This week we asked our bloggers what they had learned from spiritual practices and disciples. This is how they responded.
Four years ago, I hit the wall, spiritually speaking. I’ve heard people talk about going through spiritual “wilderness” moments or describing their souls as thirsty, dry, cracked like a desert floor and the like. I get it when I hear such things because every day during my spiritual wilderness I felt like I was drinking sawdust margaritas on a 103-degree summer day in Tempe, Arizona, and then stepping into a dry sauna with sandpaper seats.
So… what I am saying is that I was spiritually dry.
It wasn’t that I doubted everything about my faith, I was simply asking, “What’s the point?” In case you’re wondering, lots of pastors and ministry leaders find themselves asking that very same question.
The problem with going through a spiritual wilderness as a pastor is you don’t get to dwell on it all that much. You still have to preach every Sunday, write peppy, insightful articles for the newsletter and offer comfort to those in the hospital. In other words, you don’t get to take a day off to reflect on the wilderness; you just keep trudging and hope that at some point you find an oasis, instead of always chasing mirages.
I did come through the other side of that wilderness with the help of a wise wife, good friends and the practices they suggested. I began faithfully carving out daily time for personal devotions, prayer and journaling that wasn’t connected to sermon preparation. I read the Bible, read good devotional books and spent time each day pouring out my guts to God in journals. After several weeks of paying attention to these practices, I began to notice that my wilderness had faded. After a few months it was gone altogether.
I also noticed something else: Our church, which had plateaued in terms of worship attendance and membership, suddenly began to grow again. It wasn’t shocking, radical, dramatic growth—it was normal, steady, healthy growth. I began to realize that it wasn’t a coincidence.
As part of the project that I recently completed for my Doctor of Ministry degree from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, I surveyed 70-plus churches and pastors in my presbytery to first determine which churches were considered “growing” and further to discover what characteristics, traits and practices the pastors of the growing churches had in common.
One of the interesting insights I discovered in my research is that 84 percent of pastors of growing churches engaged in daily Bible reading, devotions and prayer – as opposed to 44% of pastors of churches that were deemed “not growing.” This same 2:1 ratio held firm when it came to daily journaling and reflecting.
Granted, paying attention to spiritual disciplines was just one aspect of what pastors of growing churches have in common, but it’s a significant one, to be sure. You might say that all of the other characteristics and traits follow it. So, if you want to grow your church, perhaps making time for daily personal prayer, Bible reading and devotions is the first and most important step.
Leon Bloder is a preacher, a poet, a would-be writer, a husband, a father, a son, a dreamer, a sinner, a pastor, a fellow-traveler and a failed artist. He is talentless, but well-connected. He stumbles after Jesus, but hopes beyond hope that he is stumbling in the right direction. Leon has been married to Merideth for 22 years, is the father of three awesome boys, and serves in ministry at the First Presbyterian Church of Eustis in Eustis, Florida.