Last week, I started a conversation about our spiritual lives and concluded that just because we are getting older doesn’t mean we are getting better. And I want to continue that conversation over the next several weeks as I debunk some popular spiritual myths that tend to hold us back from experiencing God’s fresh, vibrant power in our lives.
You see, I’m really getting frustrated as I watch good people (that I care about) get sucked into a counterfeit Christianity that slowly suffocates them spiritually. It angers me when I watch someone find their way back to God and then become drained and dulled as they buy into some of the popular myths that get sold from pulpits, Christian radio and bookstores and even the lips of well-meaning church goers. With the commercialization of Christianity in America we’ve lost touch with some of the critical components of a healthy spiritual life. Here’s the first of several unhealthy spiritual practices.
#1: We overvalue sermons and undervalue community and the spiritual disciplines.
I know, I know - - I’m a preacher, how could I say that about sermons? Some of you even tell me that you like the messages we deliver each week at Journey’s Crossing – and that’s good! And don’t worry, Darin and I will continue to develop our teaching gifts and work hard at bringing the best word we can every Sunday.
But hear me out - I’m not saying that sermons aren’t helpful. They’re just insufficient. The meat of the sermon isn’t in the delivery itself but in the conversations and actions that take place around it. When I think about the people who have helped me grow spiritually, I do include some preachers and I can even think of some specific messages. But these men and women influenced me not by sharing a single teaching, but by sharing their lives with me, both in public and in private. These are people who teach what they already live. It's not the sermon, so much. It's them.
See, it’s very popular in the American church to confuse biblical information with spiritual transformation. We mistakenly think that we grow more spiritually when we hear sermons that are “deep” because they give us biblical data we didn’t know. Or they use “churchy” words we may not understand. Or they make us feel guilty for not measuring up.
From Jesus’ perspective, “deep” had as much to do with the application of the message as it did with the information in the message. He regularly shared that responsibility lay not just on the teacher but equally on the listener. That’s why Jesus constantly said things like, “hear my words and put them into practice.” (Luke 6:47, 8:21, 11:28)
Jesus knew that authentic learning wasn’t just in the acquisition of more biblical information. He knew that true learning happens when God’s Word is exposed and the listener applies that truth to make changes in their everyday life. Good teaching focuses on truth and application and good listening on living out that truth as we apply it to our everyday lives. When we do the difficult work of making changes in three key relationships; with God, with others and in the way we relate to our world – that’s when it truly gets deep!
We need church people in our lives who are willing to discuss, challenge and encourage us to live out the applications of God’s exposed truths each week. And they need you to do the same. That’s why regular attendance on Sunday’s is so vital – not just because of the preaching and teaching but because it connects us to a larger community that shares a new way of living.
And that’s why small groups and classes are helpful, because they take the truths you were exposed to on Sunday and remind you to keep living them out mid-week. That’s why regular self-feeding through Bible reading and prayer is so necessary, because it invites the Holy Spirit to help you change and live out the application of those messages – and trust me, you can’t do this without God’s help.
But a lot of people don’t want to do those things – it’s far easier to believe that the latest book, conference, popular message or another church will do the trick – but they won’t. Not if we aren’t willing to apply what we are learning in our relationships with others and God.
So, don’t get sucked into this popular misbelief and watch out for those around you who have bought into this lie. If someone regularly blames their lack of spiritual passion on a preacher, the style of a church, or the content of a message, just know that they probably aren’t taking responsibility for their own spiritual health. My guess is that they aren’t applying the truths of the messages they hear or they aren’t having positive, encouraging conversations with others about those truths, or they aren’t investing regular time in the personal disciplines of bible study and prayer.
As I said earlier, the meat of a sermon isn’t in the delivery, it’s in the conversations and actions that take place in our lives around it, and good teaching should make it easy to talk about and apply. So make sure you and your family are at JC every Sunday and that you are surrounding yourself with others who can help you practice what’s been preached. At Journey’s Crossing, we can’t help you too much with the getting older part but we can help you get better spiritually – but you have to understand that it’s a team effort and you have to do your part as well.