I lifted my arm in a wave as I passed two women on the jogging path at a local park. "I wonder if they noticed how relaxed I am as I zoom past them," I wondered with a bit of pride. I was in fairly good shape and felt great as I glided along. Just after I went around them, I turned on a gravel road to exit the back side of the park and make my way to a canal bank on the way home.
There, blocking vehicle access from the road to the park, was a chain stretched out about a foot above the ground. "I'll just hop over that," I said to myself while taking long strides, "and head down the road. Almost home!"
The next thing I knew, I was picking myself up from the gravel, road rash on hands, knees and one shoulder. I was still wondering about the people I passed just moments before. "I'm sure they are really impressed now!" I was also hearing a voice in my head say, "Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall." Some lesson!
Obviously I'm not the one to talk about today's subject. How can I speak about raising the bar if I can't even jump it when it's ridiculously low? Well, I hope I'm in a little better shape to speak of it as a value we hold at Stone Ridge Church. I'll be careful as I talk about it, though. I remember the thing about pride, destruction and falling.
Our church has sought ways to communicate to people, "Come as you are!" But we try to show the goodness of God not to leave us like we are. Many of us sought God because our lives were a mess. Following Jesus is far more than simply changing our eternal location; it's changing the way we live our lives every day. Most of us, if we are honest, desperately need God to make some changes in us.
Raising the spiritual bar is not God's way of increasing the requirements we must meet to experience His forgiveness. It is, however, a lifetime of spiritual stretching exercises that God Himself often orchestrates to conform us to the image of Christ (Romans 12:2). Inch by spiritual inch, He keeps developing our character, helping us live like the new creation He designed us to be.
Here's the problem and it's the reason we specifically stated "Raise the Bar" as a Stone Ridge value. Far too many churches get stuck in spiritual ruts. Communities that were once vibrant and growing have settled into the spiritual doldrums.
One reason, I believe, is that the requirements for spiritual leaders aren't much different than the requirements for church membership. A few outward signs of commitment (like attending, giving and serving) are enough to be a spiritual leader. No one stops to see if the character of Jesus is being formed in them. No one asks that Biblical requirements for leaders, listed in books like 1 Timothy and Titus, be present for one to lead.
If the leaders don't have spiritual passion, no wonder the church spends most of its time wounded on the gravel road rather than racing along a God-designed spiritual journey.