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Can you help with a riddle? How is it possible for someone to go to church year after year, listen to great sermons, read the Bible, absorb Christian classics, find ways to serve, and even attend ministry conferences—and change very little?

Strange question, I know, but not hypothetical. In fact I ask it with someone specific in mind, someone whose minimal spiritual progress I've watched with mounting frustration.

That person is me.

Don't get me wrong. The activities above have spurred growth in my life, especially early on. It was reading through the Gospels as a teen that fueled my nascent spiritual journey. Great Christian literature has deepened my faith. And preaching has profoundly shaped the way I see God.

But in recent years I've detected a troubling phenomenon, a sort of law of diminishing returns. The Christian life isn't a self-improvement program; it's all about God, not us. I get that. Still, as we examine ourselves, shouldn't we see a pattern of increasing maturity, less selfishness, fewer besetting sins, and more and more resemblance to Christ? So it's unsettling to see practices that once produced growth now seem to be less capable of creating change, leaving those garden variety yet serious foibles—envy, sloth, apathy, pride—hanging around like unwanted houseguests.

What's going on?

I think I've been overly reliant on certain modes of spiritual transformation. It happened innocently enough. I'm a verbal person; I love the written and spoken word. So naturally I gravitate to spiritual practices that center around verbal engagement. For instance, I'd rather read a great book about community than participate in one. I'd prefer to listen to (or deliver) a sermon about service than get off my butt and serve! Theory is clean; people are messy. But lately I've sensed God showing me that I need a bigger toolbox, filled with more tools than the verbal ones so that he can shape me into the likeness of his Son.

Pastor Peter Scazzero recalls a similar experience. Early in his ministry, he felt spiritually stunted, even though he was disciplined about Bible reading and prayer. For him finding a bigger toolbox meant examining his emotional health and integrating spiritual disciplines from the monastic tradition into his life and the life of his church.

What about you? And how about the people you lead?

We all have preferred methods of connecting with God. But if we're not careful, we can lean too heavily on those methods and end up shortchanging what the Holy Spirit might do through other avenues. Scripture and history provide us with a rich diversity of spiritual disciplines. Take a look at your toolbox and ask what may be missing. Are you, like me, relying on too few tools? Could it be that God is prompting you to seek out other ways to grow in him?

If we allow God to enlarge our toolbox, we just might find that we, and the people around us, start looking and living differently.

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Drew Dyck is managing editor of Leadership Journal.

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Displaying 1–5 of 7 comments

Irene Caldwell

August 11, 2012  8:09am

My biggest struggle is with apathy and nothing gets me out of that more than being pushed into the deep end of some assignment-- a speaking opportunity, sharing with a neighbor, facing an insurmountable prayer challenge for someone. Nothing makes me more serious about seeking God and His enablement, nothing keeps me on the growning edge than a sense of desperate need.

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Matt Heinricy

July 22, 2012  5:31pm

Thanks for the reminder to keep growing even in the ways we approach growing in Christ! Scazzero's book really helped through a tough season of ministry transition. I really liked and appreciated this article! Thanks, Matt

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Mark Gardner

July 18, 2012  6:27am

I agree with the previous comments and would add two points. First, we all need a mentor or coach who has already gone where God is trying to grow us. I have too often found peers provide good accountability but often lack the wisdom and skills to help me move forward. My life and ministry coach does that for me. Second, God made us with five dimensions (spirit, intellect, emotions, relationships, and body/material), and to fully become who God made us to be, we need balanced growth in all five.

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Chris P

July 17, 2012  1:10pm

There are three things that need to intersect in a person's life if s/he is to change; knowledge (which Drew refers to), application of that knowledge (which Jesus often refers to) and accountability (either to a person or a group)for doing what you say you will do. In our western culture, this third leg of the stool is not very strong. This is why our congregations are spiritually obese. Drew I would encourage you to keep this important topic going; it can make a difference between a healthy or dying (overfed and under-exercised) church! Tks

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Steve Grove

July 17, 2012  1:03pm

As soon as I started reading your article, the word RELATIONSHIP started echoing around my head. It sounds like a lot of discipline in your life, but little discipleship; a lot of teaching, but few teachers. I don't care how old we are in the faith, and even how mature we are; if we are not involved relationally with other men who are growing in their faith with us (peer to peer discipleship), we are never going to reach our potential. This isn't about learning style (verbal, etc), but about walking shoulder to shoulder with other men on this spiritual pilgrimage. Get together with a small group of men weekly, and pray or look into the word together, do anything God-focused, together. It will change your life.

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