Last month, I shared about how God’s heart for churches is that we intentionally think beyond just getting “bigger” to engage our call to go “wider.” Jesus’ Acts 1:8 instructions are to multiply disciple making efforts in an ever-expanding geographic circle, not just to get larger in one location. Focusing exclusively on getting bigger will ultimately result in stagnation, while intentionally seeking to multiply wider will result in both expanding Kingdom influence and continued numerical growth.
Now, I’d like to ask each of us as individual Christians to challenge ourselves about another assumed Christian priority—the need to “go deeper.” Indeed, Scripture is filled with instructions about growing in our relationship with Jesus. As Colossians 2:6-7 puts it, “So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.” The call to spiritual growth is unarguable.
The difficulty comes not in the claim that we must go “deeper,” but rather in the understanding of how that happens. In many American churches, going deeper is understood only in terms of “studying and learning more.” The idea is that the more Bible studies I attend, the more good sermons I hear, and the more books and podcasts I engage, the better I will be as a Christian.
Let me be direct—the Bible clearly teaches that “knowing” alone is not sufficient for spiritual growth. James 1:22 puts it bluntly: “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” Jesus in Matthew 7:24 did NOT say, “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.” Jesus’ complete statement is, “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine AND PUTS THEM INTO PRACTICE is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.”
Our call is not just to get deeper, but to get “out-er”—to share God’s love, care, and concern through acts of service to those in the communities around us. As salt, we are meant to be shaken out into a needy world; as light, we are to “…let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven (Matthew 5:16)”; as harvesters, we are to go out into the harvest field (Luke 10:1-3); as ambassadors, we are to take the message of reconciliation to those who do not yet know Christ (2 Corinthians 5:19-20).
Imagine a visit to the ocean. If your desire is to move into deeper water, the best approach is not to stand in the ankle-deep shallows and dig sand out from under your feet in hopes you might “get deeper.” Instead, the idea is to move out farther into the water—as we get “out-er,” we will get “deeper.” If the intent is to experience the fullness of the depths, we must remember, as one wise person has quipped, “no one learns to swim just by standing in the shallow end of the pool.”
Similarly, reading exercise books and articles will not of itself make us physically healthier or stronger; we must put our muscles to use for them to grow. Apart from that movement, no amount of study and learning about how to build muscle mass will prevent our physical strength from declining. Spiritual depth in Christ requires that we intentionally accept the risk and self-sacrifice of moving out in service to others. If we want to go deeper, we need to recognize we must also go out-er.