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.

Spiritual Stage Disclaimers

Spiritual Stage Disclaimers

By Erin Bird

Last week I kicked off a new series on Spiritual Stages. As a quick reminder, here are the four spiritual stages (as connected with the four depths of the river found in Riverwood’s key biblical passage of Ezekiel 47) we will look at during the course of this series:

Ankle Deep – Spiritual Infant
Waist Deep – Spiritual Child
Knee Deep – Spiritual Young Adult
Submerged – Spiritual Parent

As I said last week, part of the purpose of this series is to help you identify where you are spiritually. But as I got ready to write this week’s blog, I realized that before we jump into explanations of each of the four spiritual stages, I need to give a few disclaimers. So let me put a “pause” on the series to give you some clarifications that might help you with our future discussions:

#1: Spiritual maturity is not tied to physical maturity.
While we will be using the language of human growth (infant, child, etc.) in this series, a person’s spiritual stage doesn’t advance simply because they have gotten older. A grandpa could come to faith in Christ and become a spiritual infant while his high-school-aged grandson could be a spiritual parent leading his classmates (and his grandpa!) to Christ.

#2: Being “deeper” doesn’t make you better.
Too often, we Americans want to appear better than we truly are. We drive cars that are beyond our income. We publish the nice photos on social media and delete the embarrassing ones. We brag about our accomplishments but stay quiet about our struggles. By putting forward our “best,” we want people to think we are better than we actually are.

But it won’t be helpful to say you are a spiritual young adult when in truth you are still a spiritual infant. It is FAR better for you to be honest about which spiritual stage you are truly in and not the stage you want people to think you are in. And you shouldn’t be embarrassed by whichever stage you are in. Rather, you should happily figure out your current stage so you can take the steps needed to growt to the next stage.

#3: Jesus doesn’t love you based on which spiritual stage you are in.
We tend to admire people based on how much money they make, how many academic degrees they hold, how well dressed they are, or how many YouTube subscribers or Twitter followers they have. But Jesus, as a perfect human, isn’t impressed by these things. God makes it clear in 1 Samuel 16:7 that while man looks at the outward appearance, God looks at the heart.

So if you discover next week that you are still a spiritual infant when you might have thought you were a spiritual child or young adult, know that Jesus doesn’t love you less for being in that stage. Rather know that He loves you and simply longs for you to grow spiritually. As the Christian cliché says, “God loves you just as you are, but He loves you too much to keep you that way.”

#4: Spiritual Growth doesn’t move at the same pace as physical growth.
While you most likely know someone who has gone through a growth spurt physically, physical growth is typically a slow, steady occurrence. However, spiritual growth can occur much faster or slower. The speed of spiritual growth is dependent upon the work of God’s Spirit as well as a person’s willingness to engage in spiritual disciplines that will help them move through the four stages. And so just because you might be a spiritual child right now doesn’t mean you can’t become a spiritual parent within a couple years. (But keep in mind, you won’t become a spiritual parent overnight – God isn’t into microwaving your spiritual growth. But His slow cooking closer to the image of Jesus doesn’t have to take decades.)

#5: The Spiritual Stages is a spectrum, not clear steps.
Just as there isn’t a definitive day that an infant becomes a child, there isn’t a clear “on this day in history I advanced to the next stage.” While there is a definitive change when someone moves from spiritual death to spiritual life, spiritual growth isn’t like a video game where you advance to the next level. It is more like a gradient than blends into the next stage.

So as we jump in next week with what a spiritual infant looks like, keep these little “disclaimers” in mind as you try to figure out which stage you might be in and to what things God is calling you so you can continue to mature into the image of Christ.

Spiritual Stages of Growth

Spiritual Stages of Growth

By Erin Bird

New Series – Spiritual Stages
If you are a parent, you know the joy children can bring. As I type this, I am watching my youngest son play baseball with the W-SR Freshman team. While I enjoy the sport of baseball, my greater joy comes from watching my son do something he loves. The same can be said when I watch my 17-year-old lead his robotics team, or see artwork created by my 20-year-old, or eat a veggie grown by my garden-loving 24-year-old.

But what if my youngest son loved baseball, but didn’t grow? Rather than inhabit the body of a typical 14-year-old, imagine he was still the size of a 6-month-old or a two-year-old. He may love the sport, but he wouldn’t be able to participate. Rather than spend our time at the ball field, we would be spending time in the doctor’s office trying to figure out what is wrong with him. Everyone knows kids are supposed to grow.

I think the same could be said about our spiritual lives. As you read the Scripture, there is an underlying assumption that people who put their faith in Jesus will continue to grow, naturally advancing from one spiritual stage to another, until we are “mature in Christ.” (Colossians 1:28)

In this week’s blog, I want to start a new series on these Spiritual Stages. Rather than simply share ideas of ways you can grow spiritually, I want to help you take time to figure out where you are in your spiritual journey with Jesus, and then decide what your next step might need to be to go deeper with Christ.

Through this series, we are going to look at four “stages” of growth. These four stages match the four river depths we find in Ezekiel 47 (Riverwood’s key passage behind our name and mission). Here’s what these four stages look like:

Ankle deep – Spiritual Infant
Knee deep – Spiritual Kid
Waist deep – Spiritual Young Adult
Submerged – Spiritual Parent

As we look at each stage (one per week), we will look at “markers” that will help you self-identify which stage you might be in, and then look at some steps you can take to help you move deeper and go to the next stage.

I echo the Apostle Paul in Colossians 1:2: I want to see you be “mature in Christ.” So join me next week and the three weeks after as we consider how to help one another go deeper with Jesus and grow through the spiritual stages.

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