Last month, I whined about discussed the dearth of churches that disciple believers to maturity and then keep them well fed on spiritual meat. It’s good to point out problems, but more helpful to put forward suggestions on how to fix those problems. So, what do we do when we’re hungry for more of God, and church is only offering Happy Meals?
Find another church.
God has moved us to new congregations twice now, and it’s certainly one possibility. A pastor can only teach what he or she has already learned. Hopefully, the pastor has learned things I haven’t, but as I get older, I realize that I’ve had more life experiences, and more time to learn what God is trying valiantly to teach me, than most of the pastors out there. It’s inevitable. Eventually, should I live long enough, most pastors will be younger than me. Sure, I have a long way to go and much to learn, but sitting in a classroom sanctuary may not be the best place to learn it, and going to a different church won’t help.
Besides, I don’t want to always be changing churches. My church is my family. And just as every family includes some people we’d rather not be related to (I bet someone just came to mind, right?), there will be people and issues in the church that we’d rather avoid. But there’s much God can teach us in a group of imperfect people, and I don’t want to run away from those lessons.
Of course, we should be doing this anyway. I’m not that great at understanding other languages, and I have no degree in Biblical studies. I miss a lot. Still, I need to spend time reading the Bible. Sometimes I need to dig in, researching commentaries and dictionaries to discover what God is telling me. Similarly, I’m the one who has to spend time in conversation with God. I can’t delegate a relationship.
Take the lab.
As a biology student in college, I remember sitting in large lecture halls, listening to a professor teach vertebrate biology. I drew illustrations, labeling the various body parts. It seemed pretty straightforward. But in conjunction with the lecture, we had to take a lab. We had to dissect a cat.
Thankfully, the stiff, triple-injected, formaldehyde-saturated body in front of me bore little resemblance to the pets I’ve owned (I adore cats). I carefully peeled off the skin and got to work. To my surprise, the innards of that cat looked very little like the illustrations in the lab manual. Finding each nerve and blood vessel was extremely difficult—even though the veins and arteries were injected with blue or red latex to make them easier to find. I gained a new appreciation for surgeons. And I learned that real life doesn’t always go by the book.
Sitting in church Sunday after Sunday, listening to sermons or Sunday school teachers may fill our heads with book learning. It’s only when we put that education to work by getting out and ministering in the world that we actually grow.
This is why our Global Sunday School class urges everyone to go on a short-term mission trip. We might think we’re helping the poor heathen overseas, but what we’re really doing is allowing God to put our faith into practice.
We don’t have to leave home to get involved. My eleven years as a master gardener connected me to people I’d have never met otherwise. We had our love of gardening in common and God took it from there. Similarly, I joined Audubon because I enjoy birds, but it led to new friendships where hopefully I can reflect God’s love. No, my friends aren’t “projects”—I really like them. But I’d never have gotten to know them if I hadn’t volunteered.
Our church is purchasing an apartment complex that will provide housing for single moms and their families who are currently homeless. I’m sure they’ll need volunteers. We already run a women’s health clinic, and volunteers are needed there as well. Add in soup kitchens, crisis pregnancy centers, rescue missions… the opportunities are endless.
Disciple and be discipled
At this point, Pete and I had pretty much assumed that we were now the older ones who should be mentoring someone younger, and we’re doing that, but we were excited to realize that we’re actually one of the younger couples in our small group. So many others have more experience and more wisdom than we do. As we do life together, as we share one another’s joys, struggles, and sorrows and learn from another, our faith becomes real.
Ideally, the church will wake up and realize that a steady diet of spiritual milk will produce believers with no roots, who won’t be able to stand when trials come. In the meantime, there’s no excuse for stagnating in our faith. God wants us to mature. He’ll give us the opportunities. We just need to say yes.
What are you doing to grow in your faith?