The eighth grade book report. We all had to do it. I’m sure the routine was relatively standard across all eighth grades everywhere: 3″X5″ notecards, 3 pages, 3-5 minute presentation, rough draft, final draft, two grades—one for presentation and one for content. The only wild card was whether you got to choose your own book or were forced to choose from a list. Fortunately for me, it wasn’t until my freshman year in high school that my options were limited to a list of pre-selected options. Given my love of baseball and the Big Red Machine I did what anybody would have done: I chose a biography on Pete Rose.

The grade I received in exchange for my work I don’t remember. And I’m sure Charlie Hustle was no more interesting then than he is now. The biography was your typical born here-went to high school here-did some cool things here structure. Regardless of your baseball IQ, surely everyone can appreciate the notion of The Slump. Among all professional sports baseball (no, golf is not a sport) is the most mentally challenging game. The proverbial “game of inches,” baseball players tend to be most superstitious and the most vulnerable to The Slump: the period a hitter periodically enters into during which he gets no breaks, constantly guesses wrong, forsakes mechanics, loses confidence, and can’t recapture what made him successful in the first place. There’s no obvious reason The Slump begins. And often there’s no clear reason The Slump ends. We all have slumps.

Baseball players have various methods for getting themselves out of a slump. Some burn bats. Some just swing themselves out of it. Some get rid of uniforms, batting gloves, helmets. Others seek professional counsel from clinical psychologists, old coaches, new coaches, and the specially trained. But Pete had a different manner for getting himself out of a hitting slump. When Pete found himself an ineffective hitter he would, during every at bat, just focus on hitting the ball directly back to the pitcher as hard as he could. Regardless of the circumstance or situation, he would zero in on the pitcher, seeing the ball, putting the bat on the ball, and hitting it straight back to the mound. See the ball, hit the ball. See the ball, hit the ball. Consequently, this discipline allowed him to block everything out but the pitcher and the ball—the basic elements of his craft.

Rose would employ this strategy until the fundamental element of seeing the ball/hitting the ball became a matter of muscle memory. Once his mind had become re-acquainted with the basic science of making contact, he could again begin taking into consideration the count, game situation, and how the pitcher was pitching to him. With everything going on during a baseball game, the tendency for Rose and maybe any other hitter in a slump would be to forget the original design and mission. In other words, a hitter begins to “think too much.”

I’ve always felt like the spiritual disciplines work the same way. Our tendency is to begin losing sight of our design and mission over time. We slip. With everything going on around us—all the decisions and distractions and obligations—we start to “think too much.” We lose our mechanics. We guess more than we think. What the spiritual disciplines ultimately do is (1) help us avoid The Slump (2) help us swing out of our slumps (3) help us gain clarity. The spiritual disciplines not only remind us of our mission, but afford us greater clarity in the “see the ball–hit the ball” structure for our days, weeks, and months. Ultimately the art of hitting isn’t, at its core, all that difficult.

Just last week we sent Fresh: Reviving Stale Faith by Kerry Shook to the printer. This small-group resource takes the spiritual disciplines of meditation, fasting, and silence and leads groups on a 6-week Bible study experience that will help them apply these basic principles to a disciple’s life. Among the disciplines, meditation, fasting, and silence are particularly suited for helping us avoid slumps as well as providing biblical tools for pulling out of them. Through these disciplines you and your group will gain see the ball–hit the ball clarity needed in order to become the most creative hitter you can be. Check it out by clicking here. We can never have too much discipline and clarity in our lives. I can’t help but think that this is even more true in the world we live in today.

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Thursday, I performed one of those tasks that somehow got added to my job description along the way: using commentaries published by LifeWay to create Scripture Notes for our new resource, Small Group Life.

About 99% of the time I use the Holman Old Testament and New Testament commentaries since they are complete now. But we didn’t have the commentary for Galatians in our reference closet on the 8th floor, and I was feeling a little too lazy to trek to the library and have to take notes WITH MY HAND instead of a computer, so I grabbed the slightly more complex New American Commentary on Galatians.

As I almost always am when I read a commentary, I was swept away by the new life the commentary breathed into a familiar passage. While I tumble over some of the bigger words in the NAC, the nuances it catches in the original language make the difficult read worth it. And it made my mind go to one of my biggest annoyances:

People–women especially–who rely entirely on Bible teachers for their Bible study.

Chastise me if you like. I think it’s wonderful that people are doing Bible studies together, reading the Scripture, answering questions about life. That is, after all, what I work on day in and day out. We want people to have meaningful experiences with the Scripture together in an environment where they can toss ideas around and lean on one another. But I have met one too many women who will only do studies by a specific author. While I think the authors we work with and read are amazing, appointed people–and mostly incredible speakers as well–they are humans.

If we believe the Bible, we can know that all Christians are filled with the Holy Spirit. I believe that means we all have the power to hear God for ourselves! We don’t have to be taught by man–we can be taught by the Holy Spirit. We have ALL the same books, commentaries, and Bible translations that these teachers have access to. If we are willing to spend some time in research, we can discover truths for ourself.

We also need to remember that because these teachers are humans, their words are not infallible. Just because it’s published in a book doesn’t mean it’s right. Test the words against Scripture and be sure they are true, biblical messages.

In this time of “busy” I think we’ve lapsed into letting others do our Bible study for us. Their job is to write books; our job is to go to work, do laundry, spend time with our kids, and then squeeze in 10 minutes of reading what these teachers tell us and go to bed. I think it’s about time we took responsibility for our own spiritual growth and realize we have just as much accessibility to the Holy Spirit as someone who’s written 300 books.

What’s your opinion on this?

Watching this video of our latest American Idol leading worship led me to reflect on two questions:  What greater things remain to be done in my city? And what can my small group do to see it happen?  See, I always knew watching American Idol was good for our spiritual growth! 😉

Spiritual growth begins with discomfort!

One of the keys to spiritual growth is knowing and doing the Bible. (James 1:22) When a group member is learning the Bible and becomes aware of a biblical expectation that is not being carried out, an attitude that is out of order, or a paradigm that needs to be overhauled, the leader must gently raise the bar of expectation and move that group member toward action. Spiritual growth occurs when the following phases are recognized and carried out:

 Phase 1: Recognition of a biblical expectation

Phase 2: Discomfort is experienced by the individual who has become aware of a need for a changed belief or acting on a biblical obligation

Phase 3: The small group leader wisely guides the group member toward action

Phase 4: The small group member makes the decision to do what’s right rather than choosing to do what’s easy

Phase 5: The small group member acts

Phase 6: The small group leader and small group members celebrate with the individual that has courageously moved beyond their comfort zone

Phase 7: The individual experiences growth and is more easily motivated to take on the next act of obedience found in the Bible

 Some will say that a small group should be comfortable and that expecting people to do something out of their comfort zone is asking too much. When Paul told a young pastor what Scripture does he wrote, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Tim. 3:16-17) Most of us don’t like to be taught, we despise it when we are reprimanded, are embarrassed when we are corrected, and training is hard work. Obviously, the Words of God are uncomfortable to know and even more uncomfortable when they demand a changed mindset or lifestyle.

Andy Rooney nailed it when he gave us these wise words, “I’ve learned…. That everyone wants to live on top of the mountain, but all the happiness and growth occurs while you’re climbing it.” It’s the responsibility of the leader not only help the small group member get to the top of the mountain, but to motivate them to start toward the precipice, and encourage them along the way. And in most instances encouraging group members to change a paradigm or shift a lifestyle choice is uncomfortable. But remember this…”Spiritual growth begins with discomfort.”