Yesterday I preached my first sermon in my new home church, St. Mark Presbyterian Church in Boerne, Texas. The topic had been assigned to me by the pastor, John Watson. It was sermon three in a series he’s doing on Natural Church Development, a biblically-based curriculum for healthy church growth. My job was to preach on “Passionate Spirituality.” (Photo: The chancel of St. Mark Presbyterian Church.)
Beginning with today’s post, I’m going to share that sermon with you. I believe it’s relevant, not only for my new church, but for all Christians who seek to live as disciples of Christ, and for all churches that seek that grow as healthy communities of Christ.
So, on to today’s sermon, beginning with my Scripture reading.
Scripture Reading: Galatians 5:16-25
Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law. Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.
Pastor John is in the middle of a series on Natural Church Development. It’s a fine approach to church health and growth, and I’m glad to be able to preach one of the sermons in this series. The first sermon focused on “Empowering Leadership.” In healthy churches, the leaders encourage and empower the members to be ministers of Jesus Christ. John’s next sermon in the series explored “Gift-Oriented Ministry.” In this message last week, John explained that each of us received the gift of the Holy Spirit when we became Christians. The Spirit empowers us to do the ministry of Christ, not in our own strength, but in the power of God.
Today’s sermon is really an extension of last week’s message. It’s called “Passionate Spirituality.” A healthy, growing church will be characterized not only by “Empowering Leadership” and “Gift-Oriented Ministry,” but also by “Passionate Spirituality.”
What comes to mind when you hear the phrase passionate spirituality?
Perhaps you remember a time in your life when you were excited about being a Christian. Maybe it was when you were a new believer, when you just couldn’t get over the fact that God loves you, when you just couldn’t get enough Bible study.
Perhaps passionate spirituality makes you think of people you know who are still excited about their Christian faith. They’re always talking about it, even though they have been believers for years. (Maybe you secretly feel a little envious of those people. Or maybe they drive you crazy.)
Perhaps, for you, the phrase passionate spirituality seems like a contradiction in terms, an oxymoron, to use the technical term. Passionate spirituality may be like deafening silence, or working vacation, or jumbo shrimp. Maybe you think of spirituality as something quiet and mysterious, something peaceful you’d rarely associate with excitement. Passion, on the other hand, is getting fired up about something. It’s expressive and vibrant. It gets your blood pumping. You might think of passionate sexuality rather than passionate spirituality. Or, given that we’re in Texas, maybe you’d be inclined toward passionate football, or passionate hunting, or passionate cheering for the Spurs. So what are we to do with passionate spirituality?
Passionate Spirituality According to Natural Church Development
Pastor John was good enough to give me some of what the Natural Church Development folks have written about passionate spirituality. What they mean by this phrase has less to do with strong emotions and more to do with “the degree to which faith is actually lived out with commitment, passion, and enthusiasm.” When it comes to passionate spirituality, the Natural Church Development people ask: “Are the Christians in this church ‘on fire?’ Do they live committed lives and practice their faith with joy and enthusiasm?”
It certainly makes sense that if church members are living out their faith with commitment and passion, their church would be growing. Faithful discipleship is contagious. But I wonder why the Natural Church Development folks call this sort of thing passionate spirituality? Why not “daily discipleship” or “active commitment”? Why call enthusiastic living out of our faith passionate spirituality?
There is a good answer to this question. It comes to us from Paul’s letter to the Galatians. I’ll begin to offer this answer in tomorrow’s post.