We hear a lot of talk about sustainability these days, but we don’t talk much about it in our churches. Sustainability is as important for our faith as it is in any other area of life. So what is sustainability, and how does it apply to our faith? And how can your small group help people build a faith that is sustainable?
In the context of agriculture, sustainability means what you are growing doesn’t come at a cost too great to make it worthwhile. That cost can be economic, but it can also be a human, animal, or environmental cost. A sustainable crop is capable of growing in the existing conditions, without too much effort or expense poured into making it successful—it doesn’t cause the destruction or depletion of natural resources to make it work. Unsustainability was one of the factors that produced the disastrous Dust Bowl in the Central and Southern Plains of the United States in the 1930s. Today, sustainable farming practices are one element of many successful programs alleviating poverty in the developing world.
In the context of faith, sustainability means our faith does not require us to destroy something else God has given us—like our ability to acknowledge reality, our intellect, or our humility before God—for its survival. Sustainable faith does not require us to change the habitat to keep it alive. It can survive and thrive through hardship. It can sustain itself without props. It is not dependent upon our circumstances or our feelings. It can peacefully coexist with the reality of what our world is, and with the reality of who we are. Unsustainability is sometimes responsible for people’s walk away from faith when life’s disappointments or losses are overwhelming. Sustainable faith is one component that keeps people hoping and turning their focus heavenward through unexpected detours and in the wake of tragedy.
When we assist people in building sustainable faith, we help increase the likelihood their faith will become the most important resource in their lives—rather than something they easily drop when belief is not convenient. As life challenges them, they will grow to orient their lives around their relationship with Christ, and their expression of that relationship will influence future generations. This is the kind of faith all Christian leaders want to see growing among the people they influence. So as a leader in small-group ministry, how do you help build sustainable faith in the people you are entrusted to minister? Faith that can survive—and even thrive—when life gets really hard?
Here’s one way—you get honest about what life in Christ can and will be. You encourage them to embrace the unsatisfied life.
Let’s Be Honest
When we’re focused on attracting people into relationship with Christ, it can be terribly tempting to make promises God has not consented to fulfill. “This world won’t satisfy you,” we tell people. “But Jesus will. Just come to him, and all your needs and longings will be met.” We want to paint a rosy picture of an easy path, a portrait of a life in which all the internal hardships inherent to being human have been erased. We’re pretty good at acknowledging people will still face difficult circumstances, but we’re far more “fuzzy” on the difficult emotions. We sometimes neglect to admit God does not remove all the desires, cravings, and needs we had before.
There is truth behind our claim: The world won’t satisfy us. Jesus really is the only one who will, but he has not promised to do this for us here and now. He wants us to look forward to the day he will satisfy our hunger and thirst when we finally arrive in the world we were first made for. When we allow people to build their faith around an expectation of complete and immediate satisfaction, we encourage unsustainable faith.