October 28, 2016

Vitality is an Inside Job

Congregations everywhere are concerned with their growth. There are books, magazines, and inspiring speakers who all share strategies for growth, and church leaders diligently listen, plan, and implement. This is a good thing. It is important that church leaders be diligent and intentional about growing their communities. It is also important, however, that the growth of congregations be not only numerical but also spiritual.

I hesitate saying this. I know many churches who use “spiritual growth” as a crutch for excusing their lack of growth in the areas of evangelism, formation, and leadership development. As with most things in life, it is not one thing or the other. Growth in a congregation, a sign of life and vitality, is about all kinds of growth at the same time. Spiritual growth is not measured by the increase in warm feelings, nor by engaging in passionate discussions about religious matters, but it is measured by the way a person, or church, lives. Living in Christ and bearing fruit to God’s glory is a mark of discipleship (John 15:4-8). And how is this expressed? Through our love—again not an emotion but an action, loving our neighbors as ourselves, seeking to serve Christ by serving our neighbor, and serving the least of these (Matthew 25:40).

As we go out in Christ’s name to serve our neighbor, we share the testimony in word and deed of what God has done in our lives and how we have come to be about this Jesus movement. As the fruits of the Spirit are seen in our lives, our joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23) invite questions about our walk with Jesus, and we, in turn can invite them to “come and see.”

But as the saying goes, you can’t give what you haven’t got. We ourselves must be transformed and in active relationship with the living God that we want to share with others. We must be able to share what we believe (and in the Episcopal Church that will run the theological gamut) so that others might see us as good companions on the spiritual road and see this Church as a place with the space to nurture, refresh, and strengthen them for the journey.

Can you put together an elevator speech about your day-to-day relationship with God? What spiritual practice might help you build intimacy with God so that your elevator speech is fresh?

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