The mission statement we had settled on was (and still is) to lead people into a growing relationship with Jesus Christ. But we felt like that needed further definition. If someone is in a growing relationship with Christ, what specifically is growing? Her hair? His beard? To make a long series of conversations short, we determined that faith is what grows in a growing relationship. Specifically, a person’s confidence in God. Confidence that God is who he says he is and that he will do what he has promised to do.
Faith, or trust, is at the center of every healthy relationship. As trust goes, so goes the relationship. A break in trust signals a break in the relationship. Sin was introduced to the world through a choice not to trust. In the Garden of Eden, humanity’s relationship with God was broken when Eve and Adam quit trusting. God has been on a quest ever since to reengage with mankind in a relationship characterized by trust. The entire Old Testament is the story of God saying, “Trust me.” It’s no coincidence that God didn’t give Israel the law until they first learned to trust him and follow him. With that as a backdrop, we shouldn’t be surprised to discover that at the epicenter of Jesus’ message was the word believe. Just as humankind’s relationship with God was destroyed through a lack of faith, so it would be restored through an expression of the same. At its core, Christianity is an invitation to reenter a relationship of trust with the Father. At the cross, sin was forgiven and we were invited to trust. It makes perfect sense that salvation comes by faith, not obedience. Intimate relationships are not built on obedience. They are built on trust. Walking by faith, again, is simply living as if God is who he says he is and that he will do everything he has promised to do. As a person’s confidence in God grows, he or she matures.
As we continued our discussion, we talked about the Christians we knew who appeared to have the strongest relationships with Christ. In every case, these were men and women with big faith — extraordinary confidence in God in spite of what life threw at them. These were the people whose faith amazed us. I was convinced then, as I am now, that God is most honored through living, active, death-defying, out-of-the-box faith. During one of these discussions, someone on our team pointed out that the only time Jesus was ever “amazed” was when he saw expressions of great faith and little faith. Big faith was a big deal to Jesus. When people acted on what they believed about him, he was impressed. We are as well. Isn’t it true that we love the stories about people in our church who trust God against all odds? We revel in the accounts of teenagers who decide to live out their values at school because they believe God’s promises. What about those hospital visits when you walk in praying for the right thing to say, and you are greeted by a family whose faith in God is staggering? They are confident. No fear. I don’t know about you, but there have been plenty of times when I have driven home from a hospital visit wondering why they let me be the pastor. As I write, I’m reminded of a couple in our small group that has two children with severe vision impairment. I’ve heard Chris and Dave share their story on three occasions. Each time I am moved to tears when I hear Chris talk about their confidence in God through a series of difficult conversations with doctors and two very difficult pregnancies. Maggie and Luke suffer from different conditions, both of which have left them legally blind.
As our team continued to wrestle with the relationship of faith and spiritual maturity, we all agreed that we were way more inspired by the people who have the kind of faith that endures a no from God than those who claim their faith arm-twisted a yes out of him. Big faith is a sign of big maturity. We concluded that the best discipleship or spiritual formation model would be one designed around growing people’s faith. The model most of us had grown up with was designed around increasing people’s knowledge. The models we were exposed to were primarily teaching models. We wanted to go beyond that.
Stanley, A. (2012). Deep and wide: creating churches unchurched people love to attend. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.