That’s what too many of us believe—really, we do. For them it is possible. But not for us. They are transformational titans, but we are spiritual slugs.
But our spiritual heroes are not super saints. Trust me. I’ve seen Ortberg paralyzed in the pulpit and sweating in a staff meeting. And once I heard him say a really bad word.
What attracts us to our spiritual heroes is that they’re pursuing a life of devotion, seeking to make themselves available to the transforming grace of God in every part of their lives. But in this they’re neither unique nor specially equipped. Instead, they’re doing something focused and intentional. And it’s something we can all do. But lasting change requires the partnership and mutual engagement of others in the body of Christ. This is what the church is supposed to do and be.
Todd Hunter, in Christianity Beyond Belief puts it this way, regarding the need for a community to practice and proclaim the good news of Jesus to the world: “We are cooperative friends with Jesus, living in creative goodness, for the sake of others, in the power of the Holy Spirit” (emphasis mine).
Hunter affirms that it takes a community of friends living in the name of Jesus to change one another and transform the world. Thankfully, there are people throughout the ages who have experienced this kind of life and can serve as our guides. And, apart from a few mystics called to a more solitary, ascetic life of prayer and spirituality, our spiritual ancestors will all tell you that intentional group life—centered on communal living in the way of Jesus—is a major contributor to lasting progress and permanent change.
That is what people called the early church: people of The Way. Not people of the doctrinal statement. Not people of the political party. Not even people of the Book. Long before they were called Christians, they were called The Way. The remarkable love and lifestyle of this group of people was powerful, unique, and transforming.
Spiritual growth is both an opportunity and a possibility for every Christ-follower. And every team, prayer circle, and small group in the church has the potential to become a catalytic, change-oriented community of people in hot pursuit of a new way of life.
Spiritual Growth Takes Effort
But such growth will take effort, something we grace-focused people consider downright heresy when it comes to all things spiritual. I’m not advocating works—I am talking about effort. Go ahead and look up the phrase “make every effort” in the Bible. Peter, Paul, the writer of Hebrews, and Jesus all used it. Why? Because they had given up on grace? No. Just the opposite: Grace makes the effort possible!
The spiritual life takes effort. We don’t drift into maturity any more than we drift into physical fitness, or academic excellence, or artistic brilliance. And we don’t simply wander into deep, transforming community. Words like strive, labor, and effort are not foreign to the Bible, or to spiritual growth. In fact, they’re used often, confirming the need for brothers and sisters to band together so we may “spur one another on toward love and good deeds” (Hebrews 10:24).