Two Tensions of Spiritual Growth in the Church

There are two primary goals in my ministry. One is to lead people into a saving relationship with Jesus. The other is to see those people grow in their faith until they reach spiritual maturity.

It sounds so simple, but it is the most complex project in the world. People have different backgrounds and personalities that lead them to learn and grow in unique ways through the various seasons of life. Through the years I have seen two tensions that make spiritual growth so complicated.

1. Attendance and Activity do not equal growth. Everyone in Church can point to that one individual or couple who attend worship every week and yet seem to be so spiritually immature. They are often selfish and frequently mean-spirited. As I clean up the mess they inevitably leave in a church, I usually think, “Regular worship has done them no good.” The hard truth is that you can attend worship, Sunday school, small group and be present every time the doors of the building are open and can still be a spiritual infant.

2. Growth is rare without attendance and activity. While attending church does not guarantee spiritual growth, I have yet to find anyone growing without it. People who try often discover that they drift toward apathy more than commitment. There is nothing to remind them of their faith decision or push them to live more deeply. They tend to gather around themselves people who agree with whatever viewpoint they maintain, and genuine growth comes through tension. Pushing back against church rarely results in the development into Christlikeness.

Every Monday I replay the events on the past Sunday. My mind rolls over everything from the sermon, the conversations and the observations I made of other people. I ask myself, “Am I accomplishing my goals in ministry?” Every week I wish there was some easy way to help people mature in their faith. If there were just four or six steps to becoming a complete Christian this project would be so much easier. I could measure where every person was on their walk with Jesus and tell them the next step clearly. Unfortunately, there is just no clear metric for spiritual growth. It doesn’t exist for the pastor or the Christian.

Each week I hope you come to worship and I hope you plan on returning the next week. It is not a guarantee of where you are in your faith, but there are people here who will keep teaching and pushing you toward a more profound faith in Jesus. You have the choice to follow their lead or ignore it. Maybe the most significant part of growth is the choice you make every week.


One Person at a Time

My Facebook feed is full of penetrating questions. Things like, “What is the Church going to do about the immigrant crisis?” Another says, “How should Christians respond to the issues of sexual assault and abuse in our country?” There is quite a lengthy list of issues going on around our country and our world that need to be addressed in a thoughtful Christian way.

While I understand the overwhelming need to confront the evils and issues of our society, I usually meet them with silence. Please hear me; this is not the silence that comes from apathy. This is something different. My seeming lack of response comes from watching those who form platforms, shout angrily into the internet and join political movements usually accomplish very little.

I believe the transformation of our world happens best one person at a time.

The problem I see so often is that people will stand up giving speeches and write pointed posts on social media but do very little actually to help others. Their words speak the truth, but their actions betray them. I want to be a part of a movement that is focused on real change, and I think that happens best one person at a time.

How would the world be different if we each began to reach out in Christ’s love to one individual or family?

What needs are near you that you could bring about positive change? I bet you work with someone who has been a victim of abuse and longs for a sympathetic shoulder? What if you connected with that young mother who is going through an unplanned pregnancy? How about you quietly mentor with that one boy who is struggling without a father? I would wager some people walk through your life who need the forgiveness of Jesus and a connection to his community.

Honestly, I understand the need for actions groups and the power of working together for good. I do hope you support groups who are making a difference beyond your reach. But never let your pleas for a kinder and more loving society be louder than your actions to achieve those things in the lives of those around you.

Why I Share My Stories … And You Should Too

Sometimes I worry that I share too much about myself on my blog. I fear it will shift the spotlight on me or it will glorify my behavior. I pray it does not detract from God’s work or elevate my life about Jesus. I do not want to be self-serving or self-promoting.

With that said, I continue to share stories from my journey of faith, and I think you should too.

1. You Are Most Familiar Story. Every other story we tell is based on guesswork. We have insights into our thoughts and intentions that we do not have with other people. Not only that, we do not have to research or memorize our story. It comes out of each one of us naturally, and therefore it is more engaging.

2. You Have Perspective Others Do Not Possess. When we share our personal story of faith, we have the ability to see large blocks of time at once. We can remember our infantile steps on our journey and the person we have slowly become today. This is important because it allows us to explain the work of God in our lives more fully.

3. People Want to Know About You. This may shock you, but people want to hear about your journey of faith. Other people want to hear about where you have been and how you have changed. They like to hear about your experiences and your transformation through Jesus.

4. God Wants to Use YOUR Life. Hear this clearly; your story is an example of God’s unique work in the world. There is the only one you and you have your own individual story. God does not want to waste your life and encounters. I believe he wants to use all that you have been through in your life for his glory.

I once taught a college level class about evangelism. The first part of the course was to show them the Bible basics of why we need to share our faith. The second thing I taught them to do was share their own story. Some them were disappointed because the wanted some technique or gimmick to reach people. I wanted them to know that the best tool God has given us is our own story of faith.

I use mine, and I hope you will use yours.

My Journey to Becoming a Preacher

I tend to get uncomfortable when I hear other preachers talk about their “calling” to preach. Quite often they describe some particular moment or series of events that pointed them toward ministry. My story seems less spiritual in nature since I have few encounters that seemed deeply religious. Here is how I became a preacher working in the ministry of the church.

1. I Chose the Path of Least Resistance. It seems like a joke now, but it is true. I chose Bible college because I thought, “One book, how hard could it be?” I knew my parents wanted me to go to school, but I was not sure what I wanted to do with my life. Bible college appeared to be a comfortable place to attend while I figured it out. Worse case scenario, I end up working somewhere else, but I have more Bible knowledge.

2. Circumstances Changed My Perspective. Two weeks before I went to Bible college my best friend was killed in a bizarre alcohol and automobile accident. I ended up going off to school with new questions and a quest for the truth about eternity.

3. An Opportunity Came, and I Took It. Some friends were traveling to perform as a music group, and they asked me to go along and preach. This was primarily prompted not by some spiritual direction instead as a chance to spend the weekend with my girlfriend at the time.

4. My Horrible Sermon Worked. I preached about 12 minutes and told the people everything I knew about God and my struggle to make sense of my friend’s death. After the sermon, a lady waited with her husband and told me how the sermon helped her as she was dealing with the loss of her brother.

5. I Turned Down Another Job. The summer after my freshman year I worked at a local steel mill. I worked hard, and the guys seemed to like me. At the end of the summer, they encouraged me to apply for a couple of open positions at the factory. They assured me that they would all help me get a job and I could start making serious money. After praying, talking to my dad and doing some serious soul-searching, I decided to return to college and try preaching again.

6. God Showed Up Again. During my second year of college, I went with a mission group from the college to preach almost every weekend. Each week someone would say how much they learned from the sermon or enjoyed my talk. People never expected much from me, and yet they were always challenged and encouraged. I took this as a good sign.

7. God Keeps Showing Up. Honestly, I cannot explain it. There are weeks I have struggled with sin and self-doubt. There have been weeks where I made mistakes and messed up my presentation. There have been Sunday’s where the sermon felt like a big flop. No matter how I felt, God continued to work through my words. People showed up and started growing in their faith. I could see it. God was doing something through me.

I tell you this story because it is like most people’s story. There are no incidents where the sky opened, and God spoke to me. I received no special revelations through dreams or some prophet of God. My life as a preacher has been guided by walking through open doors and watching what God was doing.

I think it is important to tell you this because this is everyone’s story. Most people I know became elders, deacons, Sunday school teachers, worship leaders, and a host of other things just by saying “yes” and watching what God did in response. These people do not feel special; in fact, most feel entirely inadequate. Yet, God keeps showing up and using them.

Don’t wait for some extraordinary moment to come before you step out in Christian service or leadership. Take the opportunities that are presented to you and see what God does through you. You never know where it will lead you.

A Hundred Tiny Pieces of Church

The Apostle Paul writes to a church in the city of Corinth that was fractured by division and encourages them toward unity. In the first few chapters, he lies out both theological and practical reasons for them to see other believers with a sense of togetherness. When he is about three-quarters of the way through his letter, he gives them an analogy to underline the necessity of community. There he says, “The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ.” (1 Corinthians 12:12 – NIV)

The Church is like a body made of many parts. Some parts are large and prominent and receive a great deal of attention. Some pieces are smaller and less glorious, but they are still important. To understand this, you must look no further than your own physical body. A heart problem can send you running to the emergency room, but so can a broken finger. Both parts are different, but they are both important.

I think Christians need to be continually reminded of the importance of working together.

1. Every Single Part is Important. The last Sunday I watched people show up early to our church facility to shovel snow. While I looked at them working, I could not help but think; this might be one of the most important jobs of the day. Whatever happens inside will only make an impact if people can get in safely. The people who clean, work in the nursery, empty trash, mow, shovel and do a hundred other little jobs are just as important as the preacher.

2. One Missing Part Hurts Everyone. It is easy for us to think, “My part is so small, it is really insignificant.” When we think that way, we can skip doing our job or hope that someone else will do it for us. What would happen if no one ever emptied the trash? What would happen if no one watched the kids in the nursery? What would happen if people don’t do their ministry? If no one else served but me, the church would not be able to preach or teach or do much for God.

3. Serving is the Ultimate Act of Community. When you serve in some little way, you are saying to the whole group, “I think this is an important community.” You are highlighting that this place deserves your time and energy. You may not receive any recognition or glory for what you do, but that is okay because the whole group is accomplishing something.

Every week I have the opportunity to walk around our church and see the Lord working in a hundred little pieces. The facilities stay functional, people are taught in small groups, programs are handed out, worship is lead, the outside remains beautiful and on and on it goes. This is the result of everyone doing a hundred small jobs together.

Maybe today you need to be reminded that what you do for God is essential. No matter how small and insignificant you feel, you are a blessing to this community of believers we call the church.

How Do You Feel About the Failure of Others?

Last night my boys and I watched an incredible NFL playoff football game. It was the New Orleans Saints and the Minnesota Vikings in a second-half shootout that came down to the final play. The last play will be on social media for years to come. A Saints player named Marcus Williams tried to make a stop on a long last-second pass play, and he missed. He ducked his head and completely missed the Minnesota player which gave the Vikings a touchdown on the final play to win the game.

Immediately after the play, the internet came alive with all sorts of thoughts for Mr. Williams. Everyone’s reaction to his failure to make the play came along a few predictable paths.

1. Some People Rejoice at Failure. Needless to say, Vikings fans were ecstatic at the missed tackle. For them, it meant a victory and a chance to win the Superbowl. The reality is that some people will be happy to see others fail for whatever reason. Maybe their failure will prove me right, or perhaps it will allow me some gain.

2. Some People Will Simply Criticize. The Saints fans obviously were disappointed. Immediately some people were calling for Mr. Williams to be cut from the team or at least a demotion. Other people suggested a quick trade to some lousy team. There was a long line of people willing to throw stones and offer criticism.

3. Some People Will Make Fun of Them. This is the quickest way that most disconnected people respond. If you were not a Vikings or Saints fan, then it is easy to laugh at the situation. Today I have seen over a dozen posts making fun of Mr. Williams failure, and I am sure I will see scores more before the end of the day.

4. Very Few Will Offer Understanding. As I watched the play unfold, I immediately thought of that man’s parents. Maybe that was because I have been the parents of the kid who screwed up. I have ached as my child missed the shot, dropped the ball or failed in some way. I cannot imagine the emotional heartache Marcus Williams is feeling today. He let his team down, and no one will remember anything from that game but his failure. I am sure he is disappointed in himself at a low I might never understand. Those who care about him the most are few, but they are hurting with him today.

Amazingly enough, after the game, Mr. Williams accepted a few questions. He spoke of his failure and letting his team down. He was clearly hurting inside from this one big mistake.

Today as I watch the social media torture of one man for a mistake, I wonder what kind of person I am in response to the failure of others. Do I feel joy at the demise of others? Am I quick to judge? Am I the type to stand back and make fun of the whole thing?

As a Christian, I am called to hurt with those who hurt. Maybe this is not the best example, but it does underline the basic human responses to failure. Will I follow the crowd with my words or will I follow Christ?

Weekend Reading

This is a little late to post for the weekend, but I still want to share. Here are some of the best articles I read this past couple of weeks. A few are about Pastors and may help you to understand my leadership and the life of Pastors everywhere. Enjoy.

10 Phrases I’d Like to Hear More Often in Church

11 Reasons Church Membership Matters More than Ever

7 Disruptive Church Trends That Will Rule 2018

5 Things You Shouldn’t Say to Your Pastor

How to discourage your minister in the New Year?

9 Things You Need to Know About Your Pastor

10 Ways to Love Your Pastor Better in 2018