December 9, 2014

By Phil Maynard

2 – Help developing a personal relationship with Jesus

Developing a personal relationship with Jesus doesn’t happen by accident. It isn’t transferred by osmosis. We don’t ‘catch’ it by sitting next to another Christian in the pew on Sunday morning.

In unpacking the tools of how to aspire toward a deeper and more rewarding relationship with the Savior (both for ourselves and for those we are coaching), I would suggest a life-giving approach aptly called CPR.

  • Community – A gathering of believers where the faith is shared, testimonies are offered, witnesses are shared, and a vision is cast for the possibilities of a personal relationship with Jesus. This usually happens in the corporate worship experience or a well designed small group.
  • Practices – The Church has long engaged in a variety of spiritual practices that place us in the path of God’s grace. For those of us in the Wesleyan tradition they are called “Means of Grace.” For people to grow in relationship with Jesus, they have to grow in practices that build the relationship (prayer, scripture, worship, accountable relationships, sacraments, service, generosity, faith sharing, etc.)
  • Relationships – The often overlooked key to helping people develop a personal relationship with Jesus is to have them in a personal relationship with a more mature believer where conversations lend themselves to sharing and processing experiences about their deepening connections. It might be helpful to consider a wide range of options including spiritual friends, small groups, discipleship coaches, and/or spiritual directors.

While the above guidelines offer a solid framework for moving toward a deeper personal relationship with Christ, it is important to be alert to personal styles and preferences as learners. Some people have an affinity for specific spiritual practices (prayer or the study of scripture) but struggle with others (sharing their faith, perhaps). We inadvertently thwart progress on the path to discipleship when we beat ourselves or other people up about their struggle in a particular area. Better to celebrate growth in the areas of affinity and use that as a catalyst to stretch into more challenging territory.

Of course, it is also important to remember that variety is the key to a healthy diet, in growth as a disciple as in all nutritional endeavors. The time-proven spiritual practices (even the ones less natural to us) balance the development of our faith, opening us to a deeper experience of the full spectrum of our relationship to God and others. Prayer, scripture, and worship, for instance, are by no means partitioned categories. Each informs and enriches the other.

The issue of learning styles, comfort levels, and natural affinities is often most strongly sensed in our development of spiritual growth partnerships. Some of us readily connect with the social dynamics of energetic small groups. Some of us like the anonymity of a large worship gathering. Some of us thrive in the focus and intimacy of one-on-one spiritual guidance. Disciples should be encouraged to try all these forms and to experience a variety of interactions with other disciples, but for most of us there will be a mode of preferred and most natural interaction. Know yours and nurture it, while not cutting yourself off to other kinds of connection. And resist the urge to fall into “one size must fit all” restrictions.

It is ultimately all about being connected in community, whatever form and function that community takes. Jesus clearly builds and promotes community, and the biblical mandate for people of faith supporting one another and growing together is strong. Our intentional engagement with community is perhaps the strongest predictor of successful growth as a disciple.