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Fostering Inward Spiritual Growth

17 Jan

“The commandment we have from him is this:
those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.”
-I John 4:21

If we only go about being the church for the sake of more people and more money, then God should not bless that effort, and I don’t believe that God will bless it. I write that as bluntly as possible so that you understand how strongly I feel that churches do not and should not simply grow in terms of more people sitting in pews on a Sunday or giving more money in offerings.

What God actually calls us to is to faithfully follow Jesus. While we know that faithfulness bears fruit, the fruit of our faithfulness varies. Sure, this may mean growth of the kind that can be charted with statistics. Yet, any spiritual growth always starts with the work of the Holy Spirit in human hearts and this slips through the cracks when we get solely data driven.

The Inward Journey
In her now out of print book Journey Inward, Journey Outward (Harper and Row, 1968), Elizabeth O’Conner shared the way The Church of Our Savior in Washington, DC went about being church. She noted that churches had become so concerned about numbers that concern for each individual soul with whom the church came in contact was being lost. She made the case that the renewal of of the church “cannot come to the church unless its people are on an inward journey” while holding “with equal emphasis that renewal cannot come to the church unless its people are on an outward journey.”

The Outward Journey
To simplify her text, on the journey inward, one comes to see onesself, God and others. This self-knowledge seen through relationship with God and lived into in community with others builds up a person into a disciple of Jesus Christ. In this engagement one’s God-given gifts are called forward. The disciple then continues on an outward journey in which one is truly present to others.

Both/And
There is not an either/or with discipleship and mission or ministry. Without gaining a deeper connection to God as revealed in Jesus Christ, we cannot know ourselves and so can not really see others and be present to them. The inward journey is required. Yet, if we only take the journey inward, we can become like the Dead Sea (pictured here), which is continually nourished, but has no outlet and so is rich in minerals and devoid of life.

This simple concept of churches helping nourish and sustain people on their journeys inward and outward adds to the missional emphasis I often place in this Loose Canon column and most notable in my opening address for our diocesan convention a few years ago which captured much of the outward work of our congregations. A missional outlook is essential for the church as God did not come among us as Jesus to teach, heal, deliver, and then suffer, die and physically rise never to die again in order to start and institution. God came in Jesus to bring us into relationship, a life giving and life changing relationship. And this relationship needs both the journey inward and the journey outward to grow and flourish.

Balancing Inward and Outward Journeys
How do you see that balance in your church’s schedule of events? Is the inward journey of discipleship being supported with appropriate offerings to nourish the life of faith and to thereby challenge parishioners in helpful ways? Is the journey of service to God through ministry to others just as evident? How is your congregation doing at this balance of the journey inward, journey outward?

As we look to Invite, Welcome, and Connect others to our congregation, we are inviting them to these inward and outward paths of discipleship. Should you add more ways to engage in mission or discipleship? To grow disciples, you need to foster both journeys.

-The Rev. Canon Frank Logue, Canon to the Ordinary

 
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