“I am writing to you, dear children,
because your sins have been forgiven on account of his name.
I am writing to you, fathers,
because you know him who is from the beginning.
I am writing to you, young men,
because you have overcome the evil one.”
- 1 John 2:12-13
The way Neighborhood Church helps Christians pursue individual and corporate spiritual formation is through what we call The Path.
The Path is a plan for intentional spiritual development for every person who calls Neighborhood Church his or her home. It is based on the fact that our journey toward Christlikeness takes place in distinct stages. In his first letter, the apostle John, addressed himself to three groups of Christians: “children”, “young men” and “fathers” (1 John 1:12-14).
In a similar way, we have created The Path to address the unique challenges, goals, and needs associated with three stages of our journey in Christ: the start, the middle, and the end. We call these stages “Beginning”, “Deepening” and “Completing”. They are briefly described below. Under each heading you will find a link that directs you to a more complete description that discusses these stages in detail.
Read them over. Can you identify where you are on the journey?
Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow
up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.”
- 1 Peter 2.2-3
As it’s name implies, this stage is about the earliest part of our journey in Christ. It begins with our “conversion” or our turning to Christ for salvation. We recognize our sins, call out to Him for mercy, and He answers us by forgiving our sins and giving us new life. At that time, we are declared “righteous” or “justified” by God, and His Holy Spirit comes to live inside us. We are now “new creatures” in Christ! We begin to grow in spiritual knowledge, learning about God and His ways, and experimenting with things like prayer, fasting, Bible study, and sharing our faith with others.
There is great excitement at the beginning of this stage. Everything seems new and fresh. There often are dramatic changes in our attitudes and behaviors as we begin to learn how to love God and others, pursue holiness and live out the Christian life. We are hungry to grow in our knowledge of God and the Bible. We get baptized and join a church family. Often, the Lord surrounds us with a kind of protective “bubble” so we can get a good start in the life of Faith.
Soon, however, He begins to shape our character and our skills. He uses various tests—faith, obedience and integrity tests—to mold our character. And He gives us glimpses into our calling—what He has called us to do—and the role He wants us to play in serving His Church and building His kingdom. He sends important people into our lives to help teach, influence and mentor us. And He begins to give us small ministry tasks so we can try out our spiritual gifts, learn important life lessons and grow in faithfulness.
“Let us not become weary in doing good,
for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”
- Galatians 6:9
This stage develops in two phases.
The Busy Phase is a time of great growth and lots of activity. The Lord gives us numerous opportunities to use our spiritual gifts to serve others in His name. We may find ourselves leading small groups, teaching Sunday school and engaging in other ministry activities that are rewarding and fruitful. We see our friends and family members come to faith in Christ. It’s exciting! But we may also spend too much time in ministry activities and neglect our schooling, work, family and personal health. It is not unusual, toward the end of this phase, for Christians to begin growing frustrated and resentful, wondering why life isn’t as fresh and exciting as it was in the earliest years of the Faith.
The Broken Phase begins with a crisis or series of crises and entails a season of reassessment, reflection and modifying our previous understandings of God, ourselves and the nature of the spiritual journey. Some Christians lose their marriage or their job. Others experience severe spiritual doubts or moral failure. The common factor, however, is a significant loss that leads to a major reassessment of God, of ourselves and of the way we life the Christian life.
This can be a very dark time, and we can feel alone. We may feel deserted by God and uncertain of the future. But God is still working behind the scenes: He is using our trials to refine us, to wean us from our dependence on “other” things (success, money, reputation, etc.) and to trust in Him more deeply. Will we continue to love and trust Him? Or will we go back to a life lived under our own power and for our own purposes? This is a momentous time in our spiritual journey, and the decisions we make at this juncture will greatly determine the course of our life and our eternity.
“Father, I brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do.”
- John 17:4
In the Completing Stage, we wrap up our life’s journey and prepare for eternity. Coming off the Broken Phase of the Deepening Stage, it starts with a renewed submission to God and His plans for us. We have learned through painful experience that we can do nothing apart from God’s grace, and we want to live out our remaining years on earth fully yielded to His Spirit and doing His will. We love Him profoundly and delight in His fellowship more than anything the world has to offer. We seek Him continually with a passion matched only by our confidence in His goodness and yearning to see Him loved and honored by all. Our heart’s desire is God’s glory.
We do ministry now with an ease and effectiveness that eluded us in the earlier stages. We minister not to call attention to ourselves nor even for the sheer joy of ministry but out of reverence for God and obedience to His calling. We have come to love holiness and hate sin and its effects. We are learning to pray unceasingly, even while engaged in conversation or other activities. The various parts of our lives (family, work, emotions, intellect, friendships, ministry, physical health, etc.) are becoming more integrated. We feel more whole, more at peace. We find ourselves loving others more naturally and effortlessly. And we love God supremely, even though there are times we may not sense His immediate presence. At this stage, we have the greatest opportunity to invest ourselves in the younger generations in a way that will transform individuals, families and larger social units. Doing so will help ensure we finish well and leave a lasting legacy.