Sunday 26th September 9am Worship
Sermon Series: Intentional Faith Development
Title: Who is Responsible for my spiritual growth?
Bible Reading: Colossians 1:25-2:7
Preacher: Rev Phil Swain
Last Sunday we started exploring the idea of “intentional faith development”. It is part of our discipleship to be spiritually growing but this just doesn’t happen. We need to be intentional about doing the things need that helps us to deepening our faith and understanding. In 1 Corinthians chapter 3, Paul uses an analogy of soil and seeds to talk about spiritual growth. Paul said that teachers like himself help in the process by planting seeds through teaching. And Pastoral carers or encouragers like Apollos help with the growing as they are like those who water, but it is God is the one who makes people grow.
So … how are we going with that? Do you feel you are growing at the moment? Who is responsible if we are not growing?
- Is it our teachers or preachers or spiritual leaders’ fault for not planting enough seeds in us? For not having sermons that are meaty enough? For not engaging us better in the learning process? Do they have to take responsibility if we are not growing?
- Is it our bible study leaders or the church not caring or encouraging us enough which is stopping us growing? Are they not investing enough love or energy or care into us and that’s why we are not growing?
- Or is it God’s fault for not working in our lives enough and causing us to grow? If it is God who does the growing … then if we are not growing – is it God’s fault?
I know that this line of questioning sounds funny – but it is actually a form of thinking that is slipping into the modern-day church. People will say that they are not growing because the preaching isn’t connecting with them, their small group were not offering any new insights, or the church is not offering enough … and that they will leave to find a church that does.
I heard Bill Hybels from Willow Creek church once speak on this phenomenon. He said that when he first heard this his initial reaction was wanting to hire a theological professor to give them what they wanted … but then he started to think. These people had been following Jesus for over 20, 30 years. Sure, the church does need to offer learning opportunities and engaging preaching … but where is the balance between the church’s responsibility for spiritual growth and our own responsibility for our spiritual growth?
How much are we responsible for our own spiritual growth?
Let’s jump to our bible reading for today? I chose the reading from Paul’s letter to Colossians but I could have just as easily chosen Paul’s letter to the Ephesians because in chapter 3 he basically says the same thing. The church in Colossians had been established by Paul and as a new church and new Christians, Paul had invested in them and they had grown but as Paul had a habit of doing, he then moved onto the next place and left the local leaders to encourage and nurture that growth. They had been doing a good job but now they were being faced with a plateau in their spiritual growth. It is into this environment that Paul is writing. There are two aspects of this reading that I found helpful in terms of spiritual growth, or intentional faith development.
The first is the idea of “God revealing the mystery of faith” to us. There were some false teachers in Colossia who were trying to say that they had the “secret” message from God and that only they could reveal this “secret” message to the people.
Paul counteracts this by saying that there indeed is a secret that is being revealed … but it is God and God alone who is the one who reveals. The way that God works in our lives is to bring revelation – to help us to understand more about God’s character, to get a glimpse of how great God’s love is, to see the extent of Grace that is shown through the revelation of Jesus. It is God who helps us to see this. It is God who reveals – and as it says in verse 28 it is the church’s responsibility to “proclaim this revelation which is in Jesus.” It is the churches responsibility to “teach with all wisdom” as to help people also see this revelation from God so that all might grow.
This is how the CEV translation puts it … We announce the message about Christ, and we use all our wisdom to warn and teach everyone, so that all of Christ’s followers will grow and become mature.
I find that a helpful model of the churches responsibility when it comes to Intention Faith Development. Yes, it is God who does the revealing, but it is the churches job to proclaim this revelation, teach these truths so that people will grow.
So then … if that is the churches responsibility when it comes to spiritual growth … then what is ours? We find that in Chapter 2 verses 6 & 7. 6 So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, 7 rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.
Did you get that? If we want to make sure that we are spiritually growing, then it is our responsibility to:
- Continue to live our lives in Jesus
- Be rooted and built up in Jesus
- Allow the teaching we receive to strengthen us
- To overflow with thankfulness
I want to focus in on the first two of these…
In my experience the biggest inhibitor for people’s spiritual growth is when they’re lives are disconnected from their faith … when their personal relationship with Jesus is not strong. This is common sense. You could be sitting in a church with the most inspired preaching, the best pastoral care, the most encouraging of environments … but if your personal relationship with Jesus is not great then I doubt you would be growing much. If we want to be growing, we need to make sure that we are in the best soil. Paul makes the exact same point … we need to be “rooted in Jesus”
Let me share a story. When Marion and I got married we rented this lovely little house at Coolamon. One of the interesting features of this house was a vine that was in the back yard. Actually, it was not only in the back yard but also grown up over the roof of the garage, down along the next-door neighbours fence, into their trees and had even got into the next door neighbours shed. It was everywhere. I was asked to “cut it back a bit” by the next-door neighbour and as I started to explore I soon discovered why it had been growing so well. The root system of this vine was amazing – it was huge. It stretched over most of the side garden and was layer upon layer. To add to its nourishment, the roots had obviously got into the old nearby septic tank and around a slow leaking tap at the back of the garage the roots where so dense that there was hardly any dirt. It was incredible. The reason why this vine had such prolific growth is that it had its roots planted in the best places. Paul uses this analogy because it is the same with us. When we have our roots sunk deep into the love of God then we flourish
So where are our roots sunk deep into? What sort of nourishment are we drawing from where our roots are planted?
I would like to say that my roots are sunk deep into God’s word – that I read the bible regularly. But I probably spend 10 times more time on social media than I do reading the bible. And what about the TV shows that I watch. Are the things that I am feeding my mind and imagination with helpful or hindering my spiritual growth? What things occupy my thinking? Why does Paul in Philippians 4:8 encourages us with these words – “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” Is Paul trying to say that what we feed into our minds and spirits could either help or hinder our spiritual growth?
I’m not raising these things to make people feel guilty or bad but if we are asking what our responsibility for spiritual growth is … then we need to recognise that where we have our roots planted will affect how much helpful nourishment we are drawing up.
So how do I bring this all together? I started with the question … who is responsible for our Spiritual Growth? Who is to blame if we are not growing. I think that Paul would want to argue that the faith community must play a part in it. We need to recognise the power of “learning together”. Our reading highlighted that God gives the revelation and it’s the churches job to proclaims it. But if I go back to the summary I put up on the screen last week.. yes, it is the churches responsibility…
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. It is the churches responsibility to offer high quality learning experiences where people feel safe to ask questions, express doubts, share discoveries and learn together. We are also encouraged as individuals to take responsibility for our own faith development.
… but did you notice that last line of that statement? We are also responsible for our own spiritual growth. This is what Paul clearly says … that we are also responsible for our own spiritual growth by making sure that our lives are in Jesus and our roots are sunk deep into things that are helpful to growing.
So who is responsible for our spiritual growth?
We all are – both as individuals and as a community.
So let’s all be committed to the lifelong learning and growing journey together.