Friday, November 2, 2007

Learning to Feed Yourself

It's time to get a little bit more back on track with the focus of my blog - encouraging lay leaders to step up to the call of ministry. Hopefully the September focus on fitness and weight loss and October vacation report weren't too distracting. I've had some extra time for reading recently, so in the next few weeks I want to share some thoughts on ideas that have come out of what I've read.

Willow Creek has recently came out and said "We made a big mistake" (thanks to Tim Stevens for pointing this out in his blog). That's a quote from an article from the Leadership Journal / Out of Ur entitled "Willow Creek Repents?"

Hybels says: "We made a mistake. What we should have done when people crossed the line of faith and become Christians, we should have started telling people and teaching people that they have to take responsibility to become ‘self feeders.’ We should have gotten people, taught people, how to read their bible between service, how to do the spiritual practices much more aggressively on their own.

The article continues, "In other words, spiritual growth doesn’t happen best by becoming dependent on elaborate church programs but through the age old spiritual practices of prayer, bible reading, and relationships. And, ironically, these basic disciplines do not require multi-million dollar facilities and hundreds of staff to manage."

They've recently gone through a big process of survey and introspection, and found that while they seemed to be doing well with their main target of seekers, they were doing far less than expected in helping believers grow into maturity, or meeting the needs of more mature believers.

A key observation of their study was that 'mature' believers at their church were crying out for more depth, more substance, more meet. Rather than conclude they need to increase programs, they saw the problem as one of expectation management, helping people to understand not only how to feed themselves, but that they must become more responsible for this on their own. The implications are profound, in both the spiritual lives of their members, but in the church's budget as well.

In our own church we're also hearing quite a bit of "feed us better! more meat!" I think it's quite valid to some degree, but this conclusion would suggest the answer is raising awareness and mentoring our believers how to feed themselves, rather than expand the educational lineup to a great degree. I just read that Community Christian Church is about to start a series called "Arrested Development" where they highlight a view on spiritual maturation that pretty much goes:
  • SPIRITUAL ADOLESCENCE = Feeding Yourself
  • SPIRITUAL ADULTHOOD = Feeding Others

    The second most important observation from their study was that "greater involvement in activities at church does not by itself result in greater spiritual maturity." Some would say this is obvious, but for a church committed to developing fully devoted followers of Christ and that has designed activities and programs to try to achieve this goal, this has to be a huge let down. It's easy to substitute something measurable (like attendance in Sunday School or in a life development class) for something intangible like spiritual maturity. We must be careful not to look only at these metrics, but to carefully consider how well each of our development activities or programs is actually helping a person to grow closer to God and into deeper relationships with their brothers and sisters in Christ.

    In Tim Steven's summary of the report, he points out the following key points:
  • “We discovered that higher levels of church activity did not predict increasing love for God or increasing love for other people.”
  • "Church activity alone made no direct impact on growing the heart…it was a flat line, and a stunning discovery for us."
  • "The church is most important in the early stages of spiritual growth. Its role then shifts from being the primary influence to a secondary influence."
  • "Our analysis paints the picture of the church being too preoccupied with the early growing years, leaving the spiritual adolescents to find their own way—without preparing them for the journey.”

    I particularly think that last point is important - the group at highest risk (and I would say we've seen this at Calvary Baptist Church as well) are 'spiritual adolescents'. I was fortunate to be involved in a group committed to just this at a point where I was a spiritual adolescent, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. Their 'Bible and Life' training weekends and their emphasis on feeding yourself had a huge impact on me. I'm surprised at how few churches make it a priority to mentor the spiritually 'adolescent' in inductive bible study or other spiritual disciplines, instead focusing solely on education and sound doctrine.

    For more info, see Willow Creek's new book "Reveal" and web site