Are you interested in growing spiritually? Most Christians are not.
The usual category for this topic is discipleship. Believers should want to become more like Christ. However, in my experience, most don’t because they do not understand the benefits of such growth. This is because they do not understand the work of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit produces fruit like love, joy, peace, and hope. Who would not want to grow more of such fruit in their personal life?
I am addressing especially believers who grew up in infant-baptizing churches, which includes most mainline churches. There the emphasis is on educating children so they can confirm the faith affirmed for them at their baptism by their parents and sponsors. Confirmation is usually done at age 14 at the end of grade school. Most children do believe the faith they are confirming—as much as 14-year-olds can. Some Evangelicals have a similar pattern: infant dedication and believer baptism, which often happens around the age of 14.
The high value for infant-baptizing churches is a life of faithfulness to confirmation vows. This practice “worked” for centuries, producing many fine, upstanding Christians. It’s not working so well anymore. The difference now is living in a post-Christian society where Christian life and values are constantly under assault, already in high school and especially in college.
Most pastors witness how many of their confirmands disappear from church life after they have fulfilled their parents’ expectations. In my church we confirm about forty children a year, meaning we have approximately 160 in high school in a given year. Yet youth events draw only about one-tenth that number.
No one asks why a child should grow physically. It just happens. Physical maturity is reached in the late teens. Basic personality is set in the early twenties. Spiritual maturity takes a lifetime.
In biblical Greek, maturity means to become all you can be. That’s what Paul meant when he encouraged church leaders to build up the body of Christ until we all become mature, reaching to the heights of Christ’s full stature (Ephesians 4: 12). There is no spiritual-growth endpoint in this life.
Spiritual growth is basically a two-sided affair for developing a closer relationship with God. We naturally focus on our part. But the initiative for growth lies with God, acting through the Holy Spirit. Our part is to regularly put ourselves where the Spirit can work on us. Church is one place, but so are many situations in daily life. Spiritual GROWTH is mostly about those other places.
Go to God in Prayer and Worship
- Both exercise your relationship with God—prayer in private and worship in community.
Read God’s Word for You
- Scriptures can be read in many ways. For GROWTH, read for applications to your personal life.
Obey the Challenge to Deny Yourself
- Jesus issued the challenge to deny yourself, take up your cross and follow him.
Witness Through Servant Behavior
- Actions speak louder than words. Biblical words about faith mean little to unbelievers.
Trust God in a New Venture
- A basic meaning of faith is to trust. Test your trust through actions beyond your comfort zone.
Humble Yourself with Discipline
- Chose a discipline to regularly keep yourself humble before God and others.
Why should you invest time in practicing the Six Basics? Simply, you will experience a more rewarding personal life. Where would you like to be in the future? In the Spirit, the best is yet to come.
The blogs that follow will develop these six basics.
Linda Kosakowski says
Your six points are a wonderful place for us to examine how we can help others be more in tune with their spiritual growth. As a Stephen Minister it has been very rewarding to watch care receivers come to a new maturity in their faith. How can we create spiritual growth opportunities to help teach praying from the heart, how to read the Bible for my life, how to humble ourselves, how to serve, how to trust more, and how to taking up my cross!
David Luecke says
I am glad you found these six practices helpful. Stephens Ministry is a great way to observe spiritual growth.
In my pastoral experience, it has increasingly been parents who fail to support or even bring the children, opposing confirmation by taking them to sports programs instead and demanding church to be accommodating to their whims. We’ve the previous generation and are losing this one too.
David Luecke says
Confirmation is a custom that, alas, is dying out as the Lutheran culture is fading. I encourage confirmation in a spiritual journey.
Lee Larsen says
Yes things do appear to be hopeless with no real solution. Our policies on abortion, providing free needles and condoms, etc. reflect this same hopeless attitude. Of course the secular world doesn’t make the connection to God’s word and the power of the Holy Spirit, they just believe that this is all a natural part of human society. (Like applying a band-aid to a lesion as the cancer below systemically spreads everywhere).
Maybe we need to be doing more “connecting the dots” for our family of believers. Use real life examples of how government policies, company ads and the words & actions of popular artists/entertainers serve to pull us away from God’s word into the hands of the devil. It appears too many are either living under a rock or are not making this connection on their own. Gone are the days when controls were in place that set and enforced moral standards. Now a new level of acceptance is established daily as the envelope needs to get pushed more and more to have the same attention grabbing effect on their audience.
The battle is real and the casualties are staggering, but too many, of even believers, do not seem to realize this. Using current examples may be the best way to educate and motivate believers to up their game!
David Luecke says
Yes, the battle is unending. That’s why I encourage the Two Kingdoms and then the individual’s spiritual journey negotiating the two.
Frank Janzow says
I like this a lot. I like to think about growth as spiritual formation – which sounds more like something being formed rather than forming itself, like the imagery of the Potter shaping the art work. So the question is how does God shape us into what we are designed to be? I agree with all the points in your GROWTH acrostic, as places and ways the Spirit is molding us.
As far as infant baptism or youth/adult baptism relates to spiritual maturation, in my view it’s all about grace either way. I’ve practiced both in my nearly 40 year ministry at a blessed and growing church. Both practices being such a joy. Baby baptism is a marvelous expression of God’s unconditioned love, before a person has a chance to do anything good or bad. It’s preemptive grace, which then must continue to unfold by means of the habits you outlined. Believers baptism emphasizes the joy of a journey of faith formation that has now led to a public affirmation of one’s acceptance of grace in Jesus.
What I really want to say is that, either way, the best and richest and most enduring spiritual growth in disciples of all ages happens within the matrix of faith relationships. My experience as a pastor with this relational approach has been so impressive that I can’t imagine doing Christian life and growth apart from the dynamics that occur in small face to face faith groups. In the communion of saints the fruit of the spirit are wonderfully seeded, watered, nurtured and harvested.
I know I’ve gone on a bit. But I love this topic. (Could’ve shared so much more).
David Luecke says
There will be 24 more blogs on GROWTH. You challenged me to look up acrostic and acronym. GROWTH could be both. I think acronym is probably closer to these six letters and phrases.
Bruce Rudolf says
Hi David – I send out a devotional blog 3x a week along with suggestions for Bible reading and a personal prayer time. I’m recognizing how that time – usually about 45 min – 60 gets pretty redundant – a need to vary the persons for whom we are praying etc. But recently t hinking of the psalms 1-2 of which included in this time (use CPH’s Reading the Psalms with Luther) it’s struck me that little time is there for meditation and listening. I’ve done meditation in the past but wonder if you hve some suggestions. Bruce Rudolf (ST.L. 66) Pastor ofSonRise Lutheran in the Adirondacks.
David Luecke says
Writing devotions is hard because of its repetitive nature. I can’t imagine doing 365 of them as Steve Carter did. I try to make my blog more than devotion and really challenge the reader to think in new ways. Devotions give definitive answers. What I am doing is meant to pose stimulating questions.
Jim Herbolsheimer says
Great message sir. God’s richest blessings on your ministry of encouragement. We should call you Barnabas.
Pastor Jim Herbolsheimer
David Luecke says
Good to hear from you. Last I heard, you had some serious health issues. I hope you are enjoying your retirement. Thanks for reading my stuff.
Rev. Paul Dobberstein says
Check out Christian Life Formation. Our Confirmation is often basically a memory work and academic exercise. There is little done with forming relationships with others. The Church about anything but the formation of relationships. This is sad. God is all about relationships. It isn’t memory work. Textbooks only help, maybe. Events are well and good. Studies show they are ineffective unless people have relationships with people at the events.
I would also suggest using words only as needed. I have seen my fill of street-corner preachers in the Chicago area. They scream and yell, but have little effect on anything. In the end, actions empathy, and caring actions make the greatest impact. They also help to form the relationships that keep people in the church. That was the original intent of Baptismal sponsors. Some churches have used the idea for adults as well. They have had success in spiritual as well as in numerical growth and member retention, Find a good mentor or Sipritual Director, then start growing.
David Luecke says
I agree with everything you say about how relationships are so basic. It took me decades of ministry to figure this out. The custom of confirmation is dying out. Ten years ago we used to do about forty. This year we had 22. My encouragement is to focus on the Spiritual Journey that each is starting out. Bring back older, already confirmed young adults to share their journey. This at least sets expectations.