How to Grow Our Faith

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BY THE REV. TIM BYERLY |

Like most of us who grew up in the church, during my childhood and adolescence my faith was simple and innocent. Untested, and thus undeveloped, might be a better description. I listened to sermons and Sunday School lessons about God, the Bible, and my faith. I thought a lot about what I heard and liked believing in Christ. I confirmed my faith and was glad when I did that.

When I left home to attend college, almost everything changed. That included my experience of faith. I still attended church when I stayed on campus for the weekend, and I often attended the daily, evening vespers led by the Baptist Student Union (Wingate is a Baptist school). But these didn’t change my experience of the Christian faith. They pretty much just added to what I was already doing on Sundays back home.

Picture of cross

But there was one other thing that I started doing that made a dramatic difference in my experience in faith. It not only changed the way I looked at faith. It invigorated it in a major way. It changed my life.

This other experience which was new to me and which made such a change in how I lived my faith was interactive gatherings of small groups of Christians where we had the opportunity to talk about our spiritual journeys and the Scriptures. We did this frequently, probably two or three times each week. It was like being at Laurel Ridge Senior High Camp, but for an entire academic year. During the summer I found a similar group back home.

In each of these settings, I was engaged in an exploration of what it’s like to live in Christ. I wasn’t just sitting and listening. All of the members of the group found an openness to their questions and to their stories about their spiritual journeys. I found myself growing in my faith. I discovered gifts of service which I used in those small communities. Others in these communities noticed and affirmed these gifts, and I became aware of gifts in others and affirmed these.

Over the ensuing years, my conviction has only grown stronger that interactive groups of four or five who gather to share their spiritual journeys are essential to spiritual vitality and growth. The church can’t thrive without them.

For decades this need was met through Sunday school classes. They thrived and blossomed. Congregations emerged from them, including several in the Southern Province which were organized in the first half of the 20th century. The Sunday school movement has lost this impact over the past few decades. This isn’t because any shortcomings of this model that served so well for a long time. I think it has more to do with societal changes.

cross picture

Somehow we must find a way to offer opportunities for close, heartfelt interaction about our faith in groups of four or five persons. Peter, James and John were a group of three with which Jesus worked. I suspect that he worked with the others in similar settings. Many of the events in Acts seem to have been informal discussions in groups of only a few. Similar  groups were a precursor to the August 13 experience. And similar bands were a foundation stone for John Wesley’s work that became the Methodist Church. This approach to spiritual life and growth is just as necessary now as it was in each of these examples.

Now, a few questions—

  • Have you ever been involved in a group of four or five, or more persons in which you shared your experience of walking with Christ? If so, what impact did–or does–it have on you?
  • If not, did you ever have such an opportunity? and Why didn’t it work out for you to participate?
  • A lot of people agree that we need this but can’t find the time to make it work. Are you one of those persons? What change would be necessary for you to open up time to do this? Do you think you would gain enough through this experience to make the difficult changes in your schedule worth the effort?
  • What happens next?
    • Read this and move on to something else?
    • Read this and think about it?
    • Read this and do something about it?
  • How can BCM help to make this happen for you?

Questions? Comments? Contact the Rev. Tim Byerly at TLByerly1971@gmail.com

Tim Byerly

The Rev. Tim Byerly has worked with the Moravian Board of Cooperative Ministries as a Project Coordinator for the Living Faith Small Group initiative. 

Living Faith Small Group Ministry: Part Eight

BY TIM BYERLY |

If you’ve read the previous posts in this series about Living Faith, thank you for staying with me on this. If you haven’t, you can find themhere (part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7). I hope you will check them out.


You will need a little background information for this post to make sense. If you aren’t familiar with how the Moravian Church is organized, you need to understand that the Southern Province of the Moravian Church in America is governed by a body called a Synod which meets for about four days every four years. This Synod consists mainly of the pastors and educators who are serving churches along with elected representatives from the member congregations.

Something happened at the last Synod which was held two years ago in the spring of 2014 which could bible image alter the future of our Church. I’m not saying it will, just that it could. A resolution was passed calling for the establishment of Manna Ministries–or maybe a way to recognize Manna Ministries–to be overseen by the Provincial Elders’ Conference (PEC) or by an entity designated by the PEC. This was not so much about creating a new “department” in the church or even about creating a new ministry. It was about recognizing “new and emerging ministries that do not otherwise fit into the existing models and categories of ministry.” There seemed to have been a lot of interest and energy among the delegates over this concept. It reflects the belief of some that the church’s ministry–or a portion of its ministry–needs to move in an innovative, non-conventional direction if it is to be relevant to our current culture.

One of the exciting things about Living Faith is that it looks in two directions. It connects with the past by using the model of Moravian prayer bands (see blog post 6), and it connects with our present and future by connecting us with each other and with God in a time when it’s easy to become disconnected. It capitalizes on the dynamics of spiritual unity and fellowship more fully than most of us are currently experiencing. It offers to invigorate our faith and our congregations through a practice that is a part of Moravian heritage but which is rarely found in Moravian congregational life today.

When I heard of the adoption of the Manna Ministries resolution, I sensed in that action an eagerness to do something innovative, something non-conventional, not just so we can say that we are being innovative, but to search for something that offered to make our experience of Christ more powerful and life-changing. And I sensed a desire to find a way for our church to have a more profound impact on our world.

Not always, but many times when I’m describing Living Faith, I hear responses that reflect some of this eagerness to make our congregational life more transformative. That’s what I’ve sensed in many conversations.

I’m not sure Living Faith fits the vision of Manna Ministries the way it was conceived at Synod. I wasn’t there. And Living Faith is intended usually to begin within a congregation’s fellowship rather than something apart from a congregation. But I do see some of the same characteristics that one might find in a ministry that doesn’t “fit into the existing models and categories of ministry.” Our existing way of “doing church” doesn’t place a lot of emphasis on spiritual growth. It’s offered, it’s presented as a good thing, but not as a major priority for the entire congregation.

Coupling spiritual growth with outreach is another unique quality of the Living Faith model. Outreach doesn’t usually grow out of spiritual growth as it occurs in small group fellowship. They seem to be done independently of each other. Let me hasten to add that I’m not suggesting that they are never joined in this way in our churches. It just doesn’t seem to me to be the norm as it is in Living Faith.

I’m excited about this yearning for a deeper church life that impacts our lives and our world. This is what I sense in this resolution on Manna Ministries. I believe it’s something we need. Living Faith can enable our congregations to move beyond themselves in ways they are not currently doing. I look forward to seeing how this plays out.


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)

Tim Byerly

Living Faith Small Group Ministry: Part Seven

BY TIM BYERLY |

This is the 7th post in this blog about Living Faith, a model of congregational life that has been developed by the Board of Cooperative Ministries of the Moravian Church, Southern Province. If you’ve been sticking with me throughout this discussion, thank you. If you haven’t, you can find the previous posts here (part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6).


How many times have you participated in a worship service—and then left with a sense of transformation in your life? Not necessarily a conversion experience, but definitely a moment of growth or transformation? When you were different in a good way than when you arrived at the service? And the difference did not fade away as life’s challenges distracted you from a good and holy experience? How recent was the last time you felt something like this?

In the first post in this blog about Living Faith, I wrote about my belief that God calls the Church to be involved in three basic activities:

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, or could be grouped under one of these three callings.

Most of this blog has focused on how to encourage spiritual growth in our congregations. That’s the main objective of Living Faith. However, in post #3 I described how outreach fits into the Living Faith model. One thing that I haven’t discussed is the inter-relationship between Living Faith and worship. They have a profound impact on each other.

Since I am a pastor, it may surprise you to learn that I think the power of worship to bless us and Living Faith Small Group Ministrytransform us is not dependent on a good sermon or worship leadership. Musicians may be troubled to find that I would say the same about music. Don’t misunderstand me–these are critical to good worship. They enable us to draw near to God in worship and to experience and express our faith. If this is happening, then you will wonder what else I want out of worship. I want to be transformed; I want to be blessed in ways that will stay with me when I get to Monday, and to Wednesday, and to days that are darkened by my burdens. Great sermons and music aren’t enough for me. Nor are liturgies and prayers and even Scripture readings. All of these are essential. Without them, worship is not worship. But I need something more to make worship transformative.

I need the bonds of fellowship with those who sit with me in worship. Not friendliness, but fellowship. I need something more than the smiles and handshakes exchanged before and after we worship. I need to be in worship with those who’ve shared life with me, who know me, and I them. Living Faith enables relationships like this to flourish. This happens as people walk together in faith in Living Faith groups. Then it happens as these small groups reach out to impact the world in ways they feel the Spirit guiding them. In such fellowship we learn about each other, and we love each other just as we are. We do this not with excessive emotion but with strong bonds of friendship.

I am imaging sitting in worship near three or four people I know well. We’ve become friends that talk through our thoughts about faith with each other and have encouraged each other. We’ve done projects together in service to Christ. We’ve learned give and take in our relationship. There may be 500 other people worshiping with us, but the other 495 don’t affect me as much as those few that I know so well. As we worship, I see their faces; I hear their voices. I’m recalling conversations and experiences that we have shared. The service progresses, and I feel a sense of unity with these who know me as we seek God’s presence together. This makes worship transformative. I am lifted to God by worshiping with those who’ve shared sacred experiences with me. And these experiences come from our times of fellowship and service as one body.

That’s what happens when we come together in a small gathering like a Living Faith group. Who would like to help develop such a community of faith? I would love to hear from you.


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)

Tim Byerly

Living Faith Small Group Ministry: Part Six

This is the 6th post in this blog about Living Faith, a model of congregational life that has been developed by the Board of Cooperative Ministries of the Moravian Church, South. If you’ve been sticking with me throughout this discussion, thank you. If you haven’t, you can find the previous posts here ((part 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5).

Living Faith is a model of church life that can work in most congregations within most denominations. But one thing I haven’t mentioned yet is how closely tied this approach is to the life of Moravian communities in the 18th century–sort of a heyday in renewed Moravian history. For those wanting to get in touch with their Moravian roots, for those who like Moravian history and traditions, for those who believe that the Moravians of that era offer something to us today, Living Faith promises a re-connection with our forebears.

When we think of our Moravian heritage, we  often focus on external trappings that look Moravian but that will not necessarily connect us to the roots of our faith. When I mention my denomination to others, they will make reference to our cookies. Sigh! But even things like lovefeasts, Easter services, music–which are rich and valuable traditions–might easily obscure the depth of the faith of those who first invented these wonderful practices. Even these traditions–which are rich expressions of our faith–depend heavily on our own spiritual condition. It’s easy–and tempting–to go through the motions of these traditions without a deep, underlying, spiritual connection with our Savior.

What we need is a way to discover and experience the deep faith of those earlier Moravians, and to practice some of the principles that made their faith strong. Living Faith embodies some of these principles that made the 18th century Moravian Church dynamic and transformative.

In the development of Living Faith, we rediscovered one practice which has fallen into disuse today — the prayer bands. Residents of Moravian communities were expected to be involved in this form of spiritual pursuit. A great way to learn about this part of Moravian heritage is to read an article by Lanie Graf Yaswinski which you can find at this link. It was published in The Hinge, a journal on issues related to the Moravian world. A condensed version of this article was published in the November, 2013 issue of The Moravian. Yaswinski’s article gives attention to the choir system of that time, but Living Faith rests more on the prayer bands which she also describes. Bishop Spangenberg wrote a biography of Count Zinzendorf. He includes a comment by the count about these bands: “[bands] were established throughout the whole community . . . and have been productive of such blessed effects, that I believe, without such an institution, the church would never have become what it is.[emphasis mine]

Living Faith groups are different from the 18th century Moravian bands as they are described in Yaswinski’s article in some important ways. However, they offer the same source of spiritual vitality and fervor that our forbears found in the close fellowship of the bands.

I like what Ruth Cole Burcaw wrote in her recent BCM blog posts (part 1 and part 2). She urged us to be bold in adapting to our changing world. That’s very Moravian in a historical sense. Moravians of the 18th century weren’t focused on tradition but rather on growth, vision, and ministry. They strained against conformity and the restraints of the day. I would typify our church then as a church of innovation, creativity, and vision. Those aren’t the first descriptive words that come to my mind as I reflect on how we do things today. We are more a traditional church — cautious, bound by precedent.

I’m excited that there is interest and yearning for ideas to emerge that will help us move forward with greater vitality, both as a church and as Christians. Living Faith is intended to be a part of that picture. The wonderful thing about it is that it can help us move forward, but it can also connect us with an important part of our past.

*August Gottlieb Spangenberg; Samuel Jackson, trans., The Life of Nicholas Lewis Count Zinzendorf, Bishop and Ordinary of the Church of the United (or Moravian) Brethren (London: Samuel Holdsworth, Amen-Corner, 1838), 86.


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)

Tim Byerly

Living Faith Small Group Ministry: Part Three

This is the third post in this blog. In the first post, I shared my view that opportunities for spiritual growth are one of three foundational assignments which God has given to the Church along with outreach and worship. I suggested that our Church needs a more concerted focus on spiritual growth opportunities for our members because much of what we do in our churches doesn’t achieve this objective.

In the second post, I wrote about the key elements that make spiritual growth possible. These key elements are incorporated into Living Faith, a model of congregational life which is being developed by the Board of Cooperative Ministries. In introducing this model I mentioned that a group that focuses on spiritual growth must be small to allow all members to share. I stated that there must be confidentiality within such a group. And I wrote about accountability for personal daily devotions and attendance in group gatherings. This post continues this discussion of the components that make spiritual growth possible.

In addition to small size, confidentiality, and accountability, there are a few other key components that a Living Faith group needs to allow spiritual growth to happen.

Leadership. Ideally, the group leader has had previous experience in a group focused on spiritual growth. That person helps the group remain faithful to its covenant. The leader keeps the group on track so that the group’s discussions don’t drift into conversations about theology, society, politics, sports or a host of other topics that are enjoyable but not consistent with the group’s purpose. The leader also guides the group as it explores the study materials that are covered. Keep in mind the leader is not an expert or teacher. The leader discovers new things about faith along with the other group members. The leader’s task is not to enforce rules but to encourage the group to stay on track. Basically, the leader has become familiar with the Living Faith model and seeks to follow this model with the group.

There are two other key components to Living Faith groups. The first of these is described in the rest of this post. I’ll save the last one until the next post. It’s the hardest one.

Outreach. In my first post I mentioned that there are three foundational assignments which God has given to the Church. They are to provide opportunities for spiritual growth, outreach into the world, and worship. In Living Faith, outreach is an outgrowth of the small group experience that produces spiritual growth. This follows in a general way the model that we find Jesus using in Luke 10 with 70 disciples. If we see that passage as a summary of an extended period of preparation, we find that he spent time training them in the context of their community. They then went out, working together on their various outreach efforts. Afterward, they came back together to celebrate and reflect on what they had done. Imagine the bonding and the growth they experienced as their community developed through sharing with each other and then through serving others.

Living Faith groups undertake outreach as groups. This can vary widely, but each group discerns God’s leading toward a specific type of outreach and then pursues it together. In Luke 10 the disciples went in groups of two, whereas Living Faith groups serve as slightly larger groups. Just as the fellowship of the group binds its members together as it focuses on spiritual growth, so the bonds that develop through outreach are no less powerful.

Initially a group develops its small community through talking and sharing. In outreach the group develops unity through doing. Both are important. Both are found in Jesus’ method of training his followers. Henri Nouwen in Spiritual Direction-Wisdom for the Long Walk of Faith suggests that this experience of community and outreach are two of three disciplines–along with solitude–to which Christians are called. “These are the three disciplines we are called to practice on the long journey home: (1) solitude or communion with God in prayer [a form of worship; although Nouwen is focused on solitary worship rather than corporate worship (my comment)]; (2) recognizing and gathering together in community; and (3) ministry or compassion in the world.” The second and third of Nouwen’s disciplines match these components of Living Faith which provide a balance of being faith and doing faith. This makes our faith whole.

A lot of people have undertaken outreach together which led them to live their faith journeys alongside others. Those experiences cemented those friendships. What was the outreach project that brought you close to someone who remains a close friend now?

Next time I’ll write about the hardest component of a Living Faith group.

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)

Tim Byerly

 

Living Faith Small Group Ministry: Part Two

This is the second in a series of posts that share the development of a project which I’ve been working on since June of 2015. (Read Part One here.) 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.

In my first post, I suggested that much of what we do in our congregations focuses on things other than what we need to enable our members to experience spiritual growth. These are important things, but they are designed to achieve objectives other than spiritual growth. If you look back at that post, I write about Sunday School classes and the good that they do. I mentioned that Bible studies also serve an important purpose but often lack the elements that they need in order to enable participants to experience significant spiritual growth. They may learn about spiritual maturity, but they don’t necessarily experience it. This probably raised questions in the minds of many readers as to what factors do I think are needed to make spiritual growth possible. That’s what this post is about.

A key element that helps to make this happen is face-to-face interaction on a regular basis in which we share our spiritual journeys with each other. In Living Faith, this involves sharing our responses to two questions while a few are gathered together:

  • In what ways has God moved in your life since we last met?
  • In what ways has God been silent in your life since we last met?

This makes two things necessary:

1) One is that the group must be smaller than many Sunday School and Bible study classes that exist in many of our churches. If there is a group of seven or more, time just doesn’t allow meaningful responses to these questions by each participant. Smaller than seven is actually preferable.

2) The second thing that becomes necessary in order to respond honestly to these two simple questions is an agreement that things shared must be kept in the strictest confidence. Most of our gatherings in church are not understood to be in confidence. They are good groups, but they aren’t seen as places of confidentiality. This is not to suggest that people must share deep, intimate secrets in such a setting in order to achieve spiritual maturity; but some level of privacy is needed in order to develop close relationships and accountability.

Speaking of accountability, in addition to face-to-face interaction on a regular basis, another element that is essential to spiritual growth is attendance at the weekly to bi-weekly Living Faith group’s gatherings and also personal daily devotional practices. Group members don’t confront each other but encourage each other to remain committed to these parts of their group covenant. This binds the group members together in a way that few other things can do.

Many Moravians have participated in a Gemeinschaft group. This movement began in the Southern Province of the Moravian Church, but it has been used beyond Southern Province churches by many who have found it beneficial. Those who read this and who have participated in such a group will notice some of the similarities between Gemeinschaft and Living Faith. (I should point out that there are significant differences, too.) Most have found that the experience of sharing their faith journey in regular gatherings develops strong, long-lasting relationships. That group becomes an important faith community for them.

The development of one’s faith is not meant to be pursued in solitude. It is intended to be found in the fellowship of others who are seeking the same walk of faith toward spiritual maturity in Christ. That’s what Living Faith is all about.

When has ongoing fellowship in the faith with others enabled you to move closer to Christ. Anyone care to share?

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)

Tim Byerly

Living Faith Small Group Ministry: Part One

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.

Living Faith Small Group Ministry

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)

Tim Byerly