What is involved in spiritual development?
How does it happen?
One word that keeps popping up in my reading, sermons, and in conversations is the importance of community. We were designed to do life together.
Our pastor reminded us recently that the first question asked to God was from Cain. Cain countered God’s question, “Where is your brother, Abel?” with his own cynical question, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” You remember the story in Genesis 4. Cain was envious, jealous that God had accepted Abel’s sacrifice, but had not accepted his. Cain invited his brother to go out into the field with him, and he murdered him.
While Cain didn’t value his relationship with his brother, we know the answer to his question about being our brother’s keeper is a resounding, “YES!” All throughout scripture we are taught to love our neighbor as ourselves. God’s definition of neighbor is loving the person least like you!
As I have been thinking about spiritual development, I am reminded of a phrase, leading from the middle. Certainly some of us are called to be in front – teachers, preachers, school leaders, community leaders. But most of us find ourselves living life in the middle. We can’t put the task of spiritual development only on the shoulders of church leadership. Instead, we all play a part!
What does leading from the middle mean
in the context of spiritual development?
First of all leading from the middle means bringing out the best in others – helping others to flourish in their walk with the Lord. We create an environment for growth, by digging into the Word, and also by living a life worthy of the Lord, one that can be imitated. We want to be able to say with Paul, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ!” Living authentically, transparently, simply as we seek first the kingdom of God, applying the gospel to our lives, repenting quickly of known sin, and sharing our walk with others sounds like a tall order but it can happen as we allow ourselves to be known in our communities of faith. The power of the Spirit is freed to transform lives in our honest conversations – our lives, the lives of our friends.
Second, we invest time in one another’s lives, voluntary mentors. Over dinner and coffee, in walks through the park, as the children play, we talk about what we are reading in Scripture, and what God is teaching us. As we thoughtfully share our own experiences we naturally speak truth into our friends’ lives, challenging them without judging them. Grace and patience are key ingredients in voluntary mentoring.
Have you ever noticed in the gospels how Jesus interacted, taught the people. He illustrates leading from the middle so well. As He was going from town to town, Jesus ministered to people and taught them. He used all of life’s experiences as illustrations. Matthew 28’s “great commission” can be read, ” As you are going, make disciples.” That’s just exactly what Jesus did! It’s a great definition of leading from the middle!
Live at peace among yourselves. And, my dear family, we beg you to warn those who step out of line. Console the downcast; help the weak, be warm-hearted and patient towards everybody. Make sure nobody pays anyone back evil for evil. Instead, always find the way to do good to one another, and to everybody.1 Thessalonians 5:13b-15 NTE
When leading from the middle …
- Be transparent, vulnerable, honest
- Be purposeful in sharing your walk with Christ
- Be available – even creative in building relationships
- Be present while listening actively
- Be an example, especially in receiving instruction yourself
We are not meant to remain as children at the mercy of every chance wind of teaching and the jockeying of men who are expert in the craft presentation of lies. But we are meant to hold firmly to the truth in love, and to grow up in every way into Christ, the head. For it is from the head that the whole body, as a harmonious structure knit together by the joints with which it is provided, grows by the proper functioning of individual parts to its full maturity in love.Ephesians 4:14-16 Phillips