Spiritual transformation is pivotal in ministry balance
Humans want to do the right thing, but we find ourselves constantly and repeatedly failing to do what we know is right. God knows we are prone to this (after all He’s a long time observer of our behavior). And God has made a way for us to be changed.
How did God create a route back?
Once humans see that we are prone to do what is bad for ourselves and that we are incapable of changing by ourselves; we then notice that God has created a route, a bridge so to speak, back to fellowship with God.
How do we take that route back to God?
Now that we understand that God has created a route back to fellowship with himself, we begin to grasp that the all-powerful Creator of the universe wants to have a personal friendship with each of us who will return. So what is involved in returning to Him?
Repentance. Repentance is a decision to “break with the past,” which also carries the idea of turning and going in a new direction.5 This is what it means when 1 John 1:8–9 says, “If we admit our sins—make a clean breast of them—he won’t let us down; he’ll be true to himself. He’ll forgive our sins and purge us of all wrongdoing” (MSG).
People come to this stage when they realize they are dissatisfied with the way their life is going and know they need help beyond what humanity can provide. They may be frustrated that their life is full of animosities, pride, biases, deceptions, conflicts, and a host of other maladies. And so, they seek inner change.
The good news is that God wants that change for you too! He even promises to give you supernatural power to help you make those changes. It is this trust (or faith) in God’s ability to help you that takes you to the next step.
Faith. Faith is a reliance and inner sense of knowing that God has the power to transform you.6 The author of Hebrews offered a classic statement about faith: “It’s impossible to please God apart from faith. And why? Because anyone who wants to approach God must believe both that he existsand that he cares enough to respondto those who seek him” (Hebrews 11:6 MSG, emphasis added).
Author and lay theologian C.S. Lewis reminds us that faith also carries the idea of growing in unwavering faith, stating, “Faith . . . is the art of holding on to things your reason once accepted, despite your changing moods.”7
New People. Spiritual transformation in biblical terms means divine empowerment to reverse direction and go in the opposite way with your life.8 The author of Titus describes it this way: “He gave us a good bath, and we came out of it new people, washed inside and out by the Holy Spirit. Our Savior Jesus poured out new life so generously. God’s gift has restored our relationship with him and given us back our lives. And there’s more life to come—an eternity of life! You can count on this” (Titus 3:4–7 MSG).
• when repentance(for our wrongdoings)
• combines with faith(in Jesus Christ’s sacrifice on our
• then spiritual transformation(into a new person) occurs.
This spiritual transformation into a new person has been called many things: conversion, salvation, being born-again. Though these are important terms they also have been mischaracterized. Unfortunately to many people today they do not bring to mind the original meaning of being transformed from our old way of life.
Today, spiritual transformation may be the best term to sum up what God is doing. When He creates a new person our old desires for self-satisfaction and preferring oneself over others will still be there, but spiritual transformation reminds us there is divine power to increasingly overcome these self-serving lures. And we experience an emerging confidence and power as we see God daily helping us come closer to Him and as we participate in his mission. So spiritual transformation is a remarkable intersection of human will, Jesus’ sacrifice, God’s forgiveness, and a rekindled heavenward relationship.
This is not a transformation that we can muster up ourselves. This is a change that goes deeply to the purpose of the One who created us. It goes to the core of our relationship with a heavenly Father who loves us and can help us.
The church is primarily a community that is collectively and constantly welcoming and experiencing this spiritual transformation where new people emerge. Yet, the gloomy fact is that most commonly today, congregations are not experiencing this. This does several things to a church, including robbing it of its supernatural expectation and making it more familiar with churchgoers than non-churchgoers.
Thus, the how of growing N.E.W. is critical for nurturing an uncommon church. But before we get to that, let’s look briefly at why spiritual formation is at the pivot point of the uncommon church.
What is a pivot point?
Greek mathematician Archimedes emphasized the unlimited power of a lever when he stated: “Give me a place to stand, and I shall move the earth with a lever.”9 The key to the lever is the pivot or fulcrum point on which everything balances. Think of a teeter-totter with a balance point in the middle. Figure 7.6 illustrates such a teeter-totter with a triangle in the middle. The place where this triangle touches the teeter-totter board is the fulcrum point or pivot point.
Transformation as a pivot point
The pivot point is the place where balance can be created between the two sides of the teeter-totter. And the transformation of the person via faith and repentance is so critical that it is helpful to picture it as a fulcrum point that holds up and balances the methods of growing O.U.T.on one side and growing S.M.A.L.L. andL.E.A.R.N.ers on the other. Figure 7.7 illustrates this balance.
Spiritual transformation as a waypoint
Spiritual transformation is a pivot point because it also lies at a critical waypoint between O.U.T. and S.M.A.L.L./L.E.A.R.N.ers. When a person is outside, not yet reunited in her or his relationship with God, and headed into a small environment of learning, somewhere along the way the person should encounter a trans- formative and pivotal experience with God.
Transformation is not optional for an uncommon church. Any church that focuses on growing O.U.T., S.M.A.L.L., or L.E.A.R.N.ers and neglects growing N.E.W. will not find balance in its efforts to fulfill God’s ultimate aim. God’s mission is to reunite and transform his wayward children, and no amount of good deeds through growing O.U.T. (no matter how helpful) will replace his yearning to intimately reconnect to his children.
Balance in the uncommon church
And so, the uncommon church does not have a lop-sided ministry toward O.U.T. on one hand or S.M.A.L.L. or L.E.A.R.N.ers on the other, but rather it balances all three upon the foundational pivot point of N.E.W. Go back to Figure 7.7 to visualize that N.E.W. is not an optional prescription, but pivotal upon which God intends the other prescriptions to be built and balanced. Without a church that embraces newness to balance the other cures, no holistic and uncommon church can ever emerge.
Excerpted from Cure For The Common Church: God’s Plan to Restore Church Health, by Bob Whitesel (Wesleyan Publishing House 2012). For further online notes: See Chapter 7 Complete Notes.
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Bob Whitesel (D.Min., Ph.D.) is professor of missional leadership and founding professor of Wesley Seminary at Indiana Wesleyan University. A sought after speaker, church growth consultant and award-winning writer of 12 books on missional leadership, church change and church growth; he also holds two earned doctorates (D.Min. and Ph.D.) from Fuller Theological Seminary where he was awarded “The Donald McGavran Award for Outstanding Scholarship in Church Growth.”
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