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Intentionally Challenging People to Grow Spiritually

by John Shaw - Small Groups Pastor | Bethel Baptist Church | Troy, IL

Go to the Relational Discipleship Wheel*…right? Yes, but…it’s much more than just intentionally following a “process” or “stage” of spiritual growth. Visually seeing the steps people need to take is helpful. It gives great direction and insight into what it takes to help people to grow spiritually. But, being intentional about knowing “what” they need is different from intentionally “challenging” people to grow spiritually at each stage of the growth process.

Jesus was the master at challenging people in their spiritual growth! Remember the woman at the well (Jn. 4:1-30)? Jesus engages her, “give me a drink”. He helps her identify where she is spiritually, challenging her understanding, “If you knew the gift of God…He would give you living water”. Her response, “You don’t even have a bucket, and the well is deep. So where do You get this ‘living water’?” Jesus provides her the path for living water, “But whoever drinks from the water that I will give him will never get thirsty again—ever!” He then challenges her, confronts her with the sinfulness in her life, her many husbands and unfaithfulness, then reveals that He is the Messiah. Salvation was in her presence.

The sisters, Martha and Mary (Lk. 10:38-42). Martha invites Jesus into her home. Caught up in her childlike thinking, Martha complains to Jesus, accusing Mary of not helping her with being hospitable to the guest in her home. We have all been in this very next moment in our spiritual walk, insert your name. Jesus says, “Martha, Martha (John, John), you are worried and upset about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has made the right choice…”. Jesus challenges the childlike thinking of Martha. I believe this was a “hinge” moment for Martha, challenging her and moving her towards a young adult mindset. Perhaps that of Mary, who was at the feet of Jesus.

Then there is Peter, “the rock”. Peter, the man who had it all together, who really knew who Jesus was. Jesus warned…be careful Peter…you’re going to deny me. Jesus challenges this “spiritual parent”, who would fall prey to denial of his relationship with Jesus. But, in Jn. 21: 15-19, Jesus challenges Peter’s heart, his love of Him and for His people. “Do you love me…Do you love me…Do you love me?”. Jesus uses these words to restore Peter, and give him renewed focus on the mission.

It makes me weep, even now, as my own heart is challenged by these three stories. I see myself. I think about the discipling relationship I currently have. Jesus equips us as disciple-makers, through the Holy Spirit, to challenge those we are discipling. We are not Jesus, but He uses us as tools in His hands to accomplish His purposes.

Here are few things I think about as I challenge people in growing spiritually.

  • Where are they spiritually, and what is a next step?
  • What sinfulness, motivation, misguided thinking, or rebellion needs to be addressed?
  • How might I challenge their thinking or behavior, helping them to discover and understand their need for change, and a step towards Jesus?
  • Where am I relationally with this person? How hard can I push, or challenge?
  • Where am I taking them in the Word, to illuminate what I am challenging them with, and provide steps of obedience?
  • Am I frustrated, being harsh, critical, or am I coming to them with a loving spirit?
  • Am I walking with them, or talking at them?
  • How can I celebrate with them when they take a step towards Jesus and spiritual growth?

Remember, it’s all about relationship! Some of my most rewarding and exponential times of spiritual growth were when a friend (Disciple) challenged me spiritually, in love and relationship. How about you? As Disciple-makers, we can’t just expect people to move from stage to stage of growth by happenstance. We have to be intentional—intentional to challenge people to grow spiritually.

*To learn more about the Discipleship Wheel and the different stages of spiritual growth, check out Real Life Discipleship by Jim Putman

by John Shaw – Small Groups Pastor
Bethel Baptist Church
Troy, IL

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