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Is Faith Really a “Private Matter”?

In a recent survey of self-identified Christians sponsored by the Barna Group and Navigators, an interesting trend was observed as it related to age groups.

It turns out that Boomers were the age demographic that was least likely to be part of a discipleship community—that is, a place where friends challenge each other to grow spiritually. As a matter of fact, on the idea that friends help us grow spiritually, Millennials and Gen Z Christians were almost double that of Boomers to view friends as being critical for spiritual growth. Of course it may be that the “seasons of life” affect this to a good degree—the report specifically mentions that Millennials and Gen Z “may be in a stage of life marked by more rich and more concentrated friendships.” Probably true. But there’s more to the story. Interestingly enough, not only were Boomers less likely to be in any kind of discipling/community group, they were far more likely to identify their spiritual life as “private” than Gen Z believers. That’s a challenge for any church. As the maxim goes, “The best salesperson is a satisfied customer.” It made me wonder, do we consider our “spiritual lives” more private if deep down we’re unsatisfied with our spiritual state? And is our spiritual state affected by our level of engagement with other spiritual friends who challenge us to grow…as “iron sharpens iron”? I’m no statistician and can’t be totally confident of the interpretative answer to those questions, but I have to wonder. Of course we have to be wise, circumspect, and discerning, but I have a hard time finding where we are to hold our faith as a private matter around others. Especially if Jesus specifically told us to “…let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” MATTHEW 5:16 Or as the Samaritan woman told the townspeople: “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?” JOHN 4:29 Or as Jesus plainly said: “…you will be my witnesses…” ACTS 1:8 That doesn’t seem very private. And so the obvious question is: How much does being a part of a discipling/community group affect how privately we hold this incredibly good news of grace, forgiveness, redemption, and wholeness? Do we not care that we have the means of flourishing and fail to share it? Does that not raise the question of how valuable community groups are to the propagation of the gospel? The small group my wife and I are a part of still primarily meets online—one of our couples recently moved 2000 miles away—and is mostly centered on prayer. The spiritual depth, challenge, and vitality of the group ebbs and flows like any group, but the mere fact that we’re checking in and feeling a sense of concern for the spiritual health and well-being of each other is indispensable. As church leaders, it makes it incumbent on us to create and encourage small groups, circles of friends that meet for the sole purpose of encouraging each other to go deeper and to share with those outside of the community of faith. If we want people in our churches to be sharing their faith freely and graciously in words and actions with those who haven’t yet cognizantly experienced the grace of God, it seems that this would be the first critical step. Dave Workman | ELEMENTAL CHURCHES

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