One of the questions that I’m always trying to answer is how can I help lead and teach toward spiritual growth. This is a valid question in my personal life, but it is especially relevant in my ministry. Of course, this is a difficult question to answer because ultimately spiritual growth is dependent on the work of the Holy Spirit. God is the only one who can cause spiritual growth to occur. However, as one who has been called into ministry and tasked with the responsibility of helping a community of people mature in Christ, it is important to consider what practices and teachings will lead to spiritual growth. What can I do as a minister to help those who have been entrusted to my care become more Christ-like?
This question is further complicated because it becomes so difficult to measure spiritual growth. Spiritual growth is a subjective measure. It can’t be quantified in such things as church attendance, bible reading, or times of prayer. It must somehow be gauged qualitatively. But even then there is no consensus on what behaviors constitute spiritual growth, or how many new behaviors must take place in order to determine whether growth has occurred.
Thus, as a minister, I teach and preach trying to engage congregants with the truth of scripture. I spend time individually with members; sharing life, offering advice, trying to speak a word from the Lord in an effort to help guide them as they make life decisions. I try to encourage and strengthen those that are weak, while pushing and prodding the strong into deeper areas of service. All the time wondering if it is making any difference. Not because the congregation I am blessed to serve is lacking. In fact it is just the opposite, I am privileged to serve a community of people highly involved in ministry. But spiritual growth is hard to quantify, and growth is typically slow and meticulous. Thus it’s easy to wonder on any given day, is it making any difference.
A few months ago I had the opportunity to spend some time relaxing and meditating about growth in ministry while attending a seminar on the campus of the university where I conducted my undergraduate studies. Many things have changed in the almost twenty years since I began my college career. Multiple new buildings, recreational facilities, and landscaping dotted the campus, making it at times difficult to remember what it used to be like. As I was thinking about the changing campus and wondering about changes in ministry I noticed a beautiful tree close to the spot where I was sitting. It was a mature tree, full of leaves and in bloom. I started thinking about that tree and I realized that I could remember when it was planted. It was shortly after I graduated from undergrad. When it was planted it was just a small sapling that had to be held up with posts until it could take root. Now it was strong enough that my children could climb on it. I had been by that spot many times through the years when I was on campus and had often seen that tree, but had never really noticed that the tree was growing. Yet, twelve years later it was clear that the tree had matured. The growth was slow and meticulous, but with the advantage of time it was clear that growth had occurred.
And that’s when it dawned on me that spiritual growth happens in a similar way. In the midst of the moment we often don’t notice that growth is taking place. At times, we may even wonder aloud if we are moving in the wrong direction. Yet the Spirit is faithful. And while we may not be able to notice that change is taking place in the day-to-day moments, when we have the advantage of time and are able to look back over a few months or years, we can notice that change is happening, and growth is taking place.
So we must never lose heart. If we are being faithful to the call God will cause growth to occur. The growth may not be visible for many years, but there will come a point when we will realize that the small tree we planted has now become mature. And when this occurs, may we thank God for the growth and continue working to till the garden more.