What’s your return on investment (ROI) for spiritual growth?
It may sound crass to apply business terms to spiritual endeavors. Like, how do we get the most bang for the buck? How do we minimize costs while maximizing benefits?
Business sense for spiritual growth
One of Jesus’s teachings is a story about a guy who cheats his boss, and is praised for it. “The children of this world are more shrewd in dealing with the world around them than are the children of the light.” (Luke 16:8) So let’s use some smarts, some simple business sense.
Churches have picked up a lot of business practices, from mission statements to SMART goals. I’m not entirely comfortable with that. The practices we dislike as employees tend to be the same ones churches adopt. For example, measuring things by easily measured numbers (such as attendance) ends up valuing quantity over quality. And don’t get me started on mission statements.
But it seems like a no-brainer to me to ask what works best, and put the most effort there (time, energy, money). So why do we fail to apply this to spiritual growth? The problem is that we have sacred cows. We’ve used certain things for so long, those things have tenure and are exempt from questioning.
What things are overrated? What things are underrated? Let’s look at one of each.
Spiritual growth comes from…
I have two questions for you:
- What sermons have helped you grow spiritually?
- What people have have helped you grow spiritually?
Let me guess. You had to scratch your head and think hard about question one. But for question two, names and faces started popping into your head almost immediately.
There’s a lesson here. Why do we major in the minors, and minor in the majors? Bill Kinnon expounds on this in his blog post, Sermons Don’t Make Disciples. In a header partway down he adds, “though living life together just might.”
Sermons aren’t enough
I’m not saying that sermons aren’t helpful. They’re just insufficient. I think most preachers understand this. The meat of the sermon isn’t in the delivery itself; it’s in the conversations and actions that take place around it.
Among the people who have helped me grow spiritually, I do include a few pastors. I can even think of a few specific messages. But these men and women influenced me not by sharing a single teaching, but by sharing their lives with me, both in public and in private. These are people who teach what they already live. It’s not the sermon, so much. It’s them.
But pastors are a tiny slice of my cast of names and faces. This is as it should be. Every pastor would agree that this is a good thing.
So why is so much emphasis placed on one person — and a single activity? And that activity is primarily “sit still and listen to me”?
The people who have helped me grow the most are mainly in the small groups that Kay & I have been in over the years.
There’s a reason terrorists organize in small, flexible cells. Easily formed, easily mobilized, easily disbanded to reform in new ways. Costs are low. Participation is high. Impact can be big. Kay led a band of ladies from one group to visit the Vineyard churches in Japan, leading a workshop on the Vineyard 5-step healing model — that is, how to pray for people while listening to the Holy Spirit.
I remember many meetings when I prepared something to discuss, only to have the meeting go in a completely different direction because of what the Spirit was doing in the people there. I learned to have a plan, but go with the flow.
And leadership isn’t just top-down: God has gifted each person with something for the others. One of the most formative times I had was when I met with a couple of guys, my planner at the ready, my careful agenda at my fingertips. One of the guys was very crufty (and gay) and told me to take all that stuff and shove it, and instead pay attention to them and to what the Spirit was already doing. That encounter continues to shape me 15 years later.
Funny, I didn’t intend to mention the Holy Spirit in each paragraph. I was just going to write about my peeps.
What has helped you grow?
I’ll be honest with you: My spiritual growth has been pretty flat for some time. My efforts have mainly gone into the black hole of the Sunday morning church service, which sucks up as much energy as you are willing to offer it. Sharing life in small groups that pursue the kingdom together is a distant memory.
But I feel myself coming back to life, enough to begin asking God what I should do about it.
What about you? In your own spiritual journey, what things have helped you? What things haven’t? Let’s expand beyond sermons and small groups. Please share below. Let’s pool our answers and see what we find.