Church growth is personal spiritual growth

Sprout

Before the outbreak of COVID, we had started to look at our church and community and we asked ourselves, “Where are we going?”, “Why are we doing the things we do?”, “Who are we serving?”

To begin the process, I asked for your feedback on a survey in December that asked, “What do you value about the Carmel New Church Community, and what kind of Community do you want to live & worship in?”

There was a common theme through the responses that I got, and that was a desire for a God centred, diverse, genuine community that provides a place of belonging and supports mutual spiritual growth. This vision was shared by members and friends of the Carmel New Church which makes perfect sense in light of the teachings for the New Church;

All things of the church regard charity as their ultimate and end.

Secrets of Heaven n.1249e

So, what is the next step? If we see and share the end in view of a loving, useful community that reaches out to our neighbours, what do the teachings for the New Church guide us to do next?

“What is the use of that which is doctrinal except to teach how a person must be?

Secrets of Heaven n.1799.3

The purpose of doctrinal things was not to teach them how to think, but how to live.”

Secrets of Heaven n.2982

The good of life, that is, living well, is shunning evils because they are contrary to religion, thus contrary to God.”

Divine Providence n.326

Over and over we are guided by the Lord’s Word to see that it is not our faith, it is not our obedience and it is not our knowledge but our whole way of being, the union of soul, mind and body, that allows the Lord’s love to be expressed towards our neighbour. The path to the good life, or living well, is only possible when we shun evils of every kind. The key to building community and reaching out to our neighbours is our own spiritual growth.

This is the path of growing the Church within us, the true Church being the marriage of love and truth. We need to do this work first, so that the Lord can prepare us to receive. Church growth is personal spiritual growth, and growth involves learning through challenges.

If you are open to looking at yourself and beginning this work, here is something to consider.

The following is a list of some of the reasons people have turned away from the church or no longer attend worship services. As you read through them, challenge yourself and ask, “How do I contribute to that?”

I don’t attend church because…

  • of past hurt
  • of judgement
  • of feeling excluded – It is for members only
  • it is hypocritical (saying one thing and behaving in another)
  • it is boring
  • it is outdated
  • it is irrelevant
  • it is cliquey
  • it is too controlling

It may not be an easy list to look at, but the reality is that this is how some perceive the church. Our first reaction to seeing these things might be to dismiss them and become defensive or make excuses. But we know that from the Lord’s love He can help us see things differently.

When we love another as ourselves — and more than ourselves — we see the other in ourselves and ourselves in the other.

Secrets of Heaven n.1013

With the idea of “seeing others in ourselves”, can we value the list above as much as we value our own feelings? Can we see ourselves in those sitting on the outside? Can we feel how they feel, see things the way they see them? Can we try to understand?

The path of charitable living requires us all to be open to listening, to hear the deeper message, to sense the pain and anguish, and become aware of how we react to hearing those words. If you find yourself reacting against the reasons given for not attending or being a part of church, I ask you to consider why that is.

What is it within you that is a barrier to really hearing?

Church growth is personal spiritual growth. Spiritual growth is not easy. We must work against our selfish tendencies, and it can feel uphill all the way. But we do not have to do it alone. We have each other! We are here to walk the path together and support each other. Most importantly we have the Lord, in His Word, where we can find Him each day. He will teach us His ways. He will shine light onto our darkness, He will encourage and lead us on. 

I encourage you to go to the Word as often as you can during your week. I encourage you to find those principles from the Lord that you can apply to your life and then make the effort to live what you read. And use those truths to help you honestly evaluate your reactions to the list above.

It is for this reason that Nathan and I offer reading programmes. Not for our faith, not out of obedience or gaining knowledge but for our whole being. The union of soul, mind and body requires us to learn His truths and then apply them to life. We need to adjust our thinking to move beyond learning, to using those heavenly principles in every moment. The promise from the Lord is that through this process He will bless us with healing and building community connection.

I invite you to join Nathan and I for either the Arcana Class, which is looking to the deeper principles in the Gospel of John, or Logopraxis, where we are reading Heaven & Hell and challenging ourselves to live the principles there. Please see the Calendar and my weekly email for more information.

This work is hard, but the most important work that we will do, and we do not do it alone.

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