Tuesday, April 20, 2010

New Wineskins: Spiritual Growth

Where does spiritual growth take place? If your immediate response is “the church,” please think again. Where have your most meaningful spiritual experiences taken place? I am sure that we would all mention times of worship, Sunday school classes, retreats, and other church-based activities, but we would also talk about one-on-one conversations with friends, an “Aha!” moment in Bible reading, a time of quiet contemplation on the beach or along a mountain trail, an awareness of blessedness in family life, or a sudden realization of answered (or unanswered) prayer as we drove to work.

As Reggie McNeal comments in Missional Renaissance, many of us (especially in the West) have come to the conclusion that the church can “provide the venues and opportunities for people to live out their entire spiritual journey as part of a church-sponsored or church-operated activity.” This assumes that what is spiritual takes place within the walls of the church and not in the world. He goes on to say, “Everyday living is where spiritual development is worked out.”

Spiritual growth is not done as part of a production schedule or an assembly line. Each person is so unique in the eyes of God that we must recognize that our spiritual journeys may have a common thread but the final product may be a surprise. Missional faith communities lend themselves to this “customized” approach to spiritual growth.

One of the characteristics of missional faith communities is that they are committed to the spiritual growth of their participants. Members of these communities encourage one another in spiritual formation and the practice of the disciplines of the faith. They allow time and space for members not only to learn but to learn at their own pace. This learning may well involve mentoring and coaching experiences that are not available in larger groups. They also take seriously what members are discovering about their walk with God through their lives in the marketplace and service in the larger community.

Certainly spiritual growth does take place in the programs and activities of the church but the Spirit moves far beyond those walls.

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