to lead with diligence. In so doing you will not earn God’s favor – you already have that. But you will grow in grace, sharpen your focus and reap the rewards of faithfulness, as the scripture promises.
But whatever you do, do not do this alone. In community you will discover what real transformation looks like, for ordinary people like you and me, meeting in average small groups, led by reluctant leaders, yet fueled by the transforming grace of God and empowered by His Spirit. It is a messy process, this community thing. And it takes effort. But the Church—this ragtag group of spiritual misfits—is called to live in a community of oneness for the sake of others. And I, for one, am eager to learn more about how to enter this community with honesty, humility and skill.
I really need it. And so do you. And so do all the “spiritual giants” who have gone before us and guide us today.
Time to recognize spiritual growth is normal and not… uh … um … what’s that word… um… oh yes, …awkward!
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