Spiritual Formation: Move Learning Journal

Posted: May 16, 2013 in Discipleship, Spiritual Formation, Spiritual Growth
Tags: , ,

 

Greg L. Hawkins and Cally Parkinson, Move:  What 1000 Churches Reveal About Spiritual Growth, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011, 288 pages.

In 2004, Willow Creek Community Church in suburban Chicago undertook a three-year study to measure spiritual growth called the REVEAL Spiritual Life Survey. Over the next six years, additional data was collected from over a quarter million people in well over a thousand churches of every size, denomination, and geographic area. Move presents verifiable, fact-based, and somewhat startling findings from the latest REVEAL research, drawing on compelling stories from actual people—congregation members of varying spiritual maturity, as well as pastors who are equally candid as they share their disappointments and their successes. It provides a new lens through which church leaders can see and measure the evidence of spiritual growth. (Amazon description)

Page numbers refer to pages from the Nook e-pub edition.

Move Learning Journal

Foreword (9-11) & Chapter 1:  The Truth about Church (15-27)

I grew up about an hour from Willow Creek, and our home church has closely followed Willow Creek’s strategies. It was neat to see my college church, Fox River Christian in Waukesha, WI, mentioned in the book. I’ve met Bill Hybels, (in Poland) but in all honesty, for much of my ministry career, I have had mixed emotions about Willow Creek and Hybels. It was impressive to see his pastor’s heart, both in the foreword and elsewhere in the book. He really does care about the spiritual growth of the thousands of people touched by Willow Creek, and is not just interested in getting more numbers in the door. His statement “facts are our friends” from the foreword title and page 8 is a good one to remember when we begin to take hard, honest looks at our strategies.

 

In Chapters 2-5, the authors present the following continuum that arose from their research:

Exploring Christ    (People searching for God)

Growing in Christ  (People open to God)

Close to Christ        (People on personal terms with God)

Christ-Centered     (People fully surrendered to God)

My primary reaction to the continuum is that is an excellent way to describe different groups of people in the Kingdom of God. I was not particularly surprised that the Christ-centred group was less interested in church than we might expect. As a missionary, I see this type of attitude among my friends and coworkers. We all want to encourage the church and serve the church, but after a couple of years, in the best cases, we realize that the struggling churches we serve will never really serve us as we might hope. The struggle of course is to learn to change expectations, find the community we need, and not get overly frustrated. Some of my colleagues struggle to do this, and become very dissatisfied with church, although I would say they are strongly Christ-centred, and serving God with their whole heart. Some are able to find community elsewhere, and serve the church anyway, with changed expectations.

 

Chapter 6:  The Catalysts of Spiritual Growth

In their research, the authors noticed four sets of beliefs and practices most often cited as catalysts for spiritual growth by people wherever they were in the spiritual growth continuum:

Spiritual Beliefs and Attitudes

Organized Church Activities

Personal Spiritual Practices

Spiritual Activities with Others

I was quite surprised by the statement on page 91 that belief in the authority of Scripture was less of a catalyst than the four statements preceding it. I’m not at all doubting the validity of the study, but I would be very curious to do a similar study in Poland and see if the same statements are ranked in the same order. The authors claim the study is universal in the North American context (p. 16), but I would expect the authority of Scripture to rank higher as a catalyst for growth here in Poland. If it didn’t, I would need to re-assess my tactics.

Organized church activities seemed to be more important earlier in the continuum, among those “exploring Christ” and “growing in Christ.”

On page 97, the authors state that “personal spiritual practices are the secret to a fully engaged Christ-centered identity.” They continue: “If we could recommend only one spiritual growth pathway for people to follow, personal spiritual practices would be it.” Categorical statement, but it serves as an excellent reminder of our task as spiritual mentors and leaders. We need to get people feeding themselves. This is far more important than us feeding them. This is a tough one for those of us who work hard to feed people through sermons and studies, but we must remember that we are only one. People themselves are many, and the Word and the Spirit are infinite. Helping people learn to feed themselves allows for true growth and multiplication.

Chapters 7-9:  Three Movements

 

Movement 1: Helping people strengthen their personal relationship with Jesus Christ by helping them increasingly trust in the central teachings and values of the Christian faith (125, 128).

I liked the statement on page 103, in answer to the question, “how do I help my people grow in Christ?” that “it depends.” It depends on where people are already. This kind of personalized development is key – and I think necessitates structures that have pretty small components in order to discover that beginning place.

Within movement 1, it was good to read that the church is vital (“indispensable”, p. 105). I also appreciated the authors doing a “shout-out” for the Purpose-Driven model on pages 110-112. Rather than promote a Willow Creek program, they pointed the way to one of the better-known “best practices.” A simple buy-in and implementation of a purpose-driven type plan can be one of the best moves a church makes to help people strengthen their personal relationship with Christ.

 

Movement 2:  Helping people move from an intellectual acceptance of Christ to a relationship characterized by interaction and intimacy. (138)

Personally, the best part of this chapter was the focus on Fox River Christian Church and my old friend Guy Conn (and other good friends, like my old roommate, assistant pastor Rob Warnell). I was part of Pilgrim Baptist Church and watched my friends make a successful transition from an independent fundamental Baptist church into a vibrant, relevant church community. In the midst my excitement, though, I noticed that this where “reflecting on Scripture frequently” began to make an appearance as a primary catalyst (p. 120). The authors returned to this catalyst later, but I would agree that it begins to be increasingly important as people continue in their growth.

 

Movement 3:  Helping people grow to the point that the ultimate goal of their heart is to willingly sacrifice everything for Christ.  (154)

On page 126, when the authors said that “love has everything to do with it” in this movement, I immediately thought of what we read in Critical Journey about stages 5 and 6. Most of the attitudes and practices in this movement seemed to resonate with those two final stages. The attitudes of the heart become key (p. 128). However, in this movement, the authors didn’t have much help for how the church can help people along this movement. I think this is because they don’t know. And – I don’t really know either. Of course, this is why the movement primarily occurs outside of church, but it would be nice to see church as a better help for people in these stages. Maybe that is what is at the heart of some “missional communities” – which then begs the question how those “missional communities” do with assisting people in the first two movements. My guess would be – not so well, but they succeed at assisting with the final movement.

Chapter 10:  Barriers to Spiritual Growth:  The Stalled and Dissatisfied

I see several people in our church who are probably stalled – and definitely dissatisfied. All three of the characteristics on page 143 probably apply to them, as well. Once again, with the most effective method for “un-stalling” being “connecting to God through spiritual practices” (page 148), I would think that one of the best ways we can help people “un-stall” is by reconnecting them with the Bible. If they can’t or won’t yet do that on their own (the end goal), we can do it for them for a while, until God moves their heart.

Chapter 11:  The Spiritual Vitality Index

Chapter 12:  Get People Moving  

Chapter 13:  Embed the Bible in Everything

My comment relates more to small group/house church/cell church type situations. I certainly would agree that the Bible should be embedded in preaching and teaching, but I think more movement happens in smaller forums, and this is where the Bible can be quickly forgotten.

Frequently, in a small group study, even when the reading material is the Bible itself, people who think they know the Bible interject proofs and allusions that they say come from the Bible. It is amazing how often we misquote the Bible, however – and I completely include myself, and most of us trained Christian leaders. I think we constantly need to fight against this, in our own lives, but also in groups that we are part of.

A best practice here, borrowed from David Garrison, is this: you can’t say “the Bible says:” if you can’t find and read the verse. We don’t allow people – including myself (pastor) – to say “the Bible says somewhere . . .” Of course, we live in a country (Poland) where the Bible is known and sometimes read, but where it is not the final authority in the dominant church. So, by constantly making the written and read Word of God the authority in our groups, we reinforce the authority of Scripture for all questions.

I don’t have a page number for Garrison’s statement. He may say it in “Church Planting Movements,” but I remember him saying it in a meeting we had with him several years ago, and his words have stuck with me. Of course – maybe I am misquoting him, too  🙂

Chapter 14:  Create Ownership

Chapter 15:  Pastor the Local Community

Chapter 16:  Lead from a Christ-Centered Heart

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