By Jimmy Adcox
Develop an Intentional, Ongoing Plan for Your Unique Ministry Setting
Spiritual growth is not a linear, step-by-step process, but it does require intentionality and focus. Programs and events may contribute to environments for growth, but for maximum impact, spiritual-growth practices must be embedded in the fabric of the church culture.
Spiritual growth cannot be programmed, but engaging people in helpful processes can provide greater opportunity for them to experience God in transforming ways. Here are a few “big rock” principles to consider developing your overall plans:
1. Identify spiritual hungers. Help people to see that their longings, hurts, temptations, and compulsions are in reality their deeper, unmet desires that only God can satisfy.
2. Increase awareness of the personal nature of God. Help people to experience the reality of God’s presence and work. God is not merely a concept to be described and understood. He is a personal God in whom we “live, move, and have our being.” Plan and lead worship to help participants encounter and experience God. Use language that reinforces the truth of a personal God who longs to be in relationship with us. Help people sense the presence and reality of God in all things. Aim beyond the head to the heart!
3. Engage in spiritual practices congregationally. People are more likely to engage spiritual practices when they are doing them together. Don’t just encourage people to read and reflect on the Bible generally. Call them to commit together in a specific journey of reading, reflection, application, and prayer over a designated period of time. This can be an engagement in spiritual practices together and/or a processing of such individual practices with others. For example, when preaching through the scripture texts from Scot McKnight’s book, The Jesus Creed, we provided journals, encouraged people in how to dwell in those texts throughout each week, and provided opportunity to share their experiences with others in small groups.
4. Challenge people. Challenging people to make short term commitments together provides positive experiences, creates new habits, and encourages longer-term commitments. It is one thing to ask people to engage in daily reflection for the rest of their lives. It is another to challenge them to make a commitment for six weeks. Help people to learn by doing and experiencing.
5. Create synergies. Typical churches have very scattered approaches to discipleship. Separate topics or scriptures are addressed in classes, sermons, groups, and personal readings. We are exposed to many things, but we move on to other things so quickly that we may not have time to dwell in any of them long enough to be changed by them. We increase the power and impact of the word when we process and apply it together in multiple settings. For example, our Southwest church went through the entire storyline of scripture together over nine months through The Story. Personal readings, sermons, classes, and small group discussions were all part of the process. In this case, even our teen’s and children’s classes were involved. As a result, the conversations extended into family settings. Everyone was on the same journey. This not only encouraged participation (more people were reading scriptures consistently over longer periods of time), but it also helped maximize the impact of what we were reading and processing together.
6. Be balanced. Environments of spiritual formation include opportunities to grow in loving God and loving others. The purpose of scripture reflection is not just to deepen our personal walk with God, but to also turn us outward in shared mission with God. Provide the same principles of intentionality, engagement together, short-term challenge, and principles of synergy to areas of ministry and mission as well. Shared mission with attentiveness to God is an equally powerful influence in forming us after the heart of Christ. Remember to balance inward and outward disciplines.
7. Provide an ongoing menu of resources. A continual offering of resources in spiritual practices provides special opportunities for those who are hungry for more. This could be special classes, retreats, opportunities for spiritual mentoring, and challenging opportunities for growth in ministry and mission. Provide Christ-centered members with training in spiritual direction and mentoring. Embed spiritual training and experiences in groups and ongoing classes. As people grow, it is important that they have the resources to increasingly take responsibility for their own spiritual life and simultaneously invest themselves in others. Help them develop of rhythm of life that is centered in God.
This final principle is perhaps the most important of all: Develop an intentional plan and process that is tailored to the life of your unique church family over an extended period of time.
Creating environments for spiritual growth seldom happens by accident. Churches can be involved in a host of good things and still fail to maximize challenging opportunities for spiritual growth.
Remember the first principle from REVEAL?
Involvement in church activities does not predict or drive long-term spiritual growth. Rather, spiritual growth occurs along a continuum of increasing relational closeness to Jesus Christ!
Helping people live in close relationship with Christ makes room for God’s transforming work. Churches that are intentional about spiritual formation can help people experience a growing walk with God and a growing transformation in life, ministry, and mission.
 The Story: Read the Bible As One Seamless Story From Beginning to End, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008.