I’ve spent the last 20 years of my life tending to the idea of “growing spiritually.” For the last 15 or so years “help others grow spiritually” has been the most appropriate response I could give when someone asks me what I do. In Church circles it is called adult ministry, or spiritual formation, or any other term that basically amounts to, “help people get from point A to point B in their spiritual pursuits.”
Do you happen to remember the first few years of learning to have a relationship with Jesus? I remember it was awesome. It isn’t that those earlier years didn’t have tensions or struggles, but it felt like around every corner was a new program or event that was geared specifically for me.
It was a few years into the whole Jesus thing that it felt like something changed. The number of groups, classes or programs geared towards me seemed to be receding faster than a hair line. I wasn’t sure why but it felt like the well was running dry. I thought what many of you probably thought as well… “what is happening? What changed?”
That experience reflects what many of us have found as we engage in long term spiritual pursuits. Early on in my journey there were all of these external efforts to help prop me up and help me get my sea legs (spiritually speaking). But just like I hope my baby learns to stand without needing something to lean against…and like I hope my preschool daughter learns to ride a bike without training wheels…those external church efforts are a means to an end.
Our goal can’t be a never-ending system of events geared towards me. The end goal is a thriving relationship with Jesus. The end goal is not a class, program or event. That doesn’t mean we stop needing the Church. It means we stop requiring the church to give us a “next” to ensure we are growing. Our church goes from being the context for our growth and becomes a context for relationships and opportunities where I can serve others for Jesus (which, by the way, causes me to keep growing).
Be careful to not equate spiritual activity with spiritual maturity. The Pharisees had a calendar full of spiritual activity.
Life will condition us to look for the “next”. We have to avoid boiling spiritual development down to a series of classes and programs. Much like a child, early on each of us need high structure to stabilize us in our spiritual journey. A clear system of steps gave us confidence as we grew in our new faith. In the journey towards maturity our attention must turn from finding the next program to finding the next way I can serve someone in the name of Jesus.