begin to change your life

February 17, 2016

thinking over feeling

The issue of spiritual transformation is not new in the Christian faith. It has been a primary issue, though perhaps given different labels, throughout church history. From the time the Spirit of God descended upon the believers in Jerusalem, God has been transforming the souls of individual believers in the context of local Christian communities.

 

Preaching has never been and never will be the only element needed for the transformation of Christians into Christ’s image. Nor are small-group Bible studies, personal Bible study, Sunday school classes, or even one-on one discipleship sufficient for growing Christians when they focus solely on communicating biblical information. Therefore, a movement has grown that emphasizes transformation of the believer’s inner and outer life and not just transformation of the intellect. Three broad approaches to spiritual transformation have developed.

Fellowship Model

 

One approach is to create fellowship opportunities. Churches develop structured settings for members to build relationships with others. They may launch small groups that meet in homes. They may convert their Sunday school classes into times of social engagement. These groups enable believers to be intimately involved in one another’s lives. The fellowship model focuses on corporate prayer for one another, growth of interpersonal intimacy, and support for each other in times of need. This approach effectively connects believers within a church body.

Spiritual Disciplines Model

 

A second approach emphasizes disciplines such as meditation, prayer, fasting, and solitude.  This approach takes seriously the inner life and intimacy with God. However, when used in isolation, this approach can make people think spiritual transformation is a private matter. Even though the spiritual disciplines include communal elements (worship, service, and fellowship), some people treat the private exercises (silent retreats, journaling, meditating on Scripture, prayer, and fasting) as primary. That’s a mistake.

Counseling Model

 

The third approach relies heavily on personal introspection. Christian counseling emphasizes areas of surrounding sin or personal character flaws that cause interpersonal problems or destructive behavior. Counseling seeks to understand the roots of such problems by looking at one’s heritage and temperament. Usually in one-on-one interaction, the counselor probes for the root issues hidden beneath the surface problem. Discovering these deeper issues can shed light on a person’s consistent failure to make wise choices. This approach focuses on identifying and dealing with those internal obstacles that prevent spiritual growth. Dealing with the issues is a key component in spiritual transformation.

What About An Integrated Approach

 

The three approaches are all valuable, but when taken alone they each have weaknesses. The fellowship model can fail to guide believers toward growth. The spiritual disciplines model can neglect to emphasize authentic and intimate Christian community, which is necessary for growth. The counseling model can fail to value the role that spiritual disciplines can have in growth. It also risks focusing on deficiencies so much that the person never benefits from the resources of God’s grace. It can focus too intently upon the person’s sin and failure and not enough on God’s enabling power toward growth in holiness.

 

Therefore, in transforming our lives we must  bring in elements from all three approaches. This series tries to balance the inward and outward elements of spiritual transformation. Its theme is:

 

Experiencing divine power through relationships;

Striving together toward maturity in Christ.

 

We believe a particular context is essential to the transformation process. That context is authentic community in which people come to trust each other. Though one-on-one relationships can be effective, we believe that multiple relationships are more effective. While one individual can spur another toward growth, that one individual has limited gifts and abilities. Also, though we value the spiritual disciplines, we see them as means toward the end of complete transformation of the believer’s inner and outer life. Disciplines aren’t ends in themselves. Finally, we think believers need to seek greater understanding of sin’s dynamic in their lives. They need to see potential blind spots or obstacles to their spiritual well-being and learn to deal with the root issues beneath their areas of struggle.

 

Our working definition of the Christian’s transformation is:

 

The process by which God forms Christ’s character in believers by the ministry of the Spirit, in the context of community, and in accordance with biblical standards. This process involves the transformation of the whole person in thoughts, behaviors, and styles of relating with God and others. It results in a life of service to others and witness for Christ.

 

While the transformation process is an end in itself, the ultimate end is Christ’s glory. He is the One adored by those who experience His presence and are transformed by Him. They, in turn, seek to exalt Him in the world.

 

Because each person is unique, God’s formative process is unique for each. And though the Spirit of God is the One who transforms souls, each individual has personal responsibility in the process. Many spiritual disciplines can contribute, yet God is primarily concerned with transforming the whole person, not just patterns of behavior. For this reason, no one method (be it a traditional spiritual discipline or another method) is the single critical component.

 

A transformed life depends solely on peer leadership. Groups don’t need to be led by trained ministers. Leaders are more like facilitators—they don’t need to have all the answers because group members learn from each other. The leader’s role is to create an environment that fosters growth and encouragement.

 

Still, all small-group ministries need consistent coaching for the lay leaders. The group leaders need ministers and pastors to train and encourage them. A small-group ministry will raise all sorts of issues for leaders to deal with as people become honest about their lives in a trusting community. A group leader may need guidance about how to respond to a group member who shares that he has been having an e-mail “affair” and has not told his wife. Another may feel discouraged when group members drop out. Still another may wonder how to deal with two group members who are consistently angry with each other. It’s important to provide support to those who take the risk to develop such an authentic environment for growth.

I hope those that want to become better leaders and those that want a deeper experience find this series to be rewarding.

God bless from scumlikeuschurch@gmail.com

 

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