Finding Your Own Way to Spiritual Growth

Unfortunately, there is no cookie-cutter approach to spiritual growth.

As a Pastor, I want to tell you, “Do these things in this order, and you are guaranteed results.”

Faith just doesn’t work that way. Every individual is wired differently and what works for one person may not work for another. The goal is not for my life to look like yours; the goal is for my life to look like Jesus.

Understanding this one truth is the single biggest factor my spiritual growth over the last few years. I tried to imitate my parents when I was growing up. In high school, I listened to my youth leaders and decided to follow their example. In college, I was surrounded by great men of faith and surely copying their methods would make me grow, but it didn’t.

I have spent most of my life trying to act like my leaders and other believers but to no avail. Finally, I set out on my own path and slowly my life began to change.

1. It doesn’t matter how you learn the Bible, just learn it. I have tried the one-year Bible, Bible reading plans and every other method under the sun. Finally, I landed on a way that works for me, and I have been able to read through the Bible four times in the last seven years.

2. It doesn’t matter how you receive instruction in Christian living, just get some. Some people listen to Christian radio, some podcast, some go to seminars and still some to Sunday school. The goal is better understanding what you are reading, and it doesn’t matter where you get it.

3. It doesn’t matter how your marriage grows, as long as you are growing together. Some people thrive on date nights and private vacations. I have never been able to afford either of those. My wife and I enjoy a Redbox movie alone in our bedroom. It works for us. Find what works for you.

4. It doesn’t matter how you instruct your children, just be sure they are receiving spiritual teaching. Try devotionals, straight Bible reading, children’s Church and even videos. Your child is unique, and it may take a unique approach to help them grow and learn.

5. It doesn’t matter how you serve the Lord, just serve. You have something special to offer the kingdom of God. It may be singing, teaching, planting flowers, painting or even lawn maintenance.

You need to connect to other believers. You need a time of worship. You need accountability. I could probably go on and on, but you get the point.

There is no need to feel guilty that someone else’s method doesn’t work for you. Failure only comes when you stop trying different things to see what works.

I think God puts us in a community of believers so that we can learn from each other not imitate each other. I can hear what works for you and learn from it. People can point me in the right direction until I find the path God has made for me.

The Church at its best is a collection of individuals who are all striving for the same goal in their own wonderful way.

Music that Shaped My Life

Yesterday I was reading through other people’s when I discovered that it was the 20th anniversary of the death of Rich Mullins. I immediately felt inspired to write a story from my life, even though it is a day late.

The year was 1989. I was trying to decide on where I wanted to go to college. I had narrowed it down to a Bible college primarily because I thought it would be easy. I went to visit five colleges in my search, but one weekend in November changed my life.

Ozark Christian College in Joplin Missouri was hosting their fall retreat for High School kids. It was called back then “The Ambassadors Rally.” Even though it was eight hours from home, my parents agreed that I could go with Kirk for the weekend. Kirk was my minister’s son and the grandson of the founder of OCC. For some reason that I do not completely understand as a father of teens, my parents let us make the trip alone.

Honestly, I do not remember the speaker or any of the breakout sessions. There are two things I remember from the weekend. One, my friend Kirk went to stay with his grandparents, and I was dropped off at college. I didn’t know I had to preregister for this event so I didn’t have a room. Two incredibly kind students named Doug and Troy took me into their room and gave me a place to stay. Later when attending college there Troy and I would become friends, and we have stayed in touch through the years.

The second thing that happened that weekend was a concert by Rich Mullins. At that time I had never heard of him. He was just a random artist trying to get a music career off the ground. Throughout the evening I heard something in Rich’s songs that I had never heard before in Christian music. His songs were a mixture of honesty and grace. Songs like “Elijah,” “Home,” “Ready for the Storm” and “If I Stand” spoke to me in a new and fresh way.

That day I bought all four cassette tapes he had for sale in the lobby. I took them home, and I listened to them over and over. In fact, it was only a few years ago that I finally throw those tapes out. They are the songs of my Christian life.

Over the coming years, I would purchase every Rich Mullins CD and listen to them repeatedly. I attended three more live concerts across the country. I read everything about Rich that CCM magazine published. Like the rest of the country, I sang the chorus to Awesome God as an early praise chorus.

His words shaped my life as he sang of God’s grace in the light of our frailty and faults. You may have never heard of him, or ever listened to one of his songs, but his shadow was cast over my life and helped mold me as much as any preacher or teacher.

When Rich died 20 years ago, I wondered who would fill the void of his life in Christian music. As of yet, no one has even come close. Christian music is made to sell, and popular culture has made everything sound very similar. Worship music drives the market more than personal reflection. Rich’s music and his life were unique. I thank God for Rich and people like him.

Being a Follower First

The world is full of the rhetoric of leadership. It appears that if you really want to get anywhere in life, you must become a leader. This thinking is reinforced in high schools, college scholarship applications, university classes and activities, business books and articles you are exposed to before you even take a real job. Even my children’s sports teams speak of leadership on the field along with the emotional leadership of a few players. Honestly, it is hard to go anywhere without someone writing or talking about leadership.

Interestingly enough, when Jesus called people to himself while in ministry on the earth, he called them to be followers first. Jesus did not call 12 men into “future leadership training” instead he simply said, “Come, follow me.”

Eventually, some of those men went on to be leaders in the Church, but before they could be good and godly leaders, they needed to be followers. I think the same reality exists today. Before I try to move anyone into leadership, I ask some questions about how they are living as a follower of Jesus and the leadership placed above them.

Here are some of the characteristics I see in a good follower.

1. A good follower is willing to listen & learn. A good follower must first admit that they do not have everything figured out. They must acknowledge that there is a great deal to learn. As a result, they listen to the instructions of others. They read to grow. A good follower is committed to seeking growth through the teaching of others.

2. A good follower is willing to submit.
There is not really a nice way to say this other than, “they do what they are told.” Granted they may not always agree or even understand the reason for the instruction, but they do it anyway. They submit their will to the person who is placed over them.

3. A good follower is willing to serve. Jesus was arguably one of the best leaders of all time, and yet he says that he came to serve (Mark 10:45). Christian leadership is achieved by a life of service. The goal is not to have people who desire to sit in a boardroom making decisions. The goal is to have people willing to do anything for the kingdom of God. They will wash, clean, paint, pick up, repair, or do whatever is required to move forward the cause of Christ.

4. A good follower is willing to sacrifice. These people are willing to give of themselves for the good of the group or the leader. They give up time, talent and treasure to bring growth. They will work hard and surrender themselves for the good of their cause.

I firmly believe that real leadership is formed in the lives of good followers. Before you set your heart on leadership, especially in the Church, you must be willing to follow. This process has a way of humbling your soul and breaking your spirit so that God can use you.

In a world looking for a few good leaders, I would like to be a part of a group of followers.

Shining Your Light in the World

As followers of Jesus, we have the privilege and responsibility to shine the light of Christ into the world through our lives. We tend to think of this project in significant terms. We need to help the flood victims. We need to march against injustice. We need to make a public stand for all we believe.

While those things are good, I am also convinced that we can shine our light just as bright on smaller terms. Here are a few of the things I am noticing lately.

1. Be Kind to People. The people who touch my life in the biggest way are people who speak kindly, smile, open doors, shake my hand and say nice things to me. They compliment without complaining. They do good without repayment. They show kindness without strings. This world can be cold and hard some days, and a little kindness goes a long way.

2. Ask Someone about Themselves. We live in an age of endless self-promotion. Social media is about people sharing their lives with little regard for yours. Sometimes it is nice to have people simply ask, “How are you doing?” and then wait for a response. I often think of the powerful witness of a listening ear.

3. Visit with Someone. My wife has a knack for just stopping to visit with people, and they love her for it. When I ask her about why she stopped, she responds with something like, “Many people just need a visit.” You may not need it with your busy schedule, but there is someone who does.

4. Give Little Thoughtful Gestures. A small gift can be more powerful than a large one. These gifts mean you were thinking of me, especially when it was not a holiday or birthday. Something as simple as a coupon to my favorite restaurant can have meaning if given properly.

5. Stating Your Appreciation. Before you rush off to your next appointment say, “Thank You, I appreciate your hard work.” Thanks for volunteering. Thanks for going above and beyond the call of duty. Tell people you appreciate the impact they are making in the world. Many individuals serve and think that no one notices, let them know that you see their effort.

In a world ravaged by wildfires and flooded by hurricanes, there is no shortage of great things we can do to shine the light of faith. Don’t forget that you also have an impact on the people who bump into you every day. Be sure to shine your light where God has placed you.

Weekend Reading

I read a few great articles and posts this week. Here are the very best. I cannot recommend the first three listed here any higher. Truly great reading for anyone interested in the Church.

Are Smart, Educated Women Still Called to the Church Nursery? – This is a great article for both men and women. Great points about children’s ministry. A great read!

Why Do Churches Wound Their Pastors? – This is pure gold. I wish every Church member would read this to understand their pastor better.

Ten Unfair Expectation of Pastor’s Wives – Pure, unfiltered truth.

5 Very Real Tensions Every Small To Mid-Sized Church Leader Feels – This fits our Church.

Airbrushing – Seth is always so insightful.

My Boundaries in Ministry

There is such a thing as “Ministry Creep.” This is the idea that being in ministry quickly moves into every area and every day of your life. If a Pastor does not set up boundaries, then his chosen profession will creep into everything. True, being a pastor is more than a job, it is also a lifestyle, but there is also a need for boundaries or else I am working every day all the time. This leads to exhaustion, and that leads to poor decision-making, and that leads to sin and moral failure. Without boundaries, moral failure in some form is lurking in the shadows waiting to pounce.

Because of this, I have a few boundaries in my life, and lately, I am needed to reinforce the walls that protect me. Here are a few things I am reapplying in my life.

1. I work hard five days a week. The more I work each day I am scheduled to work, the less I feel the need to work on my days off. This means I work on Sunday morning that just Sunday morning. Honestly, I usually set up on my couch and work another six plus hours at home while watching TV of some sort. I am willing to meet anytime from Sunday through Thursday if you need anything.

2. I take two days off. I do not work on Friday or Saturday. Simple as that. Occasionally I take a funeral out of necessity, and infrequently I perform a wedding. Other than that, I am off the clock. [I even wrote this yesterday]

3. I try to protect my days off. That means I do not answer my phone those two days. No exceptions. No phone calls. I receive texts and emails, but that does not mean I will respond. I am not mean, and it is not to say that I do not care about you. I need to place this boundary in my life to protect my heart.

It is worth noting – an emergency to you does not equate to an emergency for me. I once had a couple call and beg me to come to their house and offer counseling. I refused. They were mad, and I felt awful. When I saw them on Sunday morning, they said, “Oh, we worked it out. All is fine now.” I quickly learned that not everything is a legitimate emergency.

4. I am willing to say no to some opportunities. I have been invited to speak, lead or be a part of numerous opportunities on Friday and Saturdays. Yes, I could do more for the kingdom on those days, but I choose not to do them. I could keep adding more and more to my plate, but it only leads to burnout. I often ask myself, “Would I rather have five years of unstopped ministry or 25 years with regular breaks?” I am hoping to live out my calling as long as I am physically able, but I must be emotionally and spiritually healthy to make that happen.

5. I request people talk to me about something other than ministry. When I am at the ball game on Friday night, please don’t make it time for a Church meeting. If you do, I will seem aloof. It would be like your boss coming to you into a game wanting to have a business meeting. Please treat me as a person and not just a Church leader.

Don’t get me wrong. I love my Church, and I enjoy my job. For me to continue doing what I enjoy for a group of people I love, then I need boundaries. Without them, I will develop resentment and bitterness. I am sorry if these ideas upset you, but I need them for my own soul. I hope you understand.