In practice: Revolution by tipping-point
Riverlife Baptist was already a great church when I got there. Its reputation nationally, and its two thousand regulars were impressive. They had been led strongly for decades with solid teaching and a strong outreach culture.
But God had something more in mind!
Within a few years it had undergone a transition into an environment where anything was possible through the power of God. Lives were transformed, bodies healed, ministries initiated and powerful missionaries sent out.
As the then Pastor of Spiritual Development, I could see that much of the church was somewhat stagnated. They were wonderful and faithful Christians, and yet many lacked the vibrancy and power that the New Testament seemed to describe as normal for us.
I was prepared to do whatever it took to remove blockages and create pathways for people to become all Jesus promised – free, at peace, growing and blessed.
This was a large and well-resourced church – strong in God’s word and faithful in deed. Because of its location in an affluent suburb, the congregation was largely middle and upper class, well-educated and thoughtful. A strong proportion were first generation immigrants, with a good mix of Asian, Indian, South African and of course Australian.
We believed in the gifts of the Spirit, and even nodded a wary head at the New Testament’s promise of power – and yet in practice the church ran largely on human wattage.
I searched globally for any resources and ideas available, looking for a best-practice discipleship program. But there seemed to be huge gaps in what was offered.
The existing resource options formed two main categories:
- An integration flight path into the local church – helping people get the right information, and ultimately commit to community and ministry activity.
- A more loosely formed focus on spiritual disciplines that often seemed to be a reaction to option 1.
My challenge with both categories was the apparent omission of God Himself in the process of growth!
They all emphasized our actions and obedience without equipping people in how to cooperate with God. This seemed odd considering the fact that everything Jesus calls us to do is impossible in our own strength.
Meanwhile, at the office, I was confronted day-to-day with the emotional & spiritual dysfunctions of real people who longed for better. They were stuck, and needed God’s help!
I determined to roll my sleeves up and try to create a bespoke program of growth. I wanted to strategically introduce hungry people to God in a way that intelligently invited His substantive engagement.
The only problem was, I had no model on which to base that!
All that existed to explain the actual journey of spiritual growth was the Engel Scale, but that was sufficient to at least define the broad stages of development. Later, the work of Reveal confirmed much of what I was to discover anecdotally.
I experimented with a pilot course designed to equip people in transitioning from carnal behavior to being empowered by the Spirit. Twenty-five brave participants joined me as I drip-fed them content weekly as I wrote and recorded it.
I had decided that daily readings/audio were the best way to transfer information rather than in a chalk-and-talk session where they weren’t really able to digest big principles. Then we workshopped the ideas and application in a weekly group session.
I had also heard that spiritual retreats held mid-course can be a great way for people to disengage from their busy lives and focus on God more fully. These were run successfully by Alpha, Kensington Temple (Colin Dye) and many other programs. So we tried that too, even though I had no idea how to go about it.
The biggest surprise was that with this combination of: 1) well researched principle-based teaching, and; 2) the intentional creation of spaces where God is invited to minister – formed a dynamic combination of Spirit & Truth that was truly explosive in spiritual growth.
People were being radically transformed! And the changes not only lasted, they continued to accelerate after the course if they kept to the principles!
There was real and immediate fruit: hearts were healed; passions birthed; callings released; missionaries sent; and a lasting peace experienced by many.
The Hidden Gem of Opposition
Word got out fast – if you wanted to experience God’s grace & power, and genuinely address inner-world issues, there was a place to go. A ground-swell began, and courses were consistently over-subscribed. We just couldn’t fit any more people in the room, limiting it to around a hundred (including facilitators) for each cohort.
I wrote material for each stage of the spiritual journey, and always incorporated stretching experiences of worship, ministry and group work. We were definitely on to something!
We were watching the results of the rhythms of grace at work, but were yet to understand fully what was happening. It took some time to deconstruct the elements that contributed to the amount of fruit being seen.
We were getting a degree of push-back too, as people rightly questioned new practices and ideas. This is normal for any church, and we should honour those with genuinely curious minds.
The hidden gem however was to humbly dedicate ourselves as a leadership team to looking for the kernel of truth in every point of view. We questioned transparently what was happening, we relentlessly examined our theology, and we constantly adjusted our practice. By God’s grace we didn’t experience a serious division of any sort.
The rigours of this practice forced us to re-think and re-present in better ways the undeniable reality of what God was offering. We didn’t want to threaten His transformative work by tolerating less than credible methods.
Over time, as many hundreds more from our church and others from around the country passed through the process, we became even more convinced of the core truths we had found.
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The demand to run these courses is yet to slow down, even ten years in to the journey. And the fruit continues to expand. People continue to grow incredibly everywhere.
The demands of running the program itself with all the peripheral activities like leader-training and team-building made maintaining the culture a full-time, multi-staff endeavour.
That doesn’t need to be the case for you, however. You can take advantage of the lessons learned and experiences already gained. Join us by utilising the tools you see on this site, and maybe even joining us for a retreat or course that works for you.