First in a Series
This post and the ones that follow share the development of a project which I’ve been working on since June of 2015. The Board of Cooperative Ministries has sponsored and overseen this work. I didn’t think it would ever have a name, but finally we found one that rang true for those involved in this process. We now call it Living Faith.
This blog starts with my comments regarding the development of a model of church life that we believe can invigorate our congregations. You may find that some of my comments ring true for you, while others might have you objecting out loud. I hope you share both in response to this blog.
There’s nothing official in this. These are only my thoughts based on my reading of the Bible and my experience as a Moravian for a lot of years. There are three things that the Church must be doing in order to fulfill God’s call to be a Church:
1) provide for the spiritual growth of its members,
2) find ways to do outreach in the surrounding community and the world, and
3) regular times of worship.
Everything else the Church does is probably good but is not essential to its calling.
I’ve shared this idea about church life with several people, and the response sometimes follows a common theme. The response was that the Church does well–and sometimes very well–on outreach and worship, but its efforts in fostering the spiritual growth of its members are often insufficient. That’s not to say that it does nothing to help spiritual growth happen. It’s just that it doesn’t receive as much focus as worship and outreach. We tend to invest our energy and resources in worship–with its creative use of music, scripture, prayer and sermon–and in outreach through which we hope to enable others to experience Christ’s love through us. Spiritual growth is seen as a personal, individual endeavor and so is left to the devices of the individual members to achieve as they are aided in a broad sense by the activities of the Church, such as worship, and by one’s own initiative, such as daily devotions. I believe that corporate and individual worship are not enough to enable our spiritual growth. More is needed from the Church to make this happen in our lives.
Now that’s not to suggest that nothing is done to encourage spiritual growth. There are several things the Church does that appear on the surface to focus on spiritual growth, but their success in the area of spiritual growth and maturity is limited because of a variety of factors. One example is Sunday School. A lot of good comes from Sunday School—
- In the younger classes, a foundation of Bible knowledge is laid for the children’s faith. This is invaluable! We should do more of this and find ways to include more of our children in this wonderful experience.
- During the adolescent years, young people are led through a process of examining their beliefs and how these beliefs and their faith relate to their experience of life and the world.
- In adulthood, a major and often unspoken priority centers on long-term relationships. If this is not obvious, try changing the membership of some of those decades-long classes.
All of these benefits are important, and they all are needed for spiritual growth to happen. They are foundation stones for this. But none of them equates to spiritual growth that is integral to the Church’s mission. Occasionally a Sunday School class fosters deep spiritual growth. However, in my experience only small steps are usually taken in this regard. There are several reasons for this that I’ll share in a future post. For now, I’ll just suggest that Sunday School does a lot of good, but spiritual growth requires additional factors that aren’t found in most Sunday School experiences. The same could be said of a lot of Bible studies that are found in many churches.
The Church does lots of things in addition to Sunday School and Bible studies. Many of these fall under the areas of outreach and worship. Many of them do good and achieve much. But most of them lack the elements that are necessary to make spiritual growth happen.
In my next post, I hope to answer the question that’s bound to be in your mind–okay, if something else is needed, what would that be?
In the meantime, you might want to think about your experiences in church, particularly about those experiences that have helped you growth spiritually.
And what does spiritual growth and maturity look like? That’s something else I’ll write about soon.
Thanks for putting up with my thoughts. I look forward to seeing yours in a response.
Questions? Or want to learn more about Living Faith? Contact Tim Byerly at tlbyerly1971(AT)gmail.com.
The Rev. Tim Byerly is the Special Project Manager for Living Faith Small Group Ministry under the Moravian Board of Cooperative Ministries (BCM)