Spiritual Growth Plans


Spiritual growth objective: Establish a personal spiritual growth plan


Introduction to spiritual growth plans

Why we need a plan for spiritual growth

We need a plan for spiritual growth because the very nature of spiritual transformation requires our active self-awareness, preparation, and practice.

Spiritual growth is very important.  Knowing God and becoming like him is the ultimate purpose we exist and will have life-defining impact upon our lives both in this present age and beyond death in the eternal age to come.  We devote much energy and effort to planning and growing in every other important dimension of our lives (education, physical health, work, hobbies, relationships, money), so why not our spiritual growth?

Spiritual growth is commanded.  In the Bible, God addresses us with many commands about how we should live and with truths that explain why those commands make sense.  Thus, we are supposed to grow and change spiritually by using our minds to understand and our wills to make decisions and choose a way of life that obeys God’s commands.

Spiritual growth happens through personal relationships with God and others.  Building quality relationships never happens spontaneously or by accident; rather, all satisfying personal relationships require conscious, intentional efforts and specific practices in order to grow.

Spiritual growth is a process of comprehensive change and involves acquiring new habits and skills in the art of godly living.  Every process of change and every process of learning new skills and developing new habits requires a vision of the new change, a firm intention to pursue change, and practicing the means that put change into action.  Forming a personal intention and translating one’s intention into action requires personal commitments to spiritual growth with realistic but challenging goals and plans to achieve them.

Spiritual growth is challenging.  It requires pushing back against everything in us that is unhealthy and evil, and that is always an uphill battle.  Is it possible to overcome any great challenge without careful thought and intentional effort?

What is a spiritual growth plan?

An ancient Christian approach to ordering one’s life and making a plan for spiritual growth is called a “rule of life.”  In this use, the word “rule” does not simply mean a list of rules.  Rather, it means a “standard” used for measuring.  In the way that a ruler provides a standard of measuring, so a rule of life provides a standard for describing and measuring what it means for a particular individual, family, or larger community to follow Christ in their unique circumstances and setting.

More specifically, a rule of life is a written statement of a set of patterns and practices that enable us to flourish in health and holiness by becoming more like Christ and thus becoming the person God made us to be.  It states the commitments we make to particular rhythms and habits of life that represent the specific ways we will obey Christ’s teaching in the particular context and life that we live. 

As Marjorie Thompson writes,

“A rule of life is a pattern of spiritual disciplines that provides structure and direction for growth in holiness.  When we speak of patterns in our life, we mean attitudes, behaviors, or elements that are routine, repeated, regular. . . It is meant to help us establish a rhythm of daily living, a basic order within which new freedoms can grow.”

Soul Feast: An Invitation to the Christian Spiritual Life. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1995)

A rule of life or spiritual growth plan is like a trellis for plants in a garden.  It doesn’t cause growth (that’s the Holy Spirit’s job).  Rather, it supports and guides the direction of our growth.  It keeps us rooted in the soil of life in Christ that nourishes and supports us in the right direction to keep growing in a healthy way to produce the most spiritual fruit.

Study and learn spiritual growth plans

These resources provide :

Ruth Haley Barton, “A Rule of Life: Cultivating Rhythms for Spiritual Transformation
An article introducing the general idea of a personal rule of life or spiritual growth plan.

If you would rather listen than read, try this interview with Ruth Haley Barton:
A Rule of Life: Arranging Our Lives for Spiritual Transformation

Mike Farley, “Establishing a Spiritual Growth Plan
Some practical guidelines for writing a personal rule of life or spiritual growth plan.

Crafting a Rule of Life
This website organized by Stephen Macchia contains many different creative examples of rules of life prepared by different individuals, which you can see here and here. These examples have varying modes of expression and levels of detail, but they are all useful for stimulating our imagination for different methods of composing our own spiritual growth plans.

Action steps

(1)  Check your understanding, drawing on this page and the resources by Ruth Haley Barton.

What is a spiritual growth plan/rule of life?
Why is developing a personal spiritual growth plan/rule of life a wise and helpful practice?

(2)  Read the guide to establishing a spiritual growth plan by Mike Farley, and examine some of the sample rules of life found in the other recommended resources.  Talk about these ideas with your growth group or other group of Christian friends.

(3)  Decide how you will organize your own spiritual growth plan and make a plan to get started in the dimension of worship first.

(4) Develop a way to track your progress in achieving the goals in your growth plan.

(5) Lean on your growth group for support and accountability by sharing your progress regularly with the other members of the group. Pray for each other’s growth often.