What’s more important? The time you spend alone with God, or the time you spend with other believers at church? Most of you are smart enough to say the answer is both … Personal spiritual disciplines are important (Bible reading and prayer) … But community and church with other believers are also important (sermons, singing, serving). If your answer to the question is both, I suppose I agree with you. But the question I’m asking is a different question. I’m not asking if both are important. I’m asking which one is more important.
Several recent influences caused me to reflect on this question. First, about a year ago my friend Drew Dixon wrote a thought provoking article about this issue. Second, I spent a week serving with Reaching & Teaching in Argentina. Our focus was teaching pastors how to teach the Old Testament to primarily oral learners who are incapable of reading the Bible on their own. Third, last week I was preparing to teach my Sunday school class. We’re using the new Gospel Project (Chronological) and the lesson touched on the importance of community.
With those influences rolling around in my brain, here are a few of the questions I’m trying to answer … Should we gauge a person’s spirituality by the number of minutes they spend each day practicing personal spiritual disciplines? Is a person less “spiritual” or less “godly” because they rely on their church community for spiritual growth? Is 5 or 15 or 30 or 60 minutes of Bible reading and prayer a “silver bullet” that guarantees spiritual maturity? Should a Christian feel guilty if they grow more through sermons and “big church” than they grow through their daily “quiet time”?
I’m not sure I have all the answers to these questions. I know that I still think personal spiritual disciplines are important, so please don’t report me to Don Whitney. However, I’m beginning to see more clearly that the church plays a significant and necessary role in our spiritual growth (by the way, Don Whitney agrees, that’s why he wrote Spiritual Disciplines within the Church). Consider these four thoughts as you think about your own spiritual growth:
- The creation story indicates that community is better than isolation. After a list of things deemed “good,” it is shocking to find something “not good” in Genesis 2:18. It was not good for Adam to be alone. Yes he had direct, personal, intimate access to his Creator. But God saw Adam’s situation as incomplete. To remedy the problem, the Triune God (read community) created a woman, a marriage, and a family. Community is better than isolation. If that’s true in the beginning, why wouldn’t it be true today?
- The history of Christianity is filled with people who did not have access to the Bible or the ability to read a Bible. My friend Drew Dixon makes this point well in the article I mentioned above. I’ll just add my “amen” to Drew’s words on this issue.
- There are many un-reached people groups in the world today with no access to the Bible. Some of these people are able to read, they just don’t have access to the Bible. Many of these people are illiterate or functionally-illiterate. They couldn’t read a Bible if they had one. Additionally, many of these people prefer to learn through oral methods. Telling them to sit down and read a book for life transformation is entirely foreign to the way God made them. These people don’t need a better daily-devotional book. They need a missionary to tell them the good news in a culturally appropriate way. Even after these people come to faith in Christ, they need opportunities for spiritual growth that don’t require them to sit and read a book.
- The Bible itself points us back to the centrality of Christian community (church). Jesus didn’t leave behind a book club to continue his work. He left a church (Matthew 16:13-20). Yes the church has a book … But that book is filled with “one-another” verses that remind us that we really do need each other (Romans 12:10, 1 Corinthians 12:25, Galatians 5:13, Ephesians 4:2, Colossians 3:13, Hebrews 3:13, James 5:9, 1 Peter 4:9, 1 John 4:7). My friend Drew makes some great points on this issue, one of which is worth quoting directly: “All Scripture is breathed out by God, but each of the ways Paul commands Timothy to utilize Scripture for spiritual growth imply the presence of community (2 Tim 3:16-17).”
These are a few of the ideas rolling around in my head. What are your thoughts about the roles of “quiet time” and “church time”?
Originally published September 9, 2015 on landoncoleman.com.