The discipleship process at Saddleback Church is based on the belief that if we focus on building people, God will build the church. Through a study of how Jesus helped people grow spiritually, Rick Warren developed these eight laws for spiritual growth.
Spiritual growth is intentional.
Spiritual growth is not accidental. You must intend to grow; you must make a choice to grow.
This means that we grow by making commitments. People in churches are at one of six levels of commitment: community, crowd, congregation, committed, core, or commissioned.
The community is anyone within driving distance of Saddleback Church. There is no commitment at the community level.
We want to get the community to come to a weekend service; we want to move them from the community to the crowd. What’s required to be in the crowd? One commitment: show up at church. Next, we want to move people from being an attender of the church to being a member of the church — from the crowd to the congregation. At Saddleback, you do this by coming to know Jesus as your Savior, being baptized, attending our membership seminar (Class 101), and signing the membership covenant.
Then people move from the congregation to committed. We do that with a class calledClass 201, where we teach the habits for spiritual growth. The class doesn’t make you a mature person; it just shows you what it takes and ends with the opportunity to make a commitment to growth. From the committed, people then move into the core — serving Christ by serving others. They take Class 301, sign the ministry covenant, discover their S.H.A.P.E., and start actively serving.
The commissioned are the people who made it all the way into not just ministry but mission. They have taken Class 401 and made a commitment to go into all the world as Jesus commanded.
One of our tasks as leaders is to help people to move to the next level of commitment.
Spiritual growth is incremental.
We know it’s true in physical growth — why not spiritual? We know that children grow through developmental stages: They learn to breathe first; then they learn to eat. Then they learn to walk. Then they learn to talk. No child has ever taken those steps out of order. They are developmental steps.
The same is true in your spiritual life. The order that we have here at Saddleback is all about helping people grow closer and closer to Christ: knowing Christ, then loving Christ, then growing in Christ, then serving Christ, then sharing Christ. Those are the systematic steps to spiritual growth.
Spiritual growth is personal.
You cannot mass-produce disciples, because everybody’s different. There is no one-size-fits-all for spiritual growth. To be a disciple is to be a learner — that’s the literal meaning of the word “disciple.” Because we are all different, we all learn differently. For instance, some learn best by listening, others by reading, some by discussing, and others by doing a project.
One of the major tools that we use to help people grow personally is our yearly growth campaign. In these campaigns, the whole church focuses together on some area of personal growth: 40 Days of Purpose, 40 Days in the Word, 40 Days of Love, etc. In these campaigns, the entire church studies the same thing for six weeks. We utilize all the different styles of learning so that everyone can grow: People will hear it on Sunday, they’ll read it in the book, they’ll discuss it in a small group, they’ll memorize a verse about it, and they’ll have a project to do about it. One of those ways is going to help them learn it the best.
Spiritual growth is practical.
God gives us practical ways to participate in the growth that he is causing. One of the goals of the church is to help people grow by developing good spiritual habits. They’re called spiritual disciplines or devotional practices, but they’re really just habits.
For instance, we encourage the habit of spending time with God every day. Prayer is also a spiritual habit. Bible study is a spiritual habit. Tithing and attending a small group are spiritual habits. In the end, we will become whatever we habitually do. To try to be a disciple of Jesus without developing disciple habits is simply impossible.
Spiritual growth is relational.
We only grow in community with others. This is one of the most misunderstood facts of growth among American Christians. American Christians think you can grow on your own. If I have a Bible and I have Jesus, I don’t need anybody else. That kind of thinking is wrong! You cannot grow without the church. The Bible says in Hebrews 10:24-25, “Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another… (NLT).”
Spiritual growth is multi-dimensional.
We have learned it takes all five purposes to grow. We are to grow warmer through fellowship, deeper through discipleship, stronger through worship, broader through ministry, and larger through mission.
If you go to a gym and get a trainer, they’re going to work on the areas in which you are weak. Do you have a weak shoulder? They’ll work on that shoulder. You have weak knees? Let’s work on your knees. Spiritual growth is like physical therapy: God wants to strengthen us in all of his purposes.
Of course, this means that you cannot do the job alone as a church leader. We’re not meant to do it alone! In Ephesians 4, we’re told to “equip the saints for works of service.” If I were starting a church again today, I’d get a volunteer leader to help me with each of these five purposes so that he could grow as he helped the church to grow. At Saddleback, we now have entire staff teams dedicated to helping people grow in each of these five purposes.
Spiritual growth is seasonal.
You will help to relieve a lot of guilt when you help your people understand the truth that spiritual growth is seasonal. Nobody grows at a constant pace all the time. Plants don’t grow constantly; they grow in spring and summer and then are dormant in fall and winter. The same is true in your life. Some are going through a winter: “I just don’t feel like I’m growing much right now, even though I’m doing the right things to grow.” That’s okay. It’s part of life. In fact, there are some things that happen in winter that don’t happen in spring and summer. You deepen your roots in fall and winter for the next spring when you will have the next stage of growth and fruit.
Spiritual growth is incarnational.
The final truth is that growth is not about what you can accomplish; rather, it’s about the person of Jesus Christ living inside you. Galatians 2:20 says, “My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
The goal of the Christian life is to live like Jesus. But it’s not you trying to be like Jesus; it’s trusting Jesus to live inside of you. The secret of the Christian life is not imitation but incarnation — letting Christ live through you. Nobody can live like Jesus better than Jesus!
None of these eight principles for growth can happen on our own power. It’s God who works in us because of the cross. We need to remember that for our own growth and also for the growth of the church. This frees us from the frustration of what we can’t seem to get done and releases us from the even more dangerous temptation to try to do it on our own power. We get to be fellow builders, and, under Jesus’ leadership and by following biblical principles for spiritual growth, God will build his church!