Tagged: spiritual growth

Seeking a Purpose

This blog post is based on a sermon that you can listen to HERE.

James John SeekingThe Gospels tell two stories of private interactions between Jesus and his disciples that provide a glimpse into the ambitions of Jesus’ closest disciples.

  1. The Twelve argue among themselves over who is the greatest. (Mark 9:34)
  2. James and John request the seats either side of Jesus’ throne in his kingdom. (Mark 10:35-37)

In most discussions of these texts that I’ve heard, people generally criticise the disciples for using Jesus to obtain personal gain. This seems valid criticism. The disciples’ motives seem selfish and unholy.

When we arrive at this conclusion, it appears that we now understand the text as a warning against pride and selfishness and we can move on to the next passage. However, I believe that we can glean more from this text before moving on.

We could easily observe the disciples’ behaviour and conclude that the desire to succeed or achieve as a Jesus follower is an improper desire. Instead, we should endeavour to make our goals and ambitions consistent with God’s will.

Greatness is a worthy goal. How we define greatness is vital. Jesus provides a definition in Mark 9:35 “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last,and servant of all.” Importantly, Jesus doesn’t say, “Don’t aspire to greatness.” Rather he describes a holy path to greatness.

James and John made the mistake of seeking something that wasn’t theirs to seek, or even Jesus’ to give. I wonder, if they had asked Jesus to give them the ministry of primary apostolic healers if Jesus wouldn’t have honoured that request.

greatness 01

So how about us?

The idea of spiritual ambitions seems dangerous to most Christians I know. Yes, Paul tells Timothy to identify men that desire the role of shepherd in the church. But if someone starts wanting that role too much, we get nervous. This creates the problem of discerning the difference between ‘ambition’ and ‘excessive ambition’. So more often than not we frown upon ambition as pride and therefore an ungodly attitude.

Fear of ambitious Christians results in churches filled with people who have few goals and dreams for where their faith could take them. Without goals how can a person determine the next step in their faith walk?

This is a long introduction to what I hope will prove to be a helpful list of concrete ambitions Christians can choose. While I recognise the danger of trying to put the Holy Spirit in a box or define his job, I also realise that I don’t function well in the abstract. Simply telling me to, “walk by faith” doesn’t help me very much, I need more definite instructions. So, here are some ideas, and I’d love for you to add some of yours in the comments section below!

Possible Goals for Spiritual Growth

  1. Read the Bible all the way through.
  2. Lead a ministry at church.
  3. Start an NPO to make a difference in the lives of your community.
  4. Become a small group leader.
  5. Go on a 24hr silent retreat.
  6. Baptize someone.
  7. Go on a mission trip.
  8. Teach a children’s Bible class
  9. Increase your giving. (Aim at a specific percentage.)
  10. Memorize Scripture.
  11. Read the Bible daily.  (Find all sorts of reading plans HERE.)
  12. Attend a Bible or ministry conference/workshop.
  13. Raise a godly family.
  14. Host a small group in your home.
  15. Take Bible courses from a college. (So many are offered online now.)
  16. Intentionally encourage someone every day. (Be able to name that person at the end of the day.)
  17. Make a friend of someone from a different faith background.
  18. Strive to live in such a way that others will describe you as generous.
  19. Reach a point where you can honestly say that you love your enemies. In the meantime, pray good things for them and their families.
  20. Spiritually mentor someone.
  21. Tell a nonbeliever why you’re a Christian.
  22. Regularly practice fasting.
  23. Visit the Holy Land.
  24. Create a work of art (painting, sculpting, song, poem, whatever) that explores an aspect of your faith.
  25. Share a meal with all your neighbors (one at a time).
  26. Identify an organization you can volunteer at regularly.
  27. Lead a ministry at your church.
  28. Become a foreign missionary.
  29. Regularly read the Bible and have spiritual conversations with your grand/children.
  30. Cook a meal for someone else each month/week. Maybe they eat it with you. Maybe you just deliver it.
  31. Pray with another person (not always the same person) each week.
  32. Give money to a mission work, or new church plant in the U.S..
  33. Make a new friend with someone from a different ethnic background.
  34. Adopt a college student.
  35. Read a religious book other than the Bible each year/6 months.
  36. Become a full-time minister.
  37. Commit to being an ethical voice in your workplace.
  38. Raise money for worthy causes.
  39. Attend every church work day.
  40. Prioritise Sunday worship with the body of Christ.
  41. Intentionally express gratitude to someone every day.
  42. Love your spouse, so that they know it.

Most of these goals take more than a moment to fulfill. They’re something to work towards, to aspire to complete. Because spiritual growth is a process.

I dream of the day when I might ask each member of my congregation, “Which aspect of your walk with God are you working on at the moment?” and they’d have a response that was ambitious rather than guilt-ridden.

This list results from random brainstorming rather than profound meditation. I hope it provides a spark for you set some spiritual goals that you might pursue spiritual greatness by becoming the servant of all.


The Search for The Search

2018 Blog Tour c

God created mankind upright, but they have gone in search of many schemes. – Ecclesiastes 7:29

In one respect I think we can say that people are always searching for something. There’s some unmet need, some empty place that needs to be filled, some missing component that has left our hearts lacking. Epic poems and long novels have been written about the search for that unidentifiable something. So I do stipulate that this is a realistic expectation for many. Most? I don’t know.

Overstimulated and Overwhelmed” is how one article describes the condition so many are facing today.

This overstimulation can come from a variety of sources including excessive noise, multitasking, and cluttered surroundings.  Overuse of electronic media is a modern phenomena particularly linked to issues of anxiety, depression, and isolation.  This is unfortunately wide-reaching, as the average American spends most of their waking hours (about 11) on electronic media and internet.

Can we make the case that we are so intent on searching for meaning and connection with God that we’ve exhausted ourselves? Or could we make the case that we’ve exhausted ourselves and the search is no longer interesting to us. We’ve given up.

…There is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. – Romans 3:11

Maybe it’s just me, but American Christians (some? most?) are suffering a slump of sorts. Any search we can identify seems to be on hold while we explore some of those ‘many schemes’ the wise man wrote about in Ecclesiastes. Sometimes I feel that the spiritual search has fallen off of our radar while we seek fulfillment and excitement elsewhere.  If that’s true, why is this?

Could it be that we have taken our eye off of the Savior? Instead of intentionally being committed disciples of Jesus, we sought to have bigger, better, brighter experiences in life, in relationships, in worship. Something to make us feel something.  Have we chased after the experience but forgotten to love and serve the people around us in the name of Jesus?

I began to wonder if what we were doing in evangelical circles had more to do with redeeming ourselves to culture than it did with showing Jesus to a hurting world, a world literally filled with outcasts.

― Donald Miller, Searching for God Knows What

God has promised that if we search for HIM, He will be found. Jesus said that if we seek the Kingdom first, our other needs would be met.

You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.- Jeremiah 29:13

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. – Matthew 6:33

And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. –Hebrews 11:6

For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. – Luke 11:10

If you are feeling empty these days, look in the mirror and ask that person if they have been searching for God with their whole heart. I can’t prove it, but I think there are many people suffering from a spiritual emptiness they cannot identify. It’s not that they do not desire God. It’s more than that. It is that somehow the noise and distraction of life has kept them from desiring to desire God. The search for the Search has been put on hold. Indefinitely?

boy telescope searching - teddy-kelley

How do we break out of spiritual disenchantment and renew the search for the Search? How do I learn once again to be captivated by the beauty of the Savior and in awe of the power of the Father and feel the fire of the Holy Spirit? I hope you’re not looking for something to dazzle you here. I can’t offer you more of the stuff that has us numbed to the Spirit’s call. I can only think we must go back to basics.

Have I been spending time in the Word? I’m going to suggest paper, not screen. Too many distractions and temptations when we’re staring at the glow. Break free.

Have I asked God to reignite the passion for Kingdom living in my heart? Am I talking to Abba about the distance between us?

What have I done for someone else lately? Not for pay, not for recognition, not for anything except the opportunity to serve.

Have I been quiet? No TV, no small screens, just me and God and… no words. (It’s ok if you fall asleep… fall asleep in His presence… He loves you. You can grow in this area of listening prayer.)

Am I walking alone or do I have fellow disciples to serve, study, pray and love alongside?

Contemporary Christian music group, Building 429, sang a song about The Space In Between Us. That’s what we’re trying to bridge. Regaining the search for the Search is my desire for us.

God, for the days when I’m so distracted by the world around me and in front of me, give me the energy and strength to turn it off, turn away, and turn toward you. Grow within me the burning desire to know you more completely and serve you more faithfully. I not only desire to seek you, I desire to desire to seek you. Thank you for knowing what that means. Amen.

10 - John Dobbs pic

John Dobbs is the preaching minister for the Forsythe Church of Christ (http://facoc.org) in Monroe, Louisiana. He can be found on Facebook, followed on Twitter (@johndobbs) and read on his blog (http://johndobbs.com). He’s been married for 31 years to the lovely Maggy. He has two children and two grandchildren.

Can I Measure Spiritual Maturity?

The sermon on this topic is available HERE.

Most Christians recognise that God makes a claim upon our lives that nothing else in our lives be more important that our commitment to Him. He’s our #1.

But what does that look like?

street preacher

When I hear talk like that I picture street corner preachers proclaiming the need for repentance and breathing damnation all at the same time.

I picture my chiropractor who greets each crack of my back with a “Hallelujah” or “Thank-you Jesus”.

I imagine people in the workplace who are most known for the disapproval of the latest social trend for the last twenty years who also tell everyone that they should be in church on on Sunday.

As I think a little more deeply, I recognise that making God #1 will look different for everyone. So how can we tell if others are making God their priority? More importantly, how can we tell if we have idols in our own lives?

One helpful way of addressing these questions, is to change the question. Making God our life’s priority covers a lot of ground. It also indicates that it’s something we do, and then it stays that way. If we’re honest, we’ll concede that giving God priority is a growth process that takes years, and we probably never master it completely.

So here’s a bite size question that I find more helpful.

Am I committed to spiritual growth?

All of us want to say “Yes” to that question, but how are we pursuing spiritual growth. I find that most Christians have few tangible steps they can take toward spiritual maturity beyond the big three of: Pray, Read the Bible, and Attend Church.

I doubt that spiritual growth is a “one size fits all” process, but in recent years I’ve stumbled across material from Willow Creek Community Church and Real Life Ministries that I’ve found helpful.

The Willow Creek REVEAL survey identified four stages of spiritual maturity. You can see them in the picture below along with an indicative saying from each stage.

REVEAL growth continuum.jpg

While it’s interesting to consider we might currently stand on this continuum. More important for our question “Am I committed to Spiritual Growth?” is understanding how a person moves from one stage to another. The REVEAL survey provides some ideas there also.

The survey results can be broken down into 4 areas of spiritual life. A spiritually mature Christian will seek to grow in all four areas, but the temptation is to ignore those which feel less comfortable to us. The four areas are:

  1. Spiritual beliefs and attitudes
  2. Organized church activities
  3. Personal spiritual practices
  4. Spiritual activities with others

I can’t list all the catalysts for movement without this post becoming ridiculously long. You can get all the survey results and discussion in a recent book titled MOVE. But here are the Top 5 catalysts for each area of movement:

Moving From Exploring Christ to Growing in Christ

  1. Belief in Salvation by Grace
  2. Belief in the Trinity
  3. Church Activity Serve in a church ministry 1-2 times a month
  4. Spiritual Practice Prayer for Guidance
  5. Spiritual Practice Reflection on Scripture

Bible study 02Moving From Growing in Christ to Close to Christ

  1. Belief in a Personal God
  2. Spiritual Practice Prayer for Guidance
  3. Spiritual Practice Reflection on Scripture
  4. Spiritual Practice Solitude
  5. Spiritual Activity with Others Evangelism

Moving From Close to Christ to Christ-Centered

  1. Belief Giving Away My Life (“I am willing to surrender everything that is important in my life to Jesus Christ.”)
  2. Belief Christ is First
  3. Belief Identity in Christ
  4. Belief Authority of the Bible
  5. Spiritual Practice Reflection on Scripture

In his book “Real -Life Discipleship“, Jim Putman, describes the stages of spiritual maturity in terms of stages of life: Infant, Child, Young Adult, and Parent.

I love his vision of a mature Christian as a parent. A Christian is not mature because they know Bible details. A Christian is not mature because they’re always talking about Jesus. A person is mature because they’re investing in the lives of people around them. Sometimes they’re leading people into relationship with Jesus. Other times they’re helping younger Christians grow.

A christian who regards themselves as mature but isn’t passing on their faith to another generation of believers through personal effort (not by paying the preacher) is deceiving themselves.

There’s a lot to consider here and each of these ideas have thick books behind them. My primary goal is to encourage each of us to continue our quest to grow in Christ: To grow toward spiritual maturity. As we do this we’ll discover that Christ is #1 in our lives.

Fasting to Go Slow

We live in a fast paced world. We fret at red lights. We become agitated when our computers take 30 seconds to do something. We have a list of things we needed to do yesterday, or last week. And another list of things we should be working on right now.

fasting 01

Then there’s God…

God wants us to spend time with Him. God wants to hear from us. God wants to speak with us. God wants us to do things for him too.

Where can I find time in my busy work day, family day, parenting day, social networking day, church day, school day or leisure day to hang out with God?

To commit time in my day to God, I must first carve out space: empty space. I must dedicate myself to a time of nothingness, or nothing-else, and meet God there.

Fasting provides one approach to giving God greater prominence in my daily routine. Fasting commits me to giving something up, so that God can take its place.

When I give up food for a day, I can spend my lunch break talking to God. When I avoid social media, I can update God on my thoughts rather than my Twitter followers. When I turn off the TV or hang up the Ipod, I can listen to God’s Spirit speaking in the stillness.

Fasting, in whatever form we practice it, creates space for God. It reminds of the priority He should have in our life. It confronts the value we give to other aspects of our lives. It’s a way of offering a sacrifice to God… without the blood and guts.

I suspect that most Christians don’t practice fasting. I’ve never previously been part of a church that encourages Christians to fast. Yet, as the pace of our lives and the world around us increases, the ancient practice of fasting becomes increasingly important for our faith.

I’ve written previously on the topic of fasting HERE. Or you can listen to this week’s sermon HERE where I discuss some of Jesus’ teaching on fasting.

Do you practice regular fasting?  What questions do you have about fasting?

When Ruth Comes to Church

Ruth 01The book of Ruth features three main characters: Ruth, Naomi, and Boaz.

In many ways the book could be called the Book of Naomi, as the story opens and closes with Naomi and she guides Ruth’s actions throughout the story.

Many Christian commentators seize on Boaz’s role in the story as “kinsman-redeemer“. Since Jesus is our redeemer Boaz becomes a type, or shadow, of what Jesus will be.

Then we come to Ruth.

She’s an outcast. Perhaps we often regard her as a romantic figure. She represents us: A recipient of grace.

As I read through this book last week I noticed some comparisons between her movement from Moabite to member of Jesus’ family, and the outsiders who visit our churches today.

1. Ruth was an outsider. Ruth was a Moabite. An Israelite enemy. She worshiped idols. She couldn’t be trusted. She spoke differently. Maybe she dressed differently. The local boys had been warned about women “like her”. She was destitute.

2015 Ruth is also an outsider. As the US immigrant population increases there’s a good chance that she’s a foreigner. Maybe an illegal immigrant. As such, some may regard her as the enemy. She probably doesn’t come from a Christian family. She has other interests, passions, or idols. Not being raised in the church, she speaks differently. She thinks differently. And she probably dresses differently. She may be destitute.

2. Naomi went into Ruth’s world. I wish I could describe Naomi as a missionary. In fact, it seems that Naomi’s family moved to Moab out of desperation, and perhaps a lack of faith in God’s ability to provide for them. Nonetheless, she entered Ruth’s world and made such an impact that Ruth followed her out.

2015 Ruth needs someone to enter her world. She needs someone to accept and love her so strongly that she doesn’t notice the differences. She needs someone to walk alongside her through times of grief and struggle. When she experiences this loving relationship, 2015 Ruth wants to learn more about the God of her 2015 Naomi.

3. Ruth moved to Bethlehem. At this point in her journey Naomi’s role wasn’t to motivate her, but to guide her. She needed to guide Ruth through the new Israelite customs. (I’m pretty sure the Moabites didn’t have the same gleaning laws the Israelites did, and certainly not a kinsman-redeemer.) Naomi needed to guide Ruth through the web of pre-existing relationships. Naomi knew who Boaz was and his eligibility to be their kinsman-redeemer. Ruth would have been lost without Naomi.

2015 Ruth needs someone to guide her into the strange world that is church. It’s not enough to expect 2015 Ruth to stay, just because she walked through the doors of a church. Who will explain what an elder and a deacon are? And who they are? Who will convince her that small groups may be uncomfortable at first but beneficial in the long run? Who will help her children find the right Bible classes or guide her through the sign-in process? 2015 Ruth needs compassionate guides every bit as much as Biblical Ruth did.

4. Ruth was courageous. When Ruth lay herself at Boaz’ feet, I wonder the thoughts that raced through her mind. This was a risk. Would he be angry? Would he treat her as an outcast? Would he refuse her? Would he mock her vulnerability or her lack of decorum? This was the moment when she lived up to her earlier pledge that Naomi’s land, people and God would become hers. There was no turning back if Boaz accepted her.

2015 Ruth requires courage. Although she has come to trust some of God’s people, she knows the people better than she knows God. God is a new entity to her. She likes what she’s seen so far. She longs for what’s promised. So she joins herself to God in baptism. But God and his church often has a bad reputation out there in the world. Christians often fail to acknowledge that the commitment that comes so naturally for those raised in a church requires great courage for 2015 Ruth her friends.

5. God validates Ruth. The book of Ruth closes with Naomi holding Ruth’s son in her arms. Then it details how the future king, David, is a descendant or Ruth. She becomes an integral part of God’s family.

2015 Ruth also needs validation. She needs a church to point out her gifts. She needs people to involve her in the life and ministry of the God. She needs a purpose. As she is integrated into the body of Christ one day she’ll look back and realise… “I’m no longer an outsider. I am loved.”

If Boaz represents Jesus, then our churches need to identify Naomis willing to seek and invest in Ruths. That’s how we’ll establish a lineage of faith.

Taking the Next Step

  • Read 2 Peter 1:3-11 here.

    Via Dolorosa – Christ took the next step for me… and the one after that…

  • You can listen to this sermon here.

Quite correctly, Christians direct a lot of time and energy toward convincing the world that Jesus is the only Way, Truth and Life.  Jesus final words recorded in Matthew 28 direct his followers to perpetuate his teachings and spread his influence throughout all nations.  The world needs to hear and accept the Good News of Jesus, and we dream of God’s kingdom expanding to defeat Satan and the forces of evil.

The risk in emphasising conversion, or new births, or baptism, or whatever event you wish to count is just that: it’s an event.  It tends to create a mindset that I have moved from lost to found, from peril to rescue, from orphan to family.  In short, it tells us that we’ve arrived.

I don’t possess the words to describe the importance of my state of salvation to my life. While I was still a sinner, Christ died for me. However, Scripture teaches me that I have NOT yet arrived. (Eph. 4:11-16) I am still God’s work in progress. My redemption will culminate, not in my acceptance of Christ as my Saviour, but at the return of Christ and the ultimate establishment of his kingdom.

Jesus intends for his disciples to continually grow. The basic premise of the New Testament epistles indicates that Christians should grow. The NT authors are writing to Christians with instructions on beliefs, church life, personal and corporate ethics, etc.  There is never a hint that since these Christians have accepted Christ’s sacrifice for their sins they have fulfilled God’s expectations for them. Paul, John and others continue to prompt the new followers of Jesus to deeper levels of commitment.

In 2 Peter 3:18 the apostle concludes his letter by directing his readers to “Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.” Standing still was not an option.  This conclusion fits the letter, because in 1:5-7 Peter lays out a pathway of spiritual growth that his audience should take: one step at a time.


Keep Moving.

I’m excited that our church has chosen this theme for 2012. It provides so many opportunities for congregational and personal growth.  It reminds us that God has something planned for us that is more that our present circumstances.  It prompts the congregational leadership to search for opportunities God is presenting to the church.  It prompts us individually to conduct a spiritual inventory and evaluate how we can deepen our relationship with Him. It directs us to spiritual disciplines, but also reminds us to put our faith into action: to keep moving, to take the next step.

Just two questions this week:

  • What thoughts does the phrase “Taking the Next Step” (in a context of faith) bring to mind for you?
  • What Next Step is God laying on your heart?

WHO is your Legacy?

  • Read 2 Kings 2:1:18 here.
  • You can listen to this sermon here.

Who is/are your spiritual successor/s?

In 1 Kings 19 Elijah recruits Elisha as his servant.  Evidently, Elisha already knew Elijah and was a follower of Yahweh as he immediately offers the oxen he was working with as a sacrifice and follows Elijah.  But servant.  That’s a pretty humble position to accept as a career change.

By 2 Kings 2 the relationship between Elijah and Elisha has obviously blossomed.  Elisha is clearly more than a servant.  In v9 as Elijah prepares for his death he asks Elisha, “Tell me, what can I do for you before I am taken from you?”  Elisha requests a double portion of the spirit of Elijah.

Elisha had apparently been so impressed by God’s work in the life of Elijah that he ambitiously asks for a double blessing.  In that culture, the first born son received a double portion of the estate.  At a minimum, it seems that Elisha asks that he  become a spiritual son of Elijah.  Elijah responds that only God can distribute his Spirit.  Over in v15 the sons of the prophets confirm that God did grant Elisha’s request to receive the spirit of Elijah.

When Elijah chose an apprentice, he understood that the battle against idols would not conclude in his lifetime.  He needed to ensure that his mission and God’s message continue for years to come.  Which brings us back to the intial question, “Who is your spiritual legacy?

Who are you investing in to equip them to carry on the torch for God when you’re not able?  In my spiritual heritage it seems that we mostly attempt to equip people through large events.  I’m thinking of Bible Classes, youth group, sermons, worship service training, etc.  I’ve often heard of the need for one-on-one Bible studies, but usually with those seeking Christ and these studies seldom continue much beyond baptism.  I don’t think I have ever seen two long-term Christians meet in a mentoring relationship, eg. an elder meet regularly with a deacon to help him study the Bible and grow spiritually.  Or I don’t think I have seen a deacon meet regularly with a young adult to prompt spiritual growth and train him in service.  Or I don’t think I have seen women do this either.

While churches would never say this, our actions send the message that “12 months after you give your life to Christ, you’re on your own, you’re now a number in the church’s system and as long as you keep attending you’ll be find and we’ll leave you alone (unless you have a major crisis) … until we need a volunteer or money.”  I believe churches can do better than that.

I have recently been giving some attention to the concept of discipleship.  (Here‘s a really good book I’ve found.)  Of course, it’s best demonstrated in the life of Christ with The Twelve, and his inner circle of James, John & Peter.  But we also see it in the ministries of Barnabas and Paul, and of course here in 2 Kings with Elijah.  Each of these leaders took time to invest in the spiritual growth of other devout followers of God.  For their part, Elisha, Peter, James, John, Paul, Silas, Timothy, Titus were already eagerly following God when their “mentor” called them into a relationship that would prompt their growth even more.

Before asking the question, “Can I share my faith with someone outside of Christ?” We need to answer the question, “Can I have spiritual conversations and encourage growth with other Christians?”  Surely it’s more challenging to have spiritual conversations with outsiders than partners?  If we can’t grow faith in people already committed to Christ, how do we hope to stimulate spiritual consciousness in pre-Christians?

Elijah didn’t get to the end of his life and reminisce about the spectacular miracles God had empowered him to perform.  Rather, at the end of his life he was investing in a disciple who would continue his mission and spread God’s message.  He was more concerned with WHO his legacy was, that WHAT he had accomplished.  Who is your spiritual legacy?

  • Have you been part of a church that promoted an intentional pathway of spiritual growth for Christians of all ages?  Does this idea sound attractive to you?
  • Have you ever received spiritual mentoring?  Did you find it faith-building?
  • Have you ever discipled someone else?  What was your biggest challenge?

Christian Mission – Part 2: The Christian

  • Read Ephesians 4:11-16 here.
  • Read Part 1 of this series here.
  • You can listen to this sermon here.

In many ways, separating the mission of the church and the individual is a false dichotomy.  The church only exists due to the presence of individuals.  The church only functions due to the actions of individuals. The church only speaks due to the words of individuals.  So is it possible for the church and individuals to have separate missions?

I believe it’s at least possible for the church and individual Christians to have different emphases to our mission.  I 100% believe that we all share the basic mission of “physically and tangibly representing the resurrected Christ to the world.”  In doing this the church shares with Christ a primary mission task of “seeking and saving the lost” (Lk 19:10). It’s important to realise that the “saving” in this statement is not a one-time event.  It includes a moment of salvation, but also encompasses the vital responsibility of preserving the saints. The church fails in its mission if it seeks the lost, saves the lost, and then loses them again. (Consider the parable of the soils in Lk 8:1-15.)

When I consider the primary mission focus of the individual Christian, it seems to me that first and foremost we have the goal of remaining in relationship with God.  However, that’s a minimum level goal. To word it more positively I would say that our basic mission as a disciple of Christ is to grow in our relationship with God. (2 Peter 3:17-18)  This sounds like a fairly selfish goal, because it is.  Every other possible mission falls apart if we stop growing, or worse yet, lose our relationship with God.

This brings me to an interesting contradiction.  The church represents Christ by seeking and saving the lost.  Yet, the individuals who make up the church represent Christ by (selfishly) growing in their relationship with Christ.  I reconcile this contradiction in my mind by recognising that all Christians are at different stages of maturity.  In each progressive stage of maturity the definition, or description, of “growing closer to Christ” increasingly turns outward until our personal faith in God is sufficiently strong that we can say our personal mission is to “seek and save the lost”.  However, if our faith regresses, our mission once again turns more “selfish”.

I’m not suggesting that every mature Christian must become a full-time evangelist.  According to an individual’s spiritual gifts, some will concentrate on seeking, while others will focus on saving.  Some individuals will also come to regard their primary mission as shepherding, teaching and preserving the faith of those who’ve decided to commit their lives and eternity to Christ. (The apostle Paul describes this diversity of gifts and ministries well in the passage from Ephesians 4 I reference at the opening of this post.)

Even the mission emphasis on seeking resists a one size fits all approach.  In my previous post I mentioned how the ministry of Christ could be summarised as “preaching, teaching, and healing”.  Recognising the uniqueness of each individual, some mature Christians will also represent Christ by finding their niche in the ministry of healing: emotional; physical; relational; and ultimately spiritual.  The mission of seeking and saving has many different looks to it.

  • Do you agree that it’s possible for the church and individual Christians to have divergent mission emphases? Or is that logic fatally flawed?
  • Do you agree that the individual Christian has a primary spiritual responsibility to “grow their relationship with Christ”?
  • The “how” of growing in our relationship with Christ is a huge topic.  Help me out by sharing some critical steps or stages in your faith journey.