In the previous installments of this blog (part 1, 2, 3, 4,), I’ve written about our need for a greater focus on spiritual growth in our churches. I’ve discussed the key components of Living Faith that facilitate spiritual growth. One thing I haven’t discussed is the center of all of these discussions–not the ‘how to’ of spiritual growth, but the ‘what exactly is’ spiritual growth. It’s time for a good examination of spiritual growth to discover what we’re hoping to achieve.
We should start by considering what isn’t spiritual growth—
- Spiritual growth or maturity isn’t eloquence in speaking about faith. This is true whether that speech is a sermon, a prayer, comments in a discussion, dynamic teaching, or encouragement offered to another person. Jesus talked about people who pray publicly, and his words were not very affirming. He might offer the same comments about prayers than impress us today. The person praying might be moving and ‘spot on,’ but that doesn’t mean the person is in touch with God. It simply means that the person does well talking about being in touch with God.
- Spiritual growth doesn’t equate with a high level of commitment. Sometimes it’s said of a person that he or she will do anything he or she is asked, or that the person gives generously. These are great practices, but they don’t reflect the spiritual condition of the person. The person might be head-over-heels in love with Christ, but a high level of commitment to doing good doesn’t prove this. There are a lot of other incentives for deep involvement in church activities such as guilt relief, recognition, influence, or approval. None of these will bring a person closer to God or instill Christ’s image in them.
- Talents don’t prove this either. A singer might be able to amaze a crowd. A youth leader might be able to draw young people like bees to honey. An officer on a church board might be able to motivate the congregation or manage the work of a board in impressive ways. But none of these abilities demonstrates spiritual maturity and growth.
- Spiritual gifts don’t guarantee spiritual growth. They receive a lot of attention in the New Testament, and they are emphasized in some denominations, much less so in the Moravian Church. Some see them as a litmus test of godliness, but nothing supports this conviction.
But enough about what spiritual growth/maturity/life isn’t. It’s time to think about what it is—
- Galatians 5 is a good place to start. Paul writes about the fruit of the spirit. That’s always intrigued me. I read the names of the fruit, but what does that look like in a person’s life? I have not grown tired of pondering this question about people, and about myself.
- Fruit, not fruits. There are nine names given to the spirit’s fruit in Galatians, but fruit is singular. It’s like they come as a set. If you have a basket on the table with an assortment of fruit in it, you don’t talk about how nice the fruits look. You talk about the fruit. The Galatians 5 passage is like a prism that refracts the light of spiritual fruit into 9 colors that enables us to understand it better. But it’s one fruit. It’s one image of Christ that is revealed in different ways depending on the situation. Can you imagine having love without gentleness, or patience without peace, or joy without self-control? Of course not, because it’s one fruit–the fruit of the spirit. We can’t focus on achieving one or the other like it was a New Year’s resolution. Instead, we focus on Christ, and the fruit of Christlikeness begins to develop in us.
- Philippians 4:4-9. Before you read further, read these verses. Go ahead, I’m serious. Just don’t forget to come back and finish reading this post.
The word, fruit, isn’t included in these verses, but its imprint can be seen all over it. It talks about a frame of mind which allows for and fosters spiritual growth and maturity.
By now you’d be right to wonder what this has to do with Living Faith which we’ve been developing. The goal or focus of Living Faith is this spiritual fruit/growth/maturity. This model of church life makes this kind of vibrant spiritual life possible. Spiritual life doesn’t happen because we decide to pray more or serve more. It happens when we help each other discover God’s work in our lives.
That’s the point of Living Faith. Even the most dedicated introvert (like me) needs fellowship with others to grow toward Christ. No one does this alone. Even monks living in solitude depend on the sense of fellowship they have with those who live that same disciplined life.
If you want to have a deeper spiritual life, work at it with others who are also focused on the same thing. Living Faith can guide you in that. Gradually, you’ll find the fruit developing in your life that Paul discusses out of his own experience.
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)