June 21, 2019 Tony Morgan

4 Challenges That Create Barriers to Spiritual Growth

Barriers to Spiritual GrowthI’ve previously shared 12 Reasons Why Your Church Doesn’t Produce Spiritual Growth based on my notes from the book Move by Greg Hawkins and Cally Parkinson. Today I’d like to talk about why most churches will be unwilling to make the necessary changes to address this issue.

It comes down to four challenges that will require us to get uncomfortable. And those challenges involve four different groups of people.

The Teaching Challenge

This is the challenge that involves our teaching pastors. As Greg and Cally pointed out, we’re good at getting people into the Bible on Sunday morning, but we do a poor job of encouraging Bible engagement outside the church. Any movement here will require pastors to shift their approach to teaching. The win isn’t a great message. The win needs to become people engaging God’s Word.

How do we help people see how the Bible addresses real life issues? How do we help people look to God’s Word when they need wisdom? How do we provide tools and encouragement and the right expectations to move people to a place where they become self-feeders?

The challenge is that we’ll have to provide practical next steps to help people embrace new spiritual disciplines. Remember, teaching has the potential to shift thinking while systems (or disciplines) have the potential to shift behaviors.

The Activity Challenge

This is a challenge that involves our paid staff. As soon as we hire someone, we measure their success by how many people show up to the event. If we only had one ministry in every church, it wouldn’t be such a big deal. The problem is that even the smallest of churches typically has dozens of ministries. And whenever staff is involved, we’ve conditioned them to believe success involves holding a weekly event and getting as many people at that event as possible.

The more staff we hire, the more ministry we expect to get done and the more events they try to pull off. Our staff end up essentially competing against each other to get more people to their activities.

The goal is making disciples, not keeping disciples busy. In addition to counting attendance and baptisms, what else do we need to start measuring to determine whether or not spiritual growth is actually happening? How do we redefine the win? How do we move beyond measuring activity to measuring heart change? How do we get ministry staff working together rather than competing with each other?

The challenge is that we’ll have to say no to some events and activities in order to shift the culture and the mindset of our churches.

The Mission Challenge

This is the challenge that involves our most engaged lay people. When they hear God calling, we’ve conditioned them to bring that calling to the church. Rather than engaging the mission on their own, they assume it’s the church’s responsibility to embrace their mission. They expect the church to provide the platform, the people and the resources to make it happen.

The goal is to get people on mission where they live and work and play. In many cases the worst thing we could do is to agree to make it “a ministry of the church.”

Instead, we need to challenge people to be the Church. We need to encourage people to listen to and be obedient to God’s calling in their lives. If they see a need, they need to address that need. If they need help, they need to talk to their friends to get some help. If they need money, they may need to become good stewards of what God has provided so that they can be generous with their church and their personal mission.

The challenge is that we’ll have to free people up to be obedient to God’s prompting without accepting that prompting as the church’s responsibility.

The Consumer Challenge

This is the challenge that involves the people we’re trying to reach. We live in a consumer culture. There’s no doubt about it—people are consumers before they become contributors or committed. I still believe the church needs to provide some “consumer” opportunities to reach our culture, but we can’t solely rely on that method across every ministry and every environment in our churches.

Jesus taught the crowds. People consumed his teaching. We can’t discount that. On the other hand, Jesus did a lot more than teach. Unfortunately, we’ve reduced “ministry” to worship and teaching whenever people gather in our churches. When we do that, we’re fueling a consumer mindset.

Consider the various ministries in your church. Think about every ministry environment and every gathering or event.

  • Do people come expecting to receive or to give?
  • When people think of worship do they think of singing or being a living sacrifice?
  • Do your ministries encourage people to both love God and love others?
  • Do you love people enough to challenge them to move beyond consuming ministry to being the ministry?

The challenge is that we’ll have to reinvent the way we do church in order to reach the unconvinced consumer and help them become disciples of Jesus who also make disciples.

Every challenge should make us uncomfortable. Every challenge should require us to lean into God for his wisdom and direction. Every challenge will require us to give up something that’s familiar to discover a new and healthier approach that makes new and healthier disciples.

A friend just shared this quote from Dr. Henry Cloud in his book Necessary Endings:

“You have to be able to face losing some things you might want in order to be free to do the right thing. If you can’t, you are stuck.”

With all of these challenges, we’re going to have to face losing some things we like. That’s going to involve change. That’s going to offend some people. That’s going to make us uncomfortable because we want people to like us. That’s why I think most churches will be unwilling to address spiritual growth issues. They’d rather do what they’ve always done. They’d rather stay stuck.

I’m praying you are not that church.

Do you need help getting unstuck?

That’s what I do. At my company, The Unstuck Group, we help leaders grow healthy churches by guiding them through experiences that focus vision, strategy and action, all with the goal of helping more people meet Jesus and grow in how they follow him. Explore how it works, or, if you’d like to learn more, let’s talk.

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Tony Morgan

Tony Morgan

Tony is the Chief Strategic Officer and founder of The Unstuck Group, theunstuckgroup.com. For 14 years, Tony served on the senior leadership teams at West Ridge Church (Dallas, GA), NewSpring Church (Anderson, SC) and Granger Community Church (Granger, IN). He's written several books and articles that have been featured with the Willow Creek Association, Catalyst and Pastors.com.
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