It’s hard to measure spiritual formation. It’s not all relative – that would make it meaningless. But it does depend where you are starting from, and what else is going on in your world. How do we measure spiritual formation in someone with mental health problems, or who’s life is consumed with complex parenting, or who has no reliable relationships? Or all 3. Or more.
So easily we use measures that are, well, measurable. Bums on seats. Numbers in home groups. Baptisms. Retweets?
Small churches in deprived areas can be hard to organise, to develop, to grow. People often have multiple issues in their lives, and also an outlook often unfamiliar with ideas of progression, change, development, responsibility and leadership. So forget detailed programmes of discipleship courses based around growth and professional development.
Sometimes you have to accept that standing still is an achievement. Really? Is it possible to be content with standing still? I didn’t want to hear that when I was at college. But yes, it is, if the ground beneath you is constantly dragging backwards. That is how it feels for so many people. Aspiration? How can you aspire if simply not going under is an achievement.
Can we be content with this? When all around us books affirm growth and development and ‘success'; when our very being is one that yearns for and believes in God’s power to transform and redeem. And what we mean by that is lives led less chaotically, listening to the Spirit, families at peace, worship lifting the ceiling and the gaps in the rota filled voluntarily. And what we get, for the most part, is tiny incremental moves and an unreliable PA system nobody knows how to fix.
Is that ok?
I imagined asking Jesus this and him replying with “How are you?” Trust him to have a left-field perspective.
A universal must of ministry [that especially applies in a deprived area?] is character. Am I consistent? People don’t expect it. Am I trustworthy? People don’t expect it. Do I lead by example? People don’t expect it. Do I only talk to people because I want them to come to church, or do I actually care? People don’t expect it. Do I model a faith rooted deeply in Jesus, yet expressed and lived honestly and in the same world as those among whom I live? Have I let go of my internal markers of ‘successful ministry’ that grind me down with their voices of comparison and criticism and simply let God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – be the most important things in who I am and what I do.
Because we are building the Kingdom, not churches. Though churches are easier to measure.
Then my eyes are opened to what God is doing that I simply couldn’t see before. That the tiny increments are a massive deal for those they happen to. My world can be so churchy. I’ve been working out my faith all my life. Many of my people have not. It is new to them.
Forgive my haste. Grow my character. Build your church.