I’ve finally taken the chance to review the second book associated with Willow Creek’s Reveal study entitled Follow Me. Better late than never, they say, so I’m sending off some of my reflections here at the blog.
Building off of the research from Reveal, this next part of the study looks at spiritual growth, what people are looking for from churches for growth, and provides some critical insights on how church leaders can catalyze and lead toward spiritual growth in their churches.
Reveal offered a four-fold framework , or spiritual growth continuum, for understanding where people are at in their faith: 1) exploring Christ, 2) growing in Christ, 3) close to Christ, and 4) Christ-centered.
In Follow Me, the study outlines three movements of spiritual growth that stretch across the continuum of faith (pp. 28-30): 1) early spiritual growth, 2) intermediate spiritual growth, and 3) advanced spiritual growth. The study then analyzed four categories of spiritual catalysts within the stages of growth (pp. 31-46), which they outlined as: 1) spiritual beliefs and attitudes (e.g., authority of the Bible, Triune God, salvation by grace) , 2) organized church activities (e.g., weekend services, serving within the church, small groups), 3) personal spiritual practices (e.g., reflection on Scripture, solitude, prayer), and 4) spiritual activities with others (e.g., informal spiritual friendships, serving those in need ‘on my own’).
So, this all sets the stage for the study to look into what helps people move from one stage of spiritual growth to another, or to see what are key catalysts for spiritual growth. While it is interesting to dig into the spiritual catalysts for each stage or movement of spiritual growth, it is even more interesting – even unsurprising – to find that the only common spiritual catalyst that reaches across all three movements of spiritual growth is “Reflection on Scripture” (pp. 114ff).
Everywhere we turned the data revealed the same truth: spending time in the Bible is hands down the highest impact personal spiritual practice. More specifically, ‘I reflect on the meaning of Scripture in my life’ is the spiritual practice that is most predictive of growth for all three spiritual movements. (p. 114)
In some ways, this should not be surprising to us. As the writer of Hebrews says:
The word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. (Heb 4:12)
But, we should be thoughtful as we reflect on what is being said here in Follow Me. The call is not simply to say to people in our churches: “Go read the Bible. That’s it. Just do it.” This is not helpful.
What we should be doing is giving thoughtful consideration to how we are encouraging and equipping our people to regularly (that means in an ongoing and disciplined way) reflect (meditatively read with connection to life) on the Scripture in ways that provide continuity with what we are communicating in services (e.g., sermons, prayer, worship songs) and other venues (e.g., small groups, classes).
In this vein, I appreciated how Willow is doing their utmost to “extend the impact of our weekend services. We wanted to help people integrate what they were learning on the weekends into their Monday-through-Friday lives” (p. 123). Whether that is in the form of a journal for reflection they handed out, or having a thorough cataloguing of resources that people can access, they are trying to make the Scripture-focused impact overflow into peoples’ daily living.
Much more could be said about this fascinating book, whether it is changes from a seeker-driven church to a more radical disciple-making church, or retooling the mid-week service into a class structure that is driven to help people in each of the three movements of spiritual growth.
It is definitely worth the read, the reflection, and learning for ministry application in your own setting.