Spiritual Health Club

What if new member orientation in a church was more like an initial meeting with a personal trainer at a health club?  This is the question Reggie McNeal asks in his book, The Present Future (2003).

Instead of dumping a packet of church club member stuff on them, why not interview them about what they would to see happen in their lives in terms of their spiritual development and personal growth? (McNeal, p.76)

Healthy congregations can only exist if they are made up of spiritually healthy individuals.  Defining spiritual health may be a sticking point for some, but I like to think of it as an active process of growing continually closer to Christ and loving/serving others.  Many congregations approach christian education as a content/information driven venture that teach members the language of faith and the ways of being a good church member; often the process of growing as a disciple of Jesus Christ is left to an assumption that by merely being a good church member (attending worship, serving on a committee, giving to the budget) a person will grow in faith.

In the language of sustainable development, human capital or human investment is vitally important for there to be sustainability in economic development.  As we invest in the “fitness” of the individual through access to health care, creating a safe and nurturing environment, and good education throughout the life-cycle, the productivity of  those people will increase.  Beginning with early childhood development where we see the most “bang for the buck,” and continuing through university education and life-long learning and skill development, regions with good education for both boys and girls, men and women, see the greatest return in productivity and innovation.

The same is true for the church.  Attentiveness to the development of our spiritual life, of a faith that is visible and tangible in our daily lives, is essential for the sustainability and growth of the Church.  This attentiveness comes not only in traditional Bible Studies and Sunday School classes, but through intentional spiritual friendships and mentoring.

This is why I am convinced that the education of our laity is as important as the education of our clergy.  The benefits of the “Commissioned Ruling Elder” (also known as lay pastor) preparation we see developing in the PC(USA) is not only in the provision of pastors to congregations who are unable to call a teaching elder, but for the leadership and innovation of the church as we move into this new stage of our development.  Can you imagine the vibrancy of faith of a congregation where 10% or 20% of its members have been involved in on-going course work in Bible, theology, church polity, pastoral care, evangelism, and christian formation?  Can you imagine, then, the kind of relationships those members could have with newcomers to the faith?  Can you imagine the coffee-shop conversations, the one on one coaching, the deep spiritual communion of some small groups?  Can you imagine the impact this will have on the mission of a congregation? or the community?  Can you imagine the new ministries that could develop when members mature in faith to the place where merely attending worship is not enough?  when work-place spirituality groups or Bible studies abound?  when new worshipping communities are prevalent?

Then, can you imagine a new member process, or an existing member process, being one of a personal spiritual development plan with specific goals and measures … so we can see the growth and the impact faith in Jesus Christ makes in the lives of our members.

What else would be present in a church that approached the spiritual health of its members like a good health club approaches physical health?

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