Faith is personal, but that doesn't mean faith is private.
That distinction is important because spiritual growth doesn't happen in isolation. It happens within the context of community. Relationships are the laboratory in which we're able to apply the truth we discover at church on Sunday mornings or during our times alone with God. And it's the application, not the information, that transforms us.
That's why we have groups.
So, here are three things the group does to help its members grow spiritually:
1. Promote accountability—We human beings aren't all that adept at recognizing and reaching for our own potential. Too often it takes someone else pointing out the gap between where we are and where we could be in order for us to catch us a vision for our possible futures. Most of us have had parents, teachers, or coaches who changed the course of our lives just by making us aware of our gifts and giving us confidence to use them. When it comes to spiritual growth, groups can help individuals recognize their potential and offer accountability as they take next steps toward growth.
2. Encourage belonging—Accountability works best within the context of belonging . . . especially in group. Leaders and other group members have no authority over us. They can't compel us to take next steps toward spiritual growth. But when people feel a sense of belonging in community, it motivates them toward progress—not because they feel judged, but because they know the group has their best interests at heart. This is why relationships are so important in group. They provide fuel for healthy growth.
3. Provide care—Sometimes life goes sideways on us. We've all had that experience—the sudden change in employment status, the out-of-left-field medical diagnosis, the phone call in the middle of the night. These pivotal circumstances are actually opportunities to grow in our trust of God, but only if we have a support system of people who can shift our perspectives and help to meet our emotional, spiritual, and even physical needs. This is one of the ways that a group is different from a Sunday school class. Providing care—in big ways and small—during times of need, is the right thing to do because it's a reflection of Jesus' command to us to love one another. But it also provides everyone in the group an opportunity to grow spiritually.
As you think about the groups you've led or have participated in as a member, in what ways did they promote accountability, encourage belonging, and provide care? How did that accelerate your own spiritual growth?