Last week I posted “A Pastor’s Rant about Spiritual Growth” which became my most viewed blog. The volume of traffic surprised me, and I think it exposed a problem that has contributed to the church becoming a mile long and an inch deep.
The problem goes like this: the church implicitly or explicitly promises spiritual growth through it’s various programs, and when the church does not deliver on that unrealistic expectation, some feel let down and start shopping for a new church.
Now, there’s nothing wrong about changing churches. Sometimes that’s a good move. But when it’s precipitated by the expectation that the church is responsible for my spiritual growth, it becomes problematic on a number of levels.
For one, it displaces responsibility away from the individual and onto the church to “feed me” through… you name it: sermons, music, programs, socials, etc. As such, it trains people to become consumers of religious goods rather than equipping people to become disciples of Jesus.
As a Pastor, I’ve helped build active, highly programmed churches. I’ve generated lots of activity that has kept a lot of believers very active. And I’ve come to the conclusion that all that activity does not necessarily produce the kind of disciples or the kind of community that Jesus envisioned.
In short, we who lead the church must recognize that we’ve made the church too complex with layer upon layer of programs. We’ve prided ourselves on this “ministry development” even while we’ve lowered the bar for discipleship. We need, as Thom Rainer recognized in his excellent book, Simple Church, to make the church less complex and to raise the bar of discipleship.
All this leads to a question I’ve been pondering for some time: What facilitates spiritual growth in the life of a believer? Is it prayer? The reading of scripture? The practice of generosity? Serving others in the name of Jesus? Yes, it’s all of that, and it’s also much more. And the “much more” is participation in a community that pursues those practices together.
In the Bible, spiritual growth is less about the moral efforts of an individual and more about the matrix of a discipleship community that engenders, encourages, and challenges a spiritual growth together. And the vision for the body of Christ is that participation in the body produces growth that is deeper and wider than any of it’s individuals could ever attain on their own.
Those thoughts about discipleship and community have been percolating with me for some time, and they’ve crystalized into this conviction…
I believe that one of the largest hurdles for the church today is to move away from producing more programs to producing more disciples by insisting that participation in a Jesus shaped community on mission for sake of world is indispensable for your spiritual growth.
At the church I serve, we’re figuring out how to put wheels on this conviction. We’ve paired back programs to the most important ones, while creating volunteer-led communities that gather for fellowship and reach out with tangible expressions of Gods love to people where we work, live and play. Our dream is to plant many of these community mission outposts, scattering seeds of the gospel in creative and compelling ways.
It’s a big goal, and it’s a big bet. Can the church reclaim it’s true calling as a disciple-making community? I believe we can, and it begins with the recognition that new wineskins are needed for the bride of Christ to reclaim her role as the light of the world, a cross shaped community, growing together, and serving others in the name of Jesus for the sake of the world.