Have you ever noticed how most programs and models for making disciples follow a strict linear pattern? Step one, followed by step two, and so on. First base, second base, and so on.
Yet if we look back over our own spiritual journey, very few of us will find anything close to a neatly laid out linear path like that. For most of us, the road to spiritual growth and maturity is more like a meandering path punctuated by occasional stretches of unexpected twists and turns.
So why do we place such a great emphasis on sequential steps and orderly progression? Why do we rely so heavily on programs for spiritual growth and discipleship? Simple. They are easy to administrate and results are easy to measure.
In reality, most spiritual growth happens spontaneously on a need-to-grow or need-to-know basis. As life happens, we’re suddenly confronted by the need for personal growth and more Biblical information. And then we begin digging.
Let me offer a personal illustration. The last ten years have been the most challenging and difficult years of my life as well as Renae’s. Space won’t permit me to tell you all the stories, but suffice to say that we have experienced a great deal of personal hardships. There have been family deaths, family crisis’s, health issues, family members with cancer, stress, the loss of friends, and many other crushing experiences that very few are aware of.
Prior to all theses experiences, the sovereignty of God was a topic to teach or a doctrine to debate – but hardly one that we desperately needed to grab hold of and put to work in our lives. Deep discussions about life and death, our future, and circumstances that were completely out of our control became normal topics of conversation for us. Our prayer life ratcheted up a notch or two. I found myself journaling again and reexamining key passages in the Bible.
The end result was that a once dry, overly academic subject suddenly took on new life, eventually becoming a rock we could both stand on.
It’s a pattern I’ve seen over and over for thirty years. Life happens and growth kicks in.
That’s why so many of our information-based Bible studies and linear discipleship programs look a lot better on paper than they do in real life. In theory, they are profoundly life-changing. In reality, their impact is often minimal because the information doesn’t stick and quickly fades. However, the information we learn in a crisis sticks and the lessons learned in the experiences of life builds deep character.
That’s not to say that everything linear is bad or ineffective. I’m simply suggesting that the linear approach is way overrated and overused by churches. It’s not the way that most people grow. We have to remember that spiritual growth is a lifetime process not a curriculum.
If you’re one of those types who benefits from linear models – by all means keep at it. It’s the path that works best for you.
But if you are not so linear oriented, don’t worry about it. You will get to where you need to be as long as you look first to God and the Scriptures when a need-to-know or a need-to-grow crisis pops us.
Ultimately spiritual growth is an inside-out job. It’s not something we produce. It’s something God does. It’s organic, not organizational.
…. Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God who works in you both to will and do of His good pleasure Philippians 2:12-13).