Back to School Lessons for Personal Spiritual Growth

This fall marked the beginning of another school year in the Kelley household. This one’s a bit different than in years past because this year, we’ve got a middle schooler. That means two different school start times, two different drop-offs and pickups, and two different sets of expectations and apprehensions. But despite all those things, we made it through with minimal anxiety and bloodshed. And as I think back across this week, I am filled with admiration for my children.

I admire their attitudes and excitement. I admire their desire and individuality. I admire their ease in making friends and trying new things. And I have admired the way they’ve asked us to pray for them about specific things this week. I’ve seen so many things in them this week that have caused me to give thanks, but have also challenged me. I’m not starting school this year, but in a sense, we are all in the school of discipleship. It’s a progressive school where we are moving further and further toward Christian maturity, learning and changing and repenting and going at it again along the way.

I’ve seen in my children, the way they have begun this year, a few things that ring true about the school of discipleship as well. Here are a few of the lessons I’ve learned from them as applied to my own ongoing spiritual growth:

1. Routine can bring freedom.

We have been pretty set in our morning and afternoon routine these past few years, mainly because it was relatively familiar to us. But with the advent of middle school, we have had to reevaluate how things function in our home. When are lunches made? How is homework done? What time do people get up in the morning? All those things play into establishing a routine. And because this year is different, we had to somewhat turn over what we were formerly doing and start over. But a few days in, and the new routine has been established.

And in that routine has come freedom. Expectations are set, and they are met, and when they are, there is a lesser amount of anxiety and franticness. Routine allows a slower and more intentional pace because you don’t feel like everything has to be done right now. Such is the case with discipleship.

Routine builds our expectations and it allows us to anticipate the right things at the right time. When we, for example, have a routine about the way we read the Bible and pray, then our minds click into gear with the time is right. We don’t feel the pressing tyranny of the urgent because we know that there is a time for everything, and the time now is sit and read. Of course, routines are made to be broken. And in the school day as well as discipleship, it takes wisdom to know when the routine has stopped serving you and when you have started serving it.

2. Together is better.

We have had sweet times together over dinner this past week. Part of that is because of the newness of school – when everything is the most amazing and awesome in the world. I’m sure that will change soon enough. But those times will be sweet in a different way, for those are the times when we have the privilege of not only laughing together, but crying together as a family. The key word here is “together,” and together is better.

Such is the case with discipleship. Together is better here, too. We often think of our spiritual development in isolation, and that’s good and right so far as it goes. But God has been building, for all time, a people for Himself, together worshiping Him for all eternity. When we come together regularly with the people of God, unified by the truth of the gospel, then we are able to laugh, weep, rejoice, and bear each other’s burdens. We are able to encourage and remind each other of the promises of God so that we might press onto another day in faith.

3. Mercies are new every morning.

They are indeed. Thank the Lord. I shouldn’t make it sound like this first week has been perfect; far from it. We’ve had arguments, and discussions that turned into arguments. But at least for the time being, the kids have come downstairs each morning cheerful and ready for a new day. It has been a reminder to me that a good night’s rest is an amazing antiseptic – nothing looks as bad as it does at midnight, and everything looks a little better in the morning.

I don’t think this is just “self-help” rhetoric – I think it is because, for the Christian, we know that God’s mercies are truly new every morning. And that when we wake up, we can be confident that this is the day the Lord has made, and we should be obedient to rejoice and be glad in it. The kids, even though they might not recognize it, are showing me this discipline with the way they are coming downstairs even if the night before has been difficult.

For the disciple, every morning is a new day. And with the new day comes the choice to believe that God is not absent, but instead has filled that day with good works for us to walk in. We can, then, as a matter of discipleship to look on the coming day as an opportunity to embrace His work in and through us.

4. In the midst of complexity, return to the basics.

This year is going to be complex. Jana and I have already discussed how our new middle schooler is within weeks of aging out of our ability to legitimately help him with his math homework. It’s going to be complex, and math is just the beginning of the list of reasons. How will we handle all that complexity in school, relationships, and dynamics? I don’t know specifically, but in general, I think we will go back to the basics again and again. We will have dinner together. We will pray together. We will laugh together. We will be safe together.

This is one of the glories of home – that no matter what else is happening in the world, home is where you come back to and leave all masks and pretense at the door. Home is where you are you, and you are loved. That’s returning to the basics.

The same thing is true in discipleship, for there are certainly complexities in the world for the Christian. There are moral complexities, societal complexities, and relational complexities. There are also theological and doctrinal complexities. What, then, can we do in light of these things? We can return to the basics.

For the disciple, that means coming back to the home of the gospel. It means returning again and again to the simple and unchanging truth that with Jesus, we are eternally safe because He has loved us even unto death.

>Read more from Michael.

 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Michael Kelley

I’m a Christ-follower, husband, dad, author and speaker. Thanks for stopping here to dialogue with me about what it means to live deeply in all the arenas of life. I live in Nashville, Tennessee, with my wife Jana who is living proof of the theory that males are far more likely to marry over their heads than females are. We have three great kids, Joshua (5) and Andi (3), and Christian (less than 1). They remind me on a daily basis how much I have to grow in being both a father and a child. I work full time for Lifeway Christian Resources, where I’m a Bible study editor. I also get out on the road some to speak in different churches, conferences and retreats.

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Follow These Three Signposts on the Path to Spiritual Growth

What Are We Missing in Discipleship?

Lately there’s been a lot of talk about spiritual formation and discipleship, and rightfully so. I think we can all agree there’s a discipleship deficit in many churches. There isn’t a whole lot of discipling going on, even though that’s precisely what we, as Jesus’ followers, were commissioned to do—make disciples.

A Pathway to Maturity

If we can agree that spiritual maturity is the goal for disciples, how do we achieve it? How does God expect us to disciple? Though essential (and actually a gift from God), having a desire for spiritual growth is not enough in the Christian life; we must be on the path. That’s one of the reasons why we call this a “spiritual walk.”

If you’re just hoping disciples will somehow find their way through the spiritual jungle, you are fooling yourself. There are many distractions and pitfalls. Jesus had warnings about those who make it difficult for seekers to find their way.

And while you as a pastor or leader will have to break out the machete at times to clear overgrown paths, others have already blazed a trail and left us some good markers. Paul was such a trailblazer, making more than just a few disciples. So I think we can learn from his process.

A Path to Growth

We have found through Transformational Discipleship research that there is a progression, a path involved in making disciples. But, that’s just a reflection of the biblical realities showing up in our research of churches.

Paul writes of this path in his letter to the Colossians:

“For this reason also, since the day we heard this, we haven’t stopped praying for you. We are asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding, so that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him,bearing fruit in every good work and growing in the knowledge of God” (1:9–10, HCSB).

Here are three things that mark the path of spiritual formation:

1. Knowing

Being filled with the knowledge of God’s will is a vital part of becoming a disciple of Jesus. We can tell people to be more like Jesus all day long, but if they don’t know Jesus, they won’t be like him. This knowing happens individually, and through relationships.

Reading the Bible is obviously essential here. Show me someone who isn’t reading the Word of God, and I will show you someone who isn’t growing deeper as a believer.

The psalmist says to God, “Your word is a lamp for my feet and a light on my path” (Psalm 119:105). The path to spiritual maturity is lit by the Word.

Historically, there were people employed to carry lights so that others could see the path at night. On the community level, pastors and leaders are to facilitate the walk by carrying the light—the Word—out in front.

This involves teaching and mentoring. Then people have to see that light at their own feet—as the word they carry lights their individual path.

Learning facts found in the Bible won’t make you a Christian, but if we ignore the light of Scripture, we won’t be able to stay on the path to spiritual development.

2. Being

We don’t learn about God to become theological encyclopedias. Rather, we learn and know so we can be. That’s learning to walk worthy by being, increasingly, who we are in Christ.

There is a mysterious transfer of spiritual DNA that occurs as a believer walks the path of discipleship. It is a becoming.

It’s true in every area of life. The more time you spend with a mentor, read a certain author, or listen to a certain speaker, the more you will begin to think like that person.

The same is true when we walk with the Lord—the very nature of walking with the Lord helps us to walk worthy. Walking with him shapes us to be like him—to walk worthy.

In Romans, Paul talks about this kind of being in our spiritual walk—being who we are in Christ.

He says, “Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2). We begin to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord when we take on his traits as his children.

Scripture tells us that Adam, Enoch, Noah, and Abraham walked with God. They knew God well, and that affected how they lived. We need to make it clear that this spiritual path can be walked. Disciples can, by and in the power of Christ, walk with God into a deeper spiritual life.

3. Doing

Just as our mindsets are formed by our training and belief, our actions flow from who we are.

Knowing who you are in Christ, then being who you are in Christ (by walking worthy), leads you do doing the work of God. (Getting them in the wrong order is a problem… )

Everyone looks forward to the day a baby can walk. But that development is not the end of their journey. After they walk, they are expected to contribute in other ways, from chores around the house to getting an education, and eventually a job. When they produce in these areas, it is a sign of maturity. It means the child understands the path he or she is on.

It is one thing to be told to clean your room. But when the child starts cleaning their own room and also volunteers to clean up the neighborhood, you know they get it.

Bearing fruit in every good work is an indicator of development. Just as no one becomes a believer by knowing more about God, no one is redeemed by doing good things for God. But being a disciple will inevitably result in doing the work of a disciple—not just doing good things but also bearing fruit.

We do good works not just so good things are done, but as Jesus taught, “So that [people] may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). That is bearing fruit.

If being a disciple is about taking on Christ’s traits, producing fruit is about exhibiting the presence of Jesus. We were designed to produce spiritually. He is the vine. We are the branches.

Paul tells the church at Ephesus, “For we are his creation, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time so that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10). Fruit is a sign that a tree is maturing. Fruit in a believer’s life is a sign that a disciple is growing.

Walking (and Inviting Others to Walk) a Clear Path

There are no accidental disciples—God gives new life in Christ. Then, disciples learn to know, be, and do what the Christian life is. No one wanders into spiritual maturity, and you and your church need to know that truth. You need to have people walk the path.

Do you want a clear path for spiritual growth in your church? Faithfully lead believers into the knowledge of God’s will so that they can walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, doing good works that produce fruit in their lives and in the lives of those around them.

What would you say is the biggest roadblock on the path to spiritual maturity? Of the three things I mentioned here (knowing, being, doing), where do we most often drop the ball?

> Read more from Ed.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ed Stetzer

Ed Stetzer

Ed Stetzer, Ph.D., holds the Billy Graham Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College and serves as Executive Director of the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism. He has planted, revitalized, and pastored churches, trained pastors and church planters on six continents, holds two masters degrees and two doctorates, and has written dozens of articles and books. Previously, he served as Executive Director of LifeWay Research. Stetzer is a contributing editor for Christianity Today, a columnist for Outreach Magazine, and is frequently cited or interviewed in news outlets such as USAToday and CNN. He serves as interim pastor of Moody Church in Chicago.

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COMMENTS

What say you? Leave a comment!

Recent Comments
comment_post_ID); ?> I agree 100%, you can tell if a church is doing this it grows, if there's no growth there's poor leadership..
 
— Dennis Whiterock
 
comment_post_ID); ?> Great work Bubba! Its exciting to see how God has blessed your faithfulness over your lifetime into remarkable, fruitful, Kingdom expansion! Jesus DID say, "without Me you can do nothing!" (John 15:5). No surprise that He rewards "thick and thin" prayer with great fruitfulness! :)
 
— Mike Taylor
 
comment_post_ID); ?> I loved this presentation. It helped greatly as I organized an Outreach Ministry of The Shepherds Care. Thank you. Esther Callaham Mahgoube Emmanuel Pentecostal Church New Jersey
 
— Esther Mahgoube
 

Clarity Process

Three effective ways to start moving toward clarity right now.