I read this verse in my quiet time this morning:
All over the world this gospel is bearing fruit and growing, just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and understood God’s grace in all its truth. Colossians 1:6 (NIV) [Emphasis added]
In the next paragraph Paul uses the same Greek word:
And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, (11) being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully (12) giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light. Colossians 1:10-12 (NIV) [Emphasis added]
The Colossians were growing numerically and Paul prayed that they grow in knowledge of God–we might say, “grow spiritually.”
Question: do these normally go together, or not?
To hear some people talk, you would think they are necessarily separate. “We are not growing much numerically, but we sure are getting close to God and each other.” Or, “We are not about numerical goals; God isn’t into numbers. We just work on going deep with God.” Or, “God has all the people he wants to have at that Bible Study.”
The assumption behind these commonly heard statements is that numerical growth and spiritual growth are opposites of sorts. You can work on one or the other, but it is difficult to get both. The pursuit of one gets in the way of the pursuit of the other. It is hard to have both.
Turns out, this is not true. Groups that are growing numerically are 55% more likely to be in the high spiritual vibrancy group when compared with those that are not growing numerically. Spiritual growth and numerical growth normally go together. It is a rare thing that people are actually growing spiritually and the group is not growing numerically. More commonly, spiritual vibrancy and numerical growth go together.
For a group to say, “We are working on spiritual growth, not numerical growth” is like a football team saying, “We don’t worry about the score; we just try to be good football players.” Turns out, good football players and winning scores normally go together.”
Imagine going to the bank to ask about your account. “I’d like to check my balance.” “Oh, here at Friendly People National Bank we don’t really care so much about numbers. Would you like a cup of coffee?”
Or, imagine you overdrew you account and complained to the bank because you have had a twenty year relationship. How do you think that would go over.
Imagine a weather man saying, “It is going to be nice tomorrow. I don’t really know the temperature, because I don’t do numbers.” (At least he is honest!)
Imagine your son came home and you asked him how he did on the test. “I got some number right and some number wrong, but I don’t really care about numbers, Dad.”
I think it is one of Satan’s greatest lies to suggest that numbers don’t matter. You hear it all the time. “Well, we didn’t have a very good crowd, but everyone was there that was supposed to be there.” Really? God didn’t want more people to hear the gospel, or be trained, or be taught the Bible? I don’t think so.
If you would create really spiritually vibrant people, engage them on mission in pressing toward the goal of advancing the kingdom, reaching people for Christ and growing the church. We grow as we push against something. Growing is not just sitting around the room talking about the Bible. It is also doing. It is spiritual exercise. It is serving the Lord AND learning about God and talking to God.
There is another practice that contributes to spiritual vibrancy.
I was a late-comer to the practice of reading. I remember bragging to my friend Bill that I was in the middle of my college years and I had never read a book outside of assigned reading in class. Bill’s response jarred me, “That is so sad, Josh, you are cutting yourself off from all kinds of knowledge.” I wanted to argue, but I knew he was right. (One of the reasons I believe in conversational teaching is my life has been radically changed like this through conversations.) Sense I knew nothing of books or authors, I asked for a suggestion. It is scary to think about this moment, because had Bill suggested a crummy book, I might have never discovered a love for reading. He didn’t suggest a crummy book. He suggested what turned out to be a life-changing book: Rosalyn Rinker’s Learning Conversational Prayer.
The concepts taught in conversational prayer have been a part of most of the groups I have lead ever sense. This simple practice has been the basis of some of the riches spiritual times I have had in my life. If you have not read Learning Conversational Prayer, run, don’t walk to get a copy. And, here is some good news: I just checked; you can get a used copy on Amazon for $.03. You read that right, 3 cents. Why haven’t you clicked yet?
Conversational prayer is, well, like a conversation. Like a conversation. . .
- You don’t go around the room and pray; you just pray one person at a time, in random order.
- You can pray as often as you like or not at all.
- Like a good conversation, there is balance but not symmetry in the participation. In other words, everyone is participating in a more or less balance way, but it is not like everyone is praying for exactly two minutes each.
- Some won’t pray at all. That is fine. Just like in a conversation, some people prefer to listen more than talk. I have never been one of those people.
- If two people start praying at the same time, you do what you do in a conversation. One of you backs off. It is slightly awkward, but you get through it–just like in a conversation.
- The prayer tends to stay on topic, and then gradually shift to another. Say we start praying about an upcoming marriage retreat. Two or three or four people pray about that. Then there is a pause. People sense that we are finished talking (praying) about that. So, someone shifts the conversation to something else. Perhaps a couple more offer a sentence or two about that. Then the conversation with God moves on to something else.
- Just like a conversation, there is often short periods of silence. I usually warn people about that: “Don’t be afraid of the silence. Just talk to God. Or just be still and know that He is God.” We are so seldom still. We are so seldom quiet. Don’t you love the verse that says, “Let all the earth keep silent before Him.” We seldom obey that command.
- One person is assigned to wrap things up. This could be the group leader, or could be someone else.
- Try to minimize the time you spend sharing prayer requests. (If I remember right, Rinker suggests you don’t spend ANY time in sharing prayer requests; just dive in to praying. Don’t tell each other about the requests, just tell God, and let others listen.) As in many areas of life, balance is a good thing. I say, “minimize” the time you spend in prayer requests. Many groups spend far more time talking about prayer than they spend actually praying. Better to just dive into prayer, as Rinker suggests. But, I think there are some times when a prayer requests requires a little explanation. So, you might want to spend some time explaining things that need explaining.
For more on conversational prayer, you might look at a previous article I wrote here https://www.joshhunt.com/mail33.htm Better yet, read the book–it is three cents! (Plus shipping, of course.)
Question: does conversational prayer help to produce spiritually vibrant people? Turns out it does. Groups that participate in conversational prayer are 63% more likely to be spiritually vibrant compared with those who don’t participate regularly in conversational prayer. Conversational prayer helps produce spiritually vibrant people. But, that is not all it does.
Good things often come together, and a host of other good things come with groups that participate in conversational prayer. They are more likely to have a atmosphere that is positive and uplifting. They are more likely to report accountability around having a quiet time. They worship more often in their groups. The atmosphere is open and honest and encourages transparency. They are more likely to have strong friendships in the group. They are more likely to be growing numerically. They are more likely to feel loved by both the teacher and the group. In every way a group can be better, conversational prayer will tend to make it better.
Why not give conversational prayer a try in this week’s Bible Study group?