Intentional Faith Development

Intentional Faith Development

Sunday 19th September 9am Worship

Sermon Series: Intentional Faith Development

Title: Intentional Faith Development

Bible Reading: Luke 10:25-27 & Acts 2:42-47

Preacher: Rev Phil Swain


The year was 1985.  It was the 15th birthday party of a girl I knew from School – Belinda.  The party was held in her dad’s workshop on their property just outside Coolamon.  And the song was … “Dancing on the ceiling”.

Now I am a pretty outgoing sort of person, so I jumped up on the dance floor and let loose.  As I was dancing, Sheree – another of the girls in my year at school came up to me and said … “Phillip, let me teach you how to dance”.  After the initial disappointment that apparently what I was doing was not dancing … I was humble enough to let her teach me … and it was so simple.  She said to step from side to side to the beat.  Then to move your arms … only a little … then sort of put your head through an imaginary basketball hoop.  As you can see … I am still not very good at dancing … whether it is on the ceiling or the floor.

But as I danced there with Sheree I thought … this would make an excellent sermon illustration.  Well, OK I didn’t … but there is a point to this story.  You see when it came to dancing with a group of girls at party I had the passion, I had the desire … but clearly, I had no idea what I was doing.

When it comes to growing in our faith and our understanding and relationship with Jesus – I sometimes wonder if some of us are not unlike my dancing at Belinda’s party.  We have the passion and the desire to grow in our faith … but sometimes we find that we are not very effective because we are not sure what we are really doing?  How to we move from good intentions … to being intentional about our faith development and spiritual growth.    Which is exactly what this next practice of fruitful congregations is wanting to explore…

At our mission planning days, we were introduced to this tool about the five practices of fruitful congregations – five helpful ways of exploring what it means to be a follower of Jesus in our own lives and in our church.  So far, we have looked at how we care called to be radical in our hospitality and care of others and how we are called to participate passionately in worship.  Today we are looking at how we can be intentional in our faith development.

In our first bible reading from Luke 10, Jesus was in conversation with a teacher of the law about what was most important in pleasing God.  The answer in verse 27 was simple – Love.  Love God part with all your heart, and soul, and strength and mind and love others.   Radical Hospitality is about loving others.  Passionate Worship is about loving God with our heart and souls.  Intentional Faith Development is about loving God with all our minds.

If you have your bible’s here, turn to Romans 12:1-2.   Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God–this is your spiritual act of worship.  Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—God’s good, pleasing and perfect will.   I love that phrase, “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind”.  Paul challenges us to allow God to help you grow in our understanding of the faith.  Paul challenges us to have a considered faith – well thought through faith – a faith and understanding shaped and transformed by God.  But how do we do this?  Well – it doesn’t just happen.  AND I GUESS THIS IS THE MAIN POINT OF THE WHOLE SERMON … faith development doesn’t just happen … we need to be intentional about it.

Our second bible reading for today is the classic description of the early church from Acts chapter 2.  The early church has this rush of numerical growth after Peter’s Pentecost speech.  It has grown from a few hundred to thousands of people – and they were all passionate and keen to learn more about Jesus and what it meant to live in the way of Jesus.  So, how did the early church facilitate this spiritual growth?  How was the early church intentional about it’s faith development?  Acts 2:42 – They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.

The early church would meet regularly (verse 46 suggests daily), were they would support each other, be taught be the apostles (or the people who had been with Jesus) and they had the fellowship – a bit like a bible study group – with learning, food, communion and prayer.  They had a plan, an intentionality about helping people grow in their faith and understanding – to grow as a disciple of Jesus.

We as a church here in Turramurra would want the same thing, wouldn’t we?  We also want people to spiritually grow.  It is at the core of our church’s Vision.  Remember the fidget spinner that was in our Vision Document … at the heart of it was Faith and Discipleship.  That we want people to be connected to Jesus and to be nurtured in their faith and spiritually growing through discipleship.

So what does this “Intentional Faith Development” look like?  Well the 5 Practices of Fruitful Congregations website explains it like this:

Intentional Faith Development refers to all the ministries that help us grow in faith outside of weekly worship, such as bible studies, Sunday School classes, support groups, and prayer teams.  Congregations who practice Intentional Faith Development offer opportunities for people to learn in community for people at all stages of faith.  They offer ministries that help people grow in grace and in the knowledge and love of God.  Intentional refers to deliberate effort, purposeful action, and high priority.

The website goes on to say that on a individual level –

Through the personal practice of Intentional Faith Development, we do the soul work that connects us to others, immerses us in God’s Word, and positions us to grow in grace and mature in Christ. We place ourselves in the most advantageous circumstances to learn and grow in our following of Christ.  We cooperate with the Holy Spirit in our own spiritual maturation.  We learn in community.

Those are pretty inspiring statements, don’t you think?

So … how are we doing with this?  How are you in your own spiritual growth going?  Do you now know more about God or faith or the Bible than you did 12 months ago?  Using the analogy of the kids last week – are you spiritually fit?  Or a bit spiritually soft?

Over my 20 years in ministry, I have found that I am hearing a line of comments more and more.  Comments such as…

  • I am just struggling with my faith at the moment.
  • I am feeling spiritually flat.
  • I am not feeling the connection with God that I used to have
  • I am starting to wonder whether all of this is real

Do any of those comments resonate with you.  It seems that for many of us, we are not spiritually growing – actually we feel that we are going spiritually backwards.

So … why is this? Jesus addressed a similar question in the parable of the sower in Matthew 13.  Jesus implied in the parable that all the elements for growth were present – seed, water, sun etc … but still the growth was variable.  Why?

  • Jesus said that growth is almost impossible if a person heart is hard or they are not open to the growth.  They are like a hard path which the seed just bounces off and a bird sloops in a takes that potential growth away.
  • Or Jesus said, the seed is planted into some people, but their lives are so full of other things (like the rocky ground) that there is no depth to the growth – the roots can’t get established and so any potential growth just dries up.
  • Or for others it is worries of life of the deceitfulness of wealth (that is the phrase in the NIV) crowd out or chokes the growth – killing it.
  • But for others, we see the seed take, leading to wonderful and fruitful spiritual growth.

Now, I know that spiritual growth is not that simple, and there can be a complexity of things that can cause us to stall in our faith development … but if we are currently struggling with spiritual growth – maybe we could reflect on this parable and see if God speaks to us through these images from Matthew 13?

But what Robert Schnase would want to argue is faith development is not just up to us – that the church has a significant role to play in our spiritual growth too.  A few weeks ago, I shared a statement on our website about our desire for a church in relation to worship.  I have had a go at writing a similar statement about our faith development.  Would you like to hear it?

At TUC, as a church we want to provide high quality learning experiences that help people of all ages and faith stages to understand Scripture, faith and life in a safe, supportive, nurturing environment.  From the youngest child to the oldest member, from the newest Christian to the mature believer – as followers of Jesus we should be intentionally growing our faith and understanding.

I as your pastor and collectively, we as the church, want to see you spiritually growing and it is part of our calling to help you in this.  I am going to pick up on this more next week – and in two weeks’ time, Chris Bosch is going to be sharing with us some great resources that we as a church are putting together to help bible study groups and individuals to grow.  We do this because we take seriously our role in faith development.

So, are you ready to focus on our spiritual journeys for the next few weeks?  Don’t worry if you don’t have all the answers – I am sure that just as Sheree came to my help on the dance floor and gave me some guidance – as we intentionally focus on our faith development we will find that the best teacher – the Holy Spirit – draw alongside us and help us to find the best ways to be spiritually growing – to be loving God with all our mind – to be developing our faith.

May we be open to this learning and growing journey.  Amen.