Are you a Spiritual Parent?

by Erin Bird

Missed any of the previous five entries in this series? Quickly catch up here.

Today, we conclude our Spiritual Stages series where I am helping you identify which stage you are currently in and what steps you can take to grow into the next stage. So far we have looked at being a Spiritual Infant, a Spiritual Child, and a Spiritual Young Adult. This means the last stage we are going to look at is being a Spiritual Parent.

When LeAnn and I got married at the ripe old age of 21, I was eager to become a dad. I thought we’d wait a year, and then start having kids. (LeAnn and I wisely ended up waiting 3 years.) As I shared two weeks ago, I love kids. So when LeAnn and I said, “I do,” I was ready to have my own baby Birds.

Whether you have physical children or not, I truly hope you are eager to become a spiritual parent. Just as a person becomes a physical parent through physical reproduction, a follower of Jesus becomes a spiritual parent through spiritual reproduction. They take Jesus’ final command to “go and make disciples” seriously. And I want you to become a Spiritual Parent because I truly believe your greatest joy in life will be seeing the work of God in others directly through you.

It’s About Making Disciples

Each week in this series, we’ve been looking at a keyword for each stage. For a Spiritual Parent, the keyword is “surrender.” Just as the person submerged in Ezekiel’s river (from Ezekiel 47:5) is at the mercy of the current, a Spiritual Parent is surrendered to the leading of the Holy Spirit. Instead of pursuing their personal dreams or even the American dream, a Spiritual Parent surrenders their own dreams for a God-sized dream of inviting the spiritually disconnected to find and follow Jesus.

Now don’t get me wrong: a Spiritual Parent is not a perfect saint. They don’t know everything. They don’t have the Bible memorized. They don’t live sinlessly. They are still very, very human. Just as the best physical parents mess up from time to time, a Spiritual Parent isn’t going to get it all correct 100% of the time either. But that doesn’t mean a person can ignore the Great Commandment until they can “do Christianity” perfectly. (Otherwise, we would never get there.)

However, because a Spiritual Parent is living a surrendered life to God, it means they will surrender their sins to God and their time to current and future disciples. They have taken the others-centeredness of the Spiritual Young Adult stage and gone one step further into “others-betterment.” They don’t just seek to serve others, but to unleash God’s work through others.

This is why you see Jake give opportunities for Anna, Michelle, and Sam to lead us in worship through song. It is why your kids have Sara, Anna, & Matt as teachers in Kids Creek and not just Bridget. It is why Randy helps lead “my” Growth Group. A Spiritual Parent realizes that for ministry to truly be Christ-centered, they have to give other Jesus-followers the opportunities to do ministry as well.

Self-Assessment Time

So for one last time, take a moment to read through the following statements. They represent the types of thoughts many Spiritual Parents have. If you recognize some of these thoughts in yourself, then pay attention to the recommendations which follow…

Possible Thoughts of a Spiritual Parent

  • I pray daily for my close non-Christian friend to understand the Gospel.
  • I love leading my Growth Group, but I think ________________ would be a great Growth Group leader, so I’m going to ask him/her to start leading with me.
  • I am so excited I get to baptize ______________ this Sunday!
  • My coworker has been asking a lot of spiritual questions. Can you recommend a book we can read together?
  • I want to do more than just take my family on a vacation. Do you know of any missions projects we could do together?

If any of that feels familiar in your own thinking, then you might be a Spiritual Parent. So what should you do?

Next Steps for Spiritual Parents

Step 1: Find Accountability & Support

Ephesians 6:12 reminds us that our deepest fight isn’t against things in this world, but in the unseen realm. So if our spiritual enemy is going to remove a Spiritual Parent from the fight, he is going to attack us at our weakest point.

So find someone who will walk with you, encourage you, ask you hard questions, and yet be in your corner no matter what. Without that accountability and support, you expose yourself to being devoured by Satan, the prowling lion. I am wearied of hearing from different Christian circles of Spiritual Parents being taken out by horrendous sin. I don’t want you to be another gossip headline.

Step 2: Stay Connected to the Church Family

Years ago, I attended a conference hosted by a parachurch organization. This organization was doing a phenomenal job of evangelism and discipleship, so I went to learn from them. While I learned a bunch, I left the conference a bit sad. Why? Because I met person after person at the conference who had given their lives to making disciples, and yet they were not part of a church family.

To be honest, I couldn’t fully blame these individuals. They were passionate about the Great Commission, and yet their local churches had become all about budgets, buildings, and attendance. While these churches seemed to have not kept “the main thing the main thing,” these churches needed these Spiritual Parents! Local churches not only need the reminder of what the mission truly is, but they also need the example. Just as kids learn by watching their parents, Spiritual Infants, Children, and Young Adults learn by watching Spiritual Parents.

Step 3: Get Rest

I will be honest: While ministry is exciting, it can also be tiring. And it is often tiring because of the messiness of life. As you seek to help people be disciples, you have to deal with their past sins, current struggles, and past sins done against them. To constantly help people with these issues can be emotionally draining.

So just as a physical parent is his or her best self when rested, I encourage you to be sure to get some rest. That can simply be a good night sleep, taking a day off from work, going on a vacation, reading a good book, or getting a breather from ministry for a month. Before we got Kayah (our new puppy), I spent several weeks working on puzzles as a way to relax and rest.

Step 4: Stay Engaged

At the same time, while rest is important, please, please, please don’t disengage. Riverwood needs you! So stay engaged. Get rest so you can continue to help us invite the spiritually disconnected to find and follow Jesus.

Closing Encouragement

Spiritual Parenthood can be one of the most exciting things you will ever experience. I can’t begin to tell you the joy you will find in leading someone to know Jesus and helping them begin the journey of following Him. If last words matter, then Jesus’ last words to “Go, and make disciples” should inspire us everyday. So may you allow God’s Holy Spirit work in you, to surrender your life to the cause of making disciples who make disciples.

Are you a Spiritual Young Adult?

by Erin Bird

Missed any of the previous four entries in this series? Quickly catch up here.

The world’s best stories have great protagonists. Whether the Harry Potter series, the original Star Wars trilogy, or (one of my favorites) Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight Archive, our most beloved stories have main characters with whom the reader can relate. Who of us doesn’t feel some sort of affinity with Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games, or Frodo in Tolkein’s epic Lord of the Rings, or even the brokenness of the super-wealthy Tony Stark in Iron Man 3?

But while there is a wide range of protagonists in these stories, there are a few similarities among them. The first similarity is that each of these characters “grow” through their adventure, trial, struggle, etc. The person they are at the end of the story is not who they were at the beginning.

And that growth leads to the second similarity I see. In almost every story, the main character moves from self-preservation to selflessness.

It’s NOT About “Me”

Last week, as we looked at the Spiritual Child stage, we saw the keyword for that stage was self-centeredness. A spiritual child approaches their spiritual growth with a view of “me”: what I like, what I want, and what I think is best.

But just like the protagonists of the world’s most famous stories, a growing Jesus-follower moves from self-centeredness to others-centeredness. Over time, as the Holy Spirit works in their life, they begin to shift from viewing life through the lens of “me” to using a lens of Christlike humility. They begin to live out the Apostle Paul’s words from Philippians 2:3-4 to consider the needs of others before their own.

This leads many Spiritual Young Adults to help start new ministries, lead small groups, pray aloud with a fellow church member, share what they are learning in their personal time in the Scripture, recommend a podcast to a friend, or sign-up to fill a volunteer need, because they are realizing life and ministry and church isn’t about them.

Self-Assessment Time

As I have been saying throughout this series, in order for you to grow to your next stage, you have to honestly assess your current stage. Spiritual young adulthood is a fantastic stage – but I think many people believe they are in this stage before they are truly there. I don’t say that to be a pessimist; I WANT people to become spiritual young adults! But many people think they are spiritual young adults simply because they’ve been going to church for most of their lives, can share all sorts of Bible stories, and listen to Christian radio religiously.

So be honest with yourself. Read through the following statements, for they represent the types of thoughts many spiritual young adults have. If you recognize some of these thoughts in yourself, then pay attention to the recommendations which follow.

Possible Thoughts of a Spiritual Young Adult

  • I love my Growth Group, but there are others who need a group like this. Can I help start a new one?
  • I have a question about something I read in my daily time in the Word today.
  • I don’t mind parking in the farthest spot at church so new people can park closer.
  • I’ve noticed we don’t have a _____________ team, could I help get one started?
  • A family in our Group has been sick all week; I’m going to take them a meal and get others to do so, too.
  • Sure, I can volunteer in the ______________ ministry! That’s not my natural area, but I’d be glad to serve for a few weeks or months until you can find the right person to help.

If any of that feels familiar in your own thinking, then perhaps you are currently a spiritual young adult. So what should you do?

Next Steps for Spiritual Young Adults

Step 1: Learn Your Spiritual Gifts

Jesus says in Matthew 9:37-38 that the harvest is great, but the laborers are few. When He used the word “harvest,” He wasn’t referring to physical crops. He was talking about people who don’t know the gospel. But there are very few people who will give their life to help the “harvest” find Jesus and follow Him.

Because a Spiritual Young Adult has begun to make the shift from self-centeredness to others-focused, they are the perfect people to help with the harvest. This is why it is crucial for a spiritual young adult to know how God has created them. So ask yourself:

  • What are your passions?
  • What comes naturally to you?
  • What type of people are you drawn to?
  • How have you seen the Holy Spirit work through you in ways you can’t quite explain?

The answers to these questions will help you know what your spiritual gifts are and how you can begin using them to help others find and follow Jesus. (If you don’t quite know the answers, perhaps something like a spiritual gift inventory will help you discover your spiritual gift design.)

Step 2: Get Involved

Another crucial step is to just get involved! Some people wait until the “perfect” ministry opportunity comes along. But often they are looking for “perfect” because they are unknowingly making their ministry volunteerism all about “me.” Thus, they reveal they aren’t actually a Spiritual Young Adult. A Spiritual Young Adult has their focus on others, so when they see a need, they jump in to help others, even if it isn’t “perfect.”

Step 3: Find a mentor/coach

In the book of Acts, we get a small glimpse of the relationship between the Apostle Paul and a young man named Timothy. Eventually, Timothy becomes the pastor in whom Paul entrusts the church in Ephesus. Timothy is able to take on this major responsibility because of Paul’s investment in his life.

While a spiritual young adult is becoming more and more others-focused, they aren’t fully there yet. Sometimes they need a “Paul” in their life, a mentor who can speak from experience as well as identify the blind spots the spiritual young adult is missing so that they might mature into the next stage (Spiritual Parent).

Step 4: Find a mentoree

Lastly, to move into the final stage of spiritual parenthood, a spiritual young adult needs to find a “Timothy” in whom they can invest. In a mentor/mentoree (or discipler/disciplee) relationship, it isn’t just the “younger” person who gains, but the mentor/discipler also grows in the process. As we will see next week, Spiritual Parents give “birth” to new disciples. So go ahead and find a Jesus-follower in the Spiritual Infant or Spiritual Child stage to disciple, or even find a pre-Christian with whom you can share the gospel with through your friendship.

Closing Encouragement

The mission God has given us is ultra-important. As I have already been stated, the harvest is great, but the laborers are few. If you are a Spiritual Young Adult, I’d love for you to give your FIST (Finances, Influence, Skills, & Time) to help us accomplish the mission of inviting the spiritually disconnected to find and follow Jesus. And if you aren’t a Spiritual Young Adult yet, go back and read the previous installments on Spiritual Infancy and Spiritual Childhood so you can begin taking the steps needed to become a Spiritual Young Adult who can help lead us to seeing God’s vision for Riverwood become a reality.

Are You a Spiritual Child

By Erin Bird

Missed any of the previous three entries in this series? Quickly catch up on the Riverwood blog.

I love kids. And not just my own kids – but kids in general. I love their enthusiasm. I love watching them learn. I love their energy. I have enjoyed interacting with kids pretty much since I was in high school. In fact, when LeAnn and I got married, we had barely said “I do” when I admitted I was ready to become a dad. And I hope one day I get the joy of being a grandpa. Suffice it to say: I think kids are great.

However, I don’t have a rosy view of kids. I do not think they are perfect and can do no wrong. I realize kids, as they are learning, will make mistakes. I realize they will have meltdowns. I realize they will (in some moments) lie to my face. And they might haul off and hit their sibling without cause.

And yet, I still love kids. When my oldest was only 2 1/2 and LeAnn was pregnant with our second child, a stranger at a church conference (who was a bit older than I and further along in fatherhood) gave me parenting advice: “Enjoy every stage they are in – all of it: the good moments and the tough moments. Because it all goes by way too fast.”

Spiritual Kids

While I tried to take the stranger’s advice home, I have also tried to apply it to ministry. When a person becomes a follower of Christ, they do not jump to “Complete Spiritual Maturity” in an instant. They first become a spiritual infant as we talked about last week. But as they begin to understand more about faith in Jesus, they move to “knee deep” in the river of Christ and become a spiritual child.

What a great place to be! A child isn’t nearly as dependent upon their parent as an infant. A child actually begins to contribute to the family, whether helping put the clean dishes away or picking up their toys in the bedroom. Spiritual childhood is a stage where great growth can occur.

But it is also a stage in which that many Christians get stuck. I’ve known some Christians who have been church attenders for 50 years, and yet they are still in spiritual childhood primarily because of the keyword that defines this stage: self-centeredness.

It’s All About “Me”

Let’s all admit: not matter how “mature” you or I might be, each of us is selfish. Some of us might be more self-centered than others (don’t ask me to share my ice cream!), but deep down, each of us is self-centered to some degree.

But this focus on “me” is at the front of thought in a spiritual child. For instance, a spiritual child might…

  • …rate a church based on how much “I” liked the music or how much the sermon spoke to “me.”
  • …get bent out of shape when their service to the church family isn’t properly thanked.
  • …throw a fit when their Growth Group births a new Group, sending some of their friends to help start the new Group.
  • …be easily offended when not given enough attention by leaders in the church.

Therefore, a big part of spiritual growth is to move from self-centeredness to Jesus-centeredness. Which means it is time to take an honest look inward…

Self-Assessment Time

As I said last week, in order for you to grow to your next stage, you have to be honest about your current stage. So let me ask you this week: are you a spiritual child?

And just like I said last week when talking about spiritual infancy, THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH BEING A SPIRITUAL CHILD. Most of you reading this have been spiritual children, many  still there in this stage. (To be honest, I believe the large majority of American Christians are in this stage of spiritual childhood. So it is nothing to be ashamed of. It is simply a stage I don’t want you stuck in.)

So be honest with yourself. Read through the following statements, for they are common thoughts many spiritual kids have. If you recognize some of these thoughts in yourself, then pay  attention to the recommendations which follow.

A Few Common Thoughts of Spiritual Children

  • I don’t want any new people to join my Growth Group or church family – I like it just how it is.
  • I’m just too busy to help or show up each week.
  • I know Jesus loves me, but I gotta do more to keep Him happy.
  • That person doesn’t love Jesus as much as I do because they don’t listen to Life 101.9.
  • I am serving all the time, but no one seems to notice or care.
  • I don’t like the music/sermon/chairs/color scheme/carpet, so I’m going to find a better church.

If any of that feels familiar in your own thinking, then perhaps you are currently a spiritual child. So what should you do?

Next Steps for Spiritual Kids

First, if you are a spiritual child, there is an underlying assumption you are already doing the steps laid out last week for those who want to grow out of spiritual infancy: being discipled and engaging in spiritual disciplines.

With that said, here are two steps you can take to help yourself mature into becoming a spiritual young adult.

Step 1: Connect with the “family”

Just like a child in the physical realm learns so much about life through their family, spiritual children learn through being part of the church family.

While Sundays are a good time to connect, far better is connecting through a Growth Group. Sunday mornings are like a fun, meaningful, weekly family reunion, but our Growth Groups are the supper table where conversation goes deeper, prayers are more personal, learning more customized, and laughter more genuine.

So get into a Growth Group this fall and do whatever you can to keep that time slot clear in your schedule to connect with others through prayer and Bible study. Just as kids are easily distracted, don’t allow your schedule to distract you from the more important task of spiritual growth.

Step 2: Give your FIST

Another key to move from spiritual childhood to spiritual adulthood is to give of your FIST, your Finances, Influence, Skills & Time. When you give of your FIST, you combat the self-centeredness that lurks inside. Because rather than keeping these things for yourself, you are giving them away as an act of worship and as a way to bless others.

So give some time to your neighbor and don’t expect anything in return. Give some money to help pay someone’s medical bills or help Riverwood purchase our building. Give your skills to help the Worship Team or a local nonprofit. Give some of your influence in Kids Creek or on a local board. Open up your FIST to bless others.

Closing Encouragement

Let me close with a similar sentiment to last week’s closing: if you recognize some spiritual childlike thoughts within yourself, do not be embarrassed. Instead, embrace the stage you are in, and eagerly seek to grow. Be heartened to know that you can grow so much more rapidly in your spirit than you can physically. Which means if you really give yourself to this process, it won’t take a decade to move to the next stage like it does for a kid. It could take just a couple years or even less for you to  mature into a spiritual young adult.

Are you a Spiritual Infant?

by Erin Bird

Missed one or both of the previous entries in this series? Quickly catch up here on the blog to gain context for the following post.

One day, many years ago, I was leading the first session of premarital counseling with a couple. Because this was our first time together, I was asking the series of questions I asked every couple to get to know them. This was to figure out what we might most need to discuss over the next 6-8 weeks to help them have the best marriage they possibly could.

When I came to the “spiritual” questions, I learned both had a clear “testimony” of putting their faith in Christ. But through the very next question, I learned the bride attended a weekly worship service almost every single Sunday, but the groom only made it once every 6-8 weeks. When I followed up on this, the guy said, “Well, I come for her, but church isn’t really for me. My church is being out in a 10×10 blind hunting ducks.”

As this groom answered my faith-related questions, I realized he was a spiritual infant. How did I recognize this? His responses to my questions confirmed the two words that identify someone as a spiritual infant.

Two Words: Ignorance & Dependence

The first word that identifies someone as a spiritual infant is the word ignorance. Just as an infant doesn’t know how to talk, walk, or feed themselves, a spiritual infant is “born again” (John 3:3) but doesn’t know much about the Bible, how the Gospel affects daily living, theology, or how to even “feed” themselves spiritually.

Because this groom was ignorant about much of the Christian faith, it was clear he was also living out the second word: dependence. This very intelligent and likable guy was depending upon his future bride to lead them in prayer or to explain certain things about faith. And when he did come on Sundays, he depended on the pastor to put the Scripture on the screen for he didn’t know how to find it in the Bible himself.

Now, I realize, these two words (ignorance and dependence) seem offensive. As Americans, we don’t like to be dependent upon anyone else, nor do we want to be seen as ignorant. So out of embarrassment, many spiritual infants avoid other Christians or do what they can to keep their spiritual maturity a secret.

Unfortunately, many spiritual infants are “encouraged” to stay undercover because some churches give off anti-spiritual-infant vibes. Spiritual infants don’t speak Christianese, they don’t know “doctrine” (like the groom in my story), and they sometimes aren’t as reliable as someone more “mature,” so unfortunately some churches just don’t want to interact with or invest in them.

This saddens me because I LOVE spiritual infants! I find joy in watching spiritual infants grow to become spiritual children. This helps you understand why I put a “cheat sheet” on the screen every Sunday to find books of the Bible as we open to the Scripture passage. It is why I encourage people every week to bring a Bible to our Gatherings. It is why there isn’t an entrance exam to join a Growth Group. We love spiritual infants at Riverwood and want to do whatever we can to help them grow to the next stage.

Self-Assessment Time

In order for you to grow to your next stage, you have to be honest with yourself and your current stage. So let me ask you: are you a spiritual infant? And please hear me: THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH BEING A SPIRITUAL INFANT! We all begin spiritual life in Jesus as spiritual infants. My desire for you is to simply grow spiritually and not be stuck in spiritual infancy.

So be honest with yourself. Read through the following statements, for they are common thoughts many spiritual infants have. If you recognize some of these thoughts in yourself, then pay particular close attention to the recommendations which follow.

A Few Common Spiritual Infant Thoughts

  • If I pray and read my Bible, will I be good enough for God?
  • I don’t really have time for church or a Bible study.
  • I love Jesus, but my church is being out in nature.
  • I’m a good person, definitely better than some others I know.
  • Good people get good things because Karma is real.
  • Does God let dead people come back and give us messages?
  • When someone dies, they become an angel.
  • I think we’ll be surprised when we get to heaven, because Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and even Muslims and Buddhists will be there.
  • I don’t really know much about the Bible or theology. I’m just not smart like that.

If any of that feels familiar in your own thinking, then perhaps you are currently a spiritual infant. So what should you do?

Next Steps for Spiritual Infants

Step 1: Find a “parent.”

Just like an infant needs a parent to care for it, a spiritual infant needs more mature believers to care for them. This is why God created the church!

So get into a Growth Group or ask someone who is further along in their faith to meet with you one-on-one. And then, as you meet with this spiritual young adult or parent, seek to begin imitating them. Watch how they interact with others. Learn how they are growing in their faith. After all, the Apostle Paul told some of his readers to imitate him to help them grow out of spiritual infancy. (1 Corinthians 11:1, Philippians 3:17, 1 Thessalonians 1:6)

Step 2: Engage in Spiritual Disciplines.

Another key to move from spiritual infancy to spiritual childhood is to become a self-feeder. Begin to daily get into the Scriptures to learn more the heart of God. You can do this by using a Bible Reading plan (the YouVersion app has some built in plans, or download one from the Riverwood website) or listen to the Scriptures while driving in the car. Also, spend time talking with God in prayer. Use something like the Echo app or the One Minute Pause app (or even just a watch alarm!) to help you take time to pray.

Closing Encouragement

Let me say it again: if you recognize some spiritual infant thoughts within yourself, do not be embarrassed by that! As I said last week, God loves you exactly where you are, but He loves you too much to let you stay that way. So I encourage you to let this longer-than-normal post be part of what He uses to help you begin the journey of going deeper, finding joy in the depths of growing into Christlikeness by maturing through the spiritual development stages.

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