Invigorating Challenge ↔ Spiritual Vitality

When you reflect on your spiritual journey, when are the times or seasons when you were most spiritually alive? Many might say that spiritually invigorated seasons came during or after major times of testing or challenge. These are those times when we realize we are in over our heads, forcing us to rely on God’s sustaining power in order to stay afloat. These are the times when we are driven to our knees, knowing we need God’s power in order to do what’s required of us. Without the invigorating challenge, we would not have cast ourselves on God, finding God sufficient.

As we work with clergy and congregations, we often inquire about spiritually invigorated times in their collective journeys as faith communities. This elicits stories about when they were called on to rise up and meet a great challenge. Some describe rich worship experiences as they worshipped in their fellowship hall while the sanctuary was being renovated. Others describe the time when they raised a huge sum of money in one day to accomplish something significant. Others describe when they started a new ministry without the resources to carry it out, finding their fish and loaves multiplied as they walked by faith. The common theme is a time when they accepted a challenge which they believed was beyond their native ability to achieve. These were/are the most spiritually alive times for faith communities, just like for us as individual disciples. Interestingly, this is an essential driver of spiritual invigoration, since these are the times when we make room for God in our collective church experience. There is a reciprocal relationship between engaging an invigorating challenge and spiritual vitality. We might visualize this relationship with this simple graphic:

Invigorating Challenge ↔ Spiritual Vitality

These two dynamics enjoy a mutually reinforcing relationship. When faith communities are collectively spiritually vitalized, then they tend to be open to and even seeking invigorating challenges. These are the faith communities who enjoy high morale, high energy, and significant spiritual ambition. Since they are so, they gravitate toward engaging significant challenges for the sake of the gospel. The reverse is just as true. Those faith communities who engage significant challenges discover their spiritual vitality rising as they seek to accomplish their callings. Engaging challenges which are beyond their native ability drives them to their spiritual knees, increasing their God-connection. Their passion and vitality rise as they depend on the Holy Spirit’s power to meet the challenge ahead. These two dynamics interact in such a way to reinforce one another, creating and fueling an upward spiral in their collective faith community experience.

Spiritual Apathy ↔ Cautious Underperforming
The reverse is just as true. Spiritual apathy and cautious underperforming are opposite sides of the same coin, creating a mutually reinforcing relationship. We can begin with either side of this relationship since they are mutually reinforcing. Some faith communities set goals which are way too small or too easily achieved, preferring to remain safe and cautious. They are able to accomplish these goals without much help from anyone outside their faith community, including God. Their need for power beyond themselves decreases and declines over time, leading to spiritual apathy. Or we may begin with spiritual apathy. Because this faith community is spiritually apathetic, it rejects invigorating challenges and stretch goals, preferring to play it safe. When the collective faith community is apathetic, few believe they can achieve something significant. These two dynamics interact in such a way to reinforce one another, creating and fueling a downward spiral in their collective faith community experience.

So what is your church’s invigorating challenge in this season of life and ministry? If we are unsure, are we ready to pray that God will call us to something larger than ourselves?

Through the power of the Holy Spirit, the grace of the Lord Jesus, and the love of the Father, may it be so.

Mark Tidsworth, President, PLA