Recently, I was having breakfast with a friend that asked me a question I wasn’t really prepared to answer. He asked me: “At what points in your life did you grow the most spiritually? What contributed to the growth?”
This caused me to take an inventory of the times of my life where there was significant growth. It was then that I noticed there was a pattern I often see. We typically don’t grow at the same pace all the time. Often there are seasons of rapid growth, followed by a long plateau or even setbacks. Then another season of rapid growth and plateau. There are some things that cause people to grow faster than others, and they previously had grown.
I call the contributors to rapid growth “growth accelerators.”
Just as light, environment, temperature, and nutrients can accelerate the growth of plants, there are practices that rapidly accelerate the spiritual growth of disciples.
What are these “growth accelerators”?
Personal reflection on scripture. This includes a consistent discipline of reading, internalizing, and applying scripture. Regular reflecting on scripture is very similar to exercise. It is more beneficial to do it on a consistent basis and at a sustainable pace. A few minutes of walking does not seem to make a difference. However, after a few weeks, we notice changes in the way that we feel, think, and appear. Consistent personal reflection on scripture does much of the same thing (Psalm 119:11, Psalm 1)
Participating in high-accountability relationships. It has been said that if you want to go fast, go alone, but if you want to go far, go with someone else. Most of our spiritual growth takes place in relationships where we are honest with one another, are committed to one another and encourage one another. These may include disciple-making relationships, participation in a community group, or a commitment to a ministry team. It is a commitment both to yourself, and to those who share these high-accountability relationships. If these people ask you, “How are you doing?” They may not accept “fine“ for an answer if they know it’s not the case. They encourage us to be better as we encourage them to be better as well. We long to be accountable to people. That is why students get frustrated when they do an assignment that is not graded.
Social media can be a great place to get spiritual content. But it can sometimes be a lousy place to get spiritual community. We grow most, not simply by what we know, but by who we know. And by who knows us deeply. “Therefore encourage one another with these words.” (1 Thessalonians 4:18)
That theme is repeated several times throughout the New Testament: 1 Thessalonians 5:11; Hebrews 3:13; Hebrews 10:24-25; Philippians 2:3-4, and Romans 14:19.
Getting In Over Our Head. Growth takes place by being asked to do something that we don’t have the ability to do yet. Conventional wisdom says that we if we prepare enough, we can be ready for almost any task. However, most preparation and practice doesn’t really prepare us for what that task is. What works better is when we have been given a task that we are ill-prepared to do that forces us to prepare ourselves. It forces us to study, pray, ask questions, and lean on the wisdom of others. Most of the great things that we do in life, we’re not prepared for at the moment. We are never fully prepared for raising children, marriage, entering new environments, or many of the jobs that we’ve been asked to do. But once we are in those positions, we find a way to learn what we have only learned on the job. We don’t learn about parenting by reading a book and then having a child; we learn about parenting by having a child and then somehow figuring it out. Many people never get involved in ministry because they never feel prepared. The truth is, if it is worth doing, we probably won’t be prepared at the moment. But it is the task itself that prepares us. (Luke 10:1-20)
Participating in a Cross-Cultural Setting. It has been said that we really don’t understand our own culture, our own family of origin, and our own background, until we are in an environment that is different than what we are accustomed to experiencing. It is only when we participate in other families, cultures, and settings that we can truly evaluate the uniqueness of those new settings. But even more, it is in those environments that we can, for the first time, begin to objectively look at our own experiences. This is one of the reasons why it is so important for a church to be multi-generational, multi-ethnic, and multi-socioeconomic. It is only when our experiences are evaluated against something different, that we can truly appreciate (both good and bad) the community, culture and experiences that have shaped us. (Acts 1:8)
Investing Sacrificially: Something happens when we go from being a consumer to an investor. When we go from being a renter to an owner. It has been said that the heart follows where we give our resources. Once we start investing our time, treasure, and talents in a community, we become deeply committed to the health and the success of that community. Often it does not matter the initial amount or percentage. You may be watching a football game, and someone says, “I will bet you 25 cents that Lions lose.” Suddenly, you find yourself invested in the Lions. It is not surprising that marketers know this as well. Commercials are flooded with “introductory offers” where individuals can invest small amounts of money with a little commitment. However, they know that if they can get you to invest a small amount, now, like five dollars, that they are much more likely to get you emotionally committed enough to invest, and lose, large amounts later. I have noticed that when a person takes the step and starts investing some of their treasure into the kingdom of God, their heart follows even more. As Jesus said, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:21)
If you want to see your faith grow, one of the best ways is in an accelerator.