As we explored in the last post, spiritual growth is the responsibility of the individual and God. That means faith is personal, but it 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. They're a variety of intentional community that allows each of us to actually live our faith in the context of relationships with others. So, here are three things the group contributes to an individual's spiritual growth.
1. Support Whether it's building muscle at the gym or building faith in God, resistance is a necessary ingredient of growth. In order to learn to trust God more, we have to experience the kind of challenging circumstances in which trust is required. That's not easy. The emotional, spiritual, and sometimes even physical support of community can sustain us through adversity, help us to see God in action in our lives, and remind us to hold onto faith even when doing so is difficult or doesn't seem to make sense.
2. Encouragement We human beings aren't all that adept at recognizing 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 by pointing out our gifts and giving us confidence to pursue those gifts. When it comes to spiritual growth, groups can help individuals recognize and reach for their own potential.
3. Challenge Real growth requires a level of self-awareness that doesn't shy away from one's shortcomings. We all have them. None of us is perfect. When we enter into intentional community with others who are also trying to grow spiritually, we have an opportunity to tap into an outside perspective on ourselves. We may have to face some hard truths, but facing those truths is the only way we can overcome the obstacles to our growth.
As you think about the groups you've led or have participated in as a member, in what ways did they support, encourage, and challenge you? How did that accelerate your own spiritual growth?