When I was in my mid 20’s, I joined a group. It was a well-intentioned, long-standing group that we ALL have heard of and shall remain nameless. They do GREAT work, both locally and nationally, in a variety of ways. When I was invited to join, I immediately thought of Groucho Marx, who said, “I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member!” Touche’, Mr. Marx… touche’! I mean really…what kind of club would WANT me as a member? They must NOT have very stringent membership guidelines!
I started playing drums when I was 10 years old- I have been playing for 39 years. (YOU do the math!) The book I first used when I was learning how to play was The Haskell Harr Drum Book. I still have it…or rather a copy of it (the original copy I had wore out years ago!), and it is a hoot to look at. The “model” in the pictures is a young man with short blond hair, black “Buddy Holly” horned-rim glasses and an old-school black suit with a white shirt and a skinny black tie. It looks MUCH less like a kid playing the drums and MUCH more like a kid from 1963 getting ready for a school dance!
It was 1980- Spring to be exact. I was a Freshman at a small university in central Illinois. I was an acting major. (YEP, that’s right…I have a Bachelor’s Degree in Acting, thank you very much! In fact, I graduated with Honors! Graduating with Honors in acting AND 75 cents will buy you a Coke from most machines in the country!! I’m just sayin’!) We weren’t allowed to audition for “regular” shows as freshman, but there was this Senior who decided to direct a production of Godspell as her degree project. It was NOT a “regular” production, so I could audition…and I did…and I got cast. Problem? It’s a musical. You’re saying, “Yeah? So what?” Well…up to that point I had never…let me repeat that…NEVER sung in public before! Awww, snap! But I LOVED the show, so I was determined to be in it.
I LOVE the movie The Sting. You know…Robert Redford, Paul Newman, Robert Shaw? In fact, it MAY be my favorite movie of all time. CERTAINLY in the top five…four…three…! If you have NOT seen the movie, I’m going to try and address this…carefully…so I don’t spoil anything for you. If you HAVE seen the movie…you’ll know what I’m talking about!
Sunday, September 26th- Intentional Faith Development
We are in the 3rd week of our current series- The Five Practices of Healthy Congregations, based on the book by United Methodist Bishop Robert Schnase.
The first week we discussed Radical Hospitality- the active desire to bring people to Jesus and His Church. Last week we looked at Passionate Worship- fresh encounters with God that transform lives. Today we will dig into Intentional Faith Development- learning together in community.
In Max Lucado’s book, Just Like Jesus, he discussed the motivation behind God’s desire to make us more like Jesus. “God loves to decorate. God has to decorate. Let him live long enough in a heart, and that heart will begin to change. Portraits of hurt will be replaced by landscapes of grace. Walls of anger will be demolished and shaky foundations restored. God can no more leave a life unchanged than a mother can leave her child’s tear untouched. It’s not enough for him to own you; he wants to change you. Where you and I might be satisfied with a recliner and refrigerator, he refuses to settle for any dwelling short of a palace. After all, this is his house. No expense is spared. No corners are cut. This might explain some discomfort in your life. Remodeling the heart is not always pleasant. We don’t object when the Carpenter adds a few shelves, but he’s been known to gut the entire west wing. He has such high aspirations for you. God envisions a complete restoration. He won’t stop until he’s finished. And he won’t be finished until we have been shaped “along the…lines…of his Son”.
As Christians, we’re called into a covenant relationship with God. We are loved by a God that will not let us go and never leave us or forsake us. We need to know that God loves us, that we are of supreme value, that our lives have significance. We need to know we’re not alone, that when we face life’s difficulties we’re surrounded by a community of Grace and we don’t have to figure out entirely by ourselves how to cope with family tensions, self-doubts, periods of despair, economic reversal, and the temptations that hurt ourselves or others. We need to know the peace that runs deeper than an absence of conflict, the hope that sustains us even through the most painful periods of grief, the sense of belonging that blesses us, and stretches us, and lifts us out of our own preoccupations. We need to learn how to offer and accept forgiveness, how to serve, and be served. The church should be…ready?…a school for love, where we learn from one another…how to love. We need to know that life is NOT about having something to live on, or in, or around, or under, or over…but something to live FOR, that life comes not from taking FOR ourselves, but by giving OF ourselves. And that happens through Intentional Faith Development. So why would we do that? Let’s look at 1 Corinthians 9:19-24–
Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law, so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law, so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings. Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.
A Sunday School teacher said to her students, “We’ve been learning about how powerful the kings and queens were in Biblical times. But there is a higher power. Who can tell me what’s more powerful than Kings and queens?” Tommy blurted out, “I know…Aces!”
In the 1Corinthians passage, Paul talks about trying to be mindful of the needs of others- under the law, NOT under the law, weak…whatever they were, he tried to learn to be like them so he could better help them come to know the power and love of Jesus. He closed with, “run in such a way as to get the prize.” In other words…keep strengthening, keep growing, keep intentionally developing your faith, so that it may better impact both you AND others. Intentional faith development- the deepening of biblical and spiritual knowledge so that we may live a deeper, richer Christian life.
Faith development is God’s Spirit working in us, perfecting us, giving us the mind of Christ so that we are able to give love as we grow in our knowledge and love of God. Intentionality is deliberate effort, purposeful action and high priority placed on growing in Christ.
Christian disciples should strive to develop and grow in their faith through study and learning. Studying the Bible in a group can open our eyes and reveal things to us that we never would have discovered by ourselves.
Jesus encourages us to develop our faith that way: together…with others, following a long line of those who lived and believed before us. Learning in community is exactly the model of learning He used as He taught his disciples. They grew in their understanding of God and matured in their awareness of God’s will for their lives as they listened to Jesus’ stories, instructions and lessons. And they did all this while gathering around dinner tables, on hillsides, and at the temple. Such things can’t be learned apart from relationships. Such things can only be learned with other Christians. Faith is best learned with others.
God’s gracious offer through Radical Hospitality invites and welcomes us. God’s transforming presence in Passionate Worship opens our hearts to Jesus’ pardon, love and grace. It creates in us a desire to grow and learn more. But growing in Christ
requires more than weekly worship. It’s through Intentional Faith Development- studying and discussing the Word of God- that God’s spirit works in us, perfecting us in the practice of love and letting us grow in the knowledge and love of God.
Growing in Christ takes a lifetime. It’s dynamic, which is why Methodist founder John Wesley called people to practice faith through learning in community, so that we all can see God more clearly, love him more dearly, and follow him more nearly…day by day.
Intentional faith development isn’t just about self‐improvement, but about putting ourselves in a position where God can shape us. It’s about intentionally opening ourselves to God’s Word, God’s call. God uses faith‐to‐faith, interpersonal relationships to change us. He uses other people- their strengths and weaknesses, their doubts and fears, their big questions in life, their strong convictions to shape and change us. Living in community…sharing, having Christian friends, walking the path together…keeps us strong. It makes us more courageous than we’d be on our own. We all can remember a time when it was only through the presence and the encouragement of a friend that we dared to do something that otherwise we would never have done. Someone who believed in us more than we did ourselves at the time, someone who helped us stretch, to reach something we would otherwise not have reached. Intentional faith development causes us to grow in our love of Jesus. As we grow in that love, it leads us to offer Radical Hospitality to those outside the faith. It leads us to a Passionate Worship that better connects us to God…not only on Sunday morning but throughout the week.
Faith Development comes through learning…both by yourself AND in community…it’s a two-pronged sort of thing. Churches that practice Intentional Faith Development look for ways to help form faith at every age. They look for needs not met and ask how they can better meet them. They train people to lead small groups, teach Bible studies, and coordinate support groups. They realize the power of special topics and interests to attract unchurched people, and they advertise and invite those beyond the walls of the church to come and be a part. They form affiliation groups such as grief or divorce recovery, substance abuse, parenting, etc. They explore new ways of forming learning communities– blogs, chat rooms, e-mail Bible studies, and downloadable materials. We need to continue to seek and find more ways to help people grow in the knowledge and love of God. Because ideas change people, and people change people; and God uses both of those things together to work on our behalf- to shape our lives in the image of Christ.
There are many ways to be practice Intentional Faith Development – Sunday School, Bible studies, retreats, short term topical studies, prayer groups, Vacation Bible School, training classes, camps, youth groups, shared interest small groups, mission trips, mission projects…the list goes on. My challenge to you is this- we can all be intentional about our faith development by committing to attend at least one Bible study or small group in the next 6 months. Try it- try ONE Bible Study or small group. Commit to it. Make it a priority. Give it your best…not your leftovers. See if it doesn’t make a difference. Healthy, vibrant churches are those which have a large percentage of adults who are furthering and deepening their relationship with Christ, who are growing and being intentional about faith development. They understand that the purpose of the church is making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. They practice radical hospitality, passionate worship, intentional faith development, risk-taking mission and service, and extravagant generosity.
Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!
When I entered seminary, in the Fall of 1997, I was…Biblically illiterate. No joke. I knew almost NOTHING about the Bible. I knew there were two Testaments- an Old one and a New one. I new that there were four Gospels- Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. I knew that the first book of the Bible is Genesis while the last book of the Bible is Revelation. And that’s about it! There were SO many things I DIDN’T know about the Bible, about theology, and the language that goes along with all of that. I have shared before a particular term- exegesis (pronounced ex-a-jesus). It is, basically, reading the Bible and letting it speak for itself, rather than forcing preconceived ideas onto it. One day, the professor told us a story about a seminary student he once had who thought that they were saying “exit Jesus”. The student wondered why in the world they would be focusing on Jesus exiting! Everybody in the class laughed…but me!
I was 6 years old. It was Sunday night, or early Monday morning. And I was asleep. Oh, and it was Christmas Eve! My brother and I shared the room at the end of the hall…the bigger room, thank you very much! My bed was positioned in such a way that, if I was laying on my right side, I was facing the door, and through the doorway could see all the way up the hall. Did I mention it was Christmas Eve?!