In the fall 2012 issue of Facts and Trends, Ed Stetzer discusses ways we can encourage our members to practice spiritual disciplines: “The spiritual disciplines play a significant role in our spiritual development. They represent practices of our faith that give us the opportunity to interact with Christ.
To better understand them, LifeWay Research conducted a survey of more than 2,900 Protestants in the United States using English, French and Spanish. In the book Transformational Discipleship, authors Geiger, Kelley and Nation describe a discipleship deficiency that is plaguing the church. Given the research, I agree with their descriptor. On a daily basis, only 48 percent set aside time for prayer of any kind on a daily basis. Even fewer (19%) are reading the Bible on a daily basis. There is simply no good light in which to cast these discoveries.
So how do we address the fact that Protestants in America who attend church at least once a month (the basic requirements for participation in the survey) are not engaging in the most basis spiritual disciplines?
First, leaders must lead by example. I am one to give those in ministry leadership the benefit of the doubt, but I also believe in a high level of accountability. If a leader wants the people to read, pray, fast and all the rest, then make sure you are doing it, as well. The vision for spiritual maturity in a church will rarely exceed that of the leader’s life. So go where you want to take people.
Second, find ways to practice the disciplines in community. There is an old saying about leadership: If you are leading and no one is following, then you are just out for a walk. Don’t walk alone toward spiritual maturity. Discover the various ways to lead people. The list is endless. Read the New Testament together during the summer months. Memorize a key passage that follows the theme of a message series and repeat it during worship. Commit to a church-wide fast while making key decisions. Often the spiritual disciplines are misrepresented as exclusively practiced in solitude. Make sure they are used to draw the body of Christ closer together, as well.
Third, never measure disciplines as an end to themselves. For the sake of research, we measured people’s behavior at relatively broad level. As a local church leader and/or member, you are called to a deeper engagement. During the past three years, we have studied the issue of transformation in the lives of Christians throughout North America. Our study gives conclusive evidence that lives, churches and communities are being changed…but not without leadership and effort.