Survey says. . . Part 5
Note: this article is one of six articles that eventually grew into a book: Make Your Group Grow.
What is the one quality that trumps everything we have talked about so far?
What one quality is more important than teaching skill or how many people you have involved, or visitation, or giving Friday nights to Jesus or organizational ability or anything else?
Spiritual vibrancy trumps just about everything else. As Gomer Pile used to say, "Surprise, surprise, surprise!"
Jesus said it would be true. Here is a verse I am meditating on and re-memorizing (you have to re-memorize after 50!): "I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing." John 15:5 (NIV)
If you remain in Christ you will bear much fruit. You can take it to the bank. That is the promise of God.
What causes what?
One of the issues with statistics is that it cannot prove cause. It can only prove that two things occur together. You can never be sure which one caused the other. Does spiritual vibrancy cause growth, or does growth cause spiritual vibrancy? We can't be sure. We just know they occur together. Spiritually vibrant people tend to grow class and people who grow classes tend to be spiritually vibrant.
Confusion about cause and effect can be seen in our educational system. We know that high self-esteem and high SAT scores tend to go together. The tendency is to assume that the high self-esteem caused the high SAT scores. So we want to do all we can to protect and nurture high self-esteem. So, we do things like tell little Johnny he is doing great when he is not. We don't do things like tell him the answer is wrong when it clearly is. 2 + 2 = 5 is not a good try. It is just wrong. But we do this kind of thing in the name of building self esteem because we know that high self-esteem produces high SAT scores.
But, what if we got it all wrong? What if it is actually the other way around? Maybe it is the high SAT scores--and general confidence that you can read the newspaper at age 16--that produces high self-esteem. If we start with that assumption, what kind of action might that assumption produce? Smarter kids with higher self-esteem would be my guess.
So, what causes what in this case--does spiritual vibrancy cause growth, or does growth cause spiritual vibrancy?
My answer: both.
It is a loop, what some have called a self-reinforcing cycle. Spiritually vibrant people attract people. They joy of the Lord is their strength. People who have great joy in God have great energy for God and accomplish great things for God. There is a certain winsomeness about spiritually vibrant people.
Spiritually vibrant have the blessing of God on them. It is not about practical strategies and methods. It is about the blessing and power of God. Ultimately this is about God's work. And, although there is no indication that he blesses lousy methods, He is less likely to bless the spiritually lukewarm.
Spiritually vibrant people love living the Christian life. They love prayer and Bible reading and study and memorization and meditation. They love serving the Lord. They know their spiritual gifts and and are ministering near the sweet spot of their giftedness. They normally start the day with the Bible on the laps.
For all these reasons, spiritual vibrancy produces growth.
The opposite is also true.
Growth causes spiritual vibrancy
Jesus promised a special sense of His presence to those who engage with Him in the great commission. There is nothing like the thrill of the work. There is nothing like getting involved in the work of the ministry near the sweet spot of your giftedness.
This perspective is very different from the perspective of some that seem to think that the ultimate in life at its best is, leisure, pleasure or relaxation.
John Piper quotes a Reader's Digest articles that begins this way:
Bob and Penny took early retirement from their jobs in the North East five years ago. She was 59 and he was 51. Now they live in Punta Gorda, Florida, Where they cruise on their 30 ft trawler, play softball and collect shells.
For many, this looks like life at its best. Retire early while you are young and healthy. Move to Florida where it is always warm and sunny. Get a boat. Spend time on the beach collecting shells. Play softball.
Is anyone besides me bored just reading about it? Give me a mountain to climb (metaphorically speaking!), a race to run, a task to accomplish! That is exactly what God gives us. Look at what Paul said:
Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. (13) Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, (14) I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3:12-14 (NIV)
Paul admonished us to live such a life, and set an example for us to follow:
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize. 1 Cor 9:24-27 (NIV)
Late in his life, Paul declared that he had finished the race.
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day--and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing. 2 Tim 4:7-8 (NIV)
Sounds like spiritual vibrancy to me. But, spiritual vibrancy is not obtained just with proper spiritual nutrition, just as physical vibrancy is not achieved through diet alone. Exercise, in both arenas is necessary.
Serving God is not just a necessary part of the Christian life because God needs servants. We need to serve. Serving is part of how we live a spiritually vibrant life.
Spiritual vibrancy and effective service go together. They reinforce each other in a wonderful cycle. Spiritual vibrant people have great energy from God. The thrill of the work feeds the vibrancy of their relationship with God.
This puts to rest a common myth. You sometimes here people say, "We are not growing numerically, but we are growing spiritually. We are going deep with God." This is rarely the case. People who go deep with God are following God in what God is doing. God is moving. He promises to be with us in a special way as we engage in the Great Commission with Him.
I want to be in that number.