Category Archives: Spiritual Growth

Monday Matters (March 20, 2023)


The Collect for the fourth Sunday in Lent

Gracious Father, whose blessed Son Jesus Christ came down from heaven to be the true bread which gives life to the world: Evermore give us this bread, that he may live in us, and we in him; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

These days, Monday Matters offers reflections on the prayers we say in church on Sunday, the collect of the day. We do this based on the conviction that praying shapes our believing, that what we pray forms us. We do this hoping that the prayers we say on Sunday will carry us through the week.


Over the years, I’ve developed what I call bird feeder theology. It began when my wife and I went on vacation, off season to some island. Because it was off season, the hotel was mostly empty, which was fine by us. It rained cats and dogs each day (which we found out is why it was considered off-season). Live and learn. So we spent a lot of time on the balcony, reading and imagining what warm sunny beaches felt like.

Each hotel room had its own balcony, all connected so you could see down a long line of neighboring units. Each unit had a bird feeder hanging over the railing. Keenly attuned to nature, I came to this astute observation. The bird feeder that contained seeds was crowded with lots of birds. The bird feeder with no seeds had no birds. Birds went where they were fed.

As a preacher, even on vacation, I found myself thinking about the application to church life. As I pondered the mystery of why some churches attract lots of folks and some churches don’t, I came to believe that it may have something to do with where people were being fed. Not always, but that’s often the case.

Over the years, when I would meet with people to talk about their own spiritual journeys, I often found that a fruitful question was this: Where are you being fed? If people said that they weren’t being fed, even if they were members of a church where I served, I would encourage them to find a place where they did feel like their spirits were being fed. Bird feeder theology.

One of the great tragedies I sense these days in the church world is that we are often failing to feed people. Said another way, we often answer questions that no one is asking. Just check out clergy interactions on social media if you want to know what I’m talking about. A friend of mine, a seeker, wanted to know more about the Christian faith. He lived in the neighborhood of a seminary, and had time during the day, so he signed up for one of the introductory courses. After two weeks in the class, he called me to say that he quit. He said that the people in that class cared 200% about stuff that nobody else in his world cared anything about. Let’s just say he was not fed by that course of study. Others may have been. Not him.

So ask yourself this morning: Where am I being fed in my spirit? Where do I find spiritual nourishment?

It’s interesting to me that we refer to the eucharist as our principal act of worship. It is a sacrament that is all about a meal. It is the place where our spirits are nourished with bread and wine. I believe that happens even if we don’t always feel like it. It happens even if we don’t understand it. I wonder if you experience it that way. There are other ways we may be fed. Worship. Music. Teaching. Books. Art. Service. A walk in the woods. A walk on the beach. Moments of silence.

Jesus said “I am the bread of life.” I’m guessing that means that in connection with him, in relationship with him, in following him we will be fed. He came not only to provide lunch for hungry crowds (5000 of them). He came to nourish hungry spirits.

Spend some time this week thinking about where you are being fed these days. Give thanks for the ways your spirit is nourished. In this Lenten season of self-examination, ask if you are hungry for more. Where will you go to find that? Pray that God will show you the way. And as Christ’s hands and feet in the world, consider ways that you can provide sustenance and nourishment for those around you, helping to feed them in body, mind or spirit.

-Jay Sidebotham

Interested in RenewalWorks for your parish? Learn more about how RenewalWorks works!

RenewalWorks: Helping churches focus on spiritual growth

RenewalWorks is about re-orienting your parish around spiritual growth. And by spiritual growth – we mean growing in love of God and neighbor.
Churches can launch as part of a fall or spring cohort or go on their own schedule.  Sign up now!!
Learn more in our digital brochure.

Monday Matters (January 17, 2022)


Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock. Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: ‘Ye were bought at a price’, and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God.

When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.

-Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Cost and promise

Jesus said: If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go into hell.

-Matthew 5:29, 30

What gets in the way of your spiritual growth?

Over the past years, as we’ve worked with congregations, we’ve posed that question and gotten a lot of different responses. The church can obviously get in the way. Folks often tell me that the church has let them down, that it’s just full of hypocrites, to which I can only reply: “Guilty as charged.” One study indicated that busy schedules impede a deeper relationship with God. Others have given up hope that anything could ever be any different. Some, like me, admit that our lives are filled with competing interests, that devotion to the life of the Spirit competes with other goals and purposes and vocations, e.g., work, success, approval. Love of God is usurped by love of something else.

As we work our way through the Sermon on the Mount, today we come across another rigorous (to put it mildly) passage from Jesus, making me grateful I’m not a biblical literalist. Jesus says that if your eye (the way you look at things) or your hand (the way you grasp at things) cause you to sin, get rid of them. One way to think about sin is to describe it as brokenness in relationship with God. Jesus shows that obstacles to deeper faith, a deeper relationship with God and neighbor are nothing new. He invites disciples, you and me, to get rid of obstacles in the spiritual journey.

I hear Jesus say that we should put first things first (Seek ye first the kingdom of God), that we should make sure the main thing (love of God and neighbor) remains the main thing, that in the words of the Civil Rights movement, we should keep our eyes on the prize. And that often comes with a cost.

Jesus sets a high bar for disciples, not just in this passage but in others. He says that if you want to find your life you have to lose it. Unless a grain of wheat dies it can’t come to life. He asks: What’s the benefit of gaining the whole world if we lose our soul? As he traveled with disciples, he repeatedly told them they were on the road to Jerusalem where he would suffer and die, and they along with him. It’s a marvel they followed at all.

He didn’t hide the cost of discipleship. It reminds me of wise advice I got from a bishop who said that as we journey through life, discerning choices, there is always cost along with promise. That may be what Jesus is getting at, in a most graphic way. What cost have you encountered in your spiritual journey? And what’s the promise?

For many of us, we’ve arranged things so that the cost of discipleship is low. We haven’t had to give up much. But today’s passage asks us to take a hard look at those things in our lives that stand in the way of a deeper life with God and to get rid of those things. They may well be very good things. We need eyes and hands. But Jesus calls us to take a gut check, a fitting thing to do on a holiday honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., someone who knew a lot about the cost of discipleship.

In a 2019 article in Christianity Today, a biblical scholar named Dante Stewart wrote about King’s vision of discipleship: “King lamented that much of American Christianity “often served to crystallize, conserve, and even bless the patterns of majority opinion.” Sanctioning slavery, war, and economic exploitation, “the church has preserved that which is immoral and unethical.” He concludes that “the church must acknowledge its guilt, its weak and vacillating witness, it’s all too frequent failure to obey the call to servanthood.” If the church in any place and any time fails to recapture its prophetic zeal, “it will become an irrelevant social club without moral or spiritual authority.”

God sends people like Dr. King to push us to count the cost, to see what we are called to lose in order to gain the kingdom, in order to realize beloved community. It’s hard work. There’s the cost. It’s life-giving, liberating, loving work. There’s the promise.

I invite you to observe this holiday, this holy day, by thinking about your own spiritual journey. What is getting in the way of full expression of your love of God and neighbor? Perhaps with more pertinence, how, in the spirit of Dr. King, can you move out of your comfort zone to do something for the cause of justice and peace? How, in the spirit of Dr. King, can you claim the promise of the power of love at work in the world, even if it comes with a cost?

-Jay Sidebotham
Note: Here’s a link for the article I referenced if you want to read it as part of your holiday observance: You might also want to read Dr. King’s letter from a Birmingham jail.

Good Book Club to start 2022 with Exodus

Start the new year with a renewed spiritual practice of reading God’s Word. Forward Movement, with support from partners from around the Episcopal Church and Anglican Communion, will celebrate the time of Epiphany with a new round of the Good Book Club by reading the first half of the Book of Exodus.

Exodus recounts the journey of the Israelites from slavery to freedom. We hear the great stories of Moses, from his discovery by Pharaoh’s daughter on the bank of the river to the burning bush to his presentation of the Ten Commandments. Along the way, we encounter God’s covenant and explore the grand theme of redemption.

This year, we have a bonus time of scripture engagement: the Good Book Club will dive into the first twenty chapters of Exodus from Epiphany, January 6, to Shrove Tuesday, March 1. For those who want to keep reading, we’ll offer a daily reading guide and an overview of the second half of Exodus. That reading period will conclude on Easter.

The full schedule, including the list of daily readings is available at

Sign up to receive updates on Exodus.

Joining the Good Book Club is easy: Open your Bible and start reading!

Is my church too small for RenewalWorks to work?


We are sometimes asked the question: is my congregation too small to do RenewalWorks?

Experience has shown us that RenewalWorks process is most productive for congregations with average Sunday attendance of 45 and up. However, we know that no congregation is too small to focus on spiritual growth and we have some great resources for smaller congregations to share with you.

My Way of Love is a joint project with RenewalWorks and Presiding Bishop Curry’s office. It begins with each parishioner taking a very short online survey (based on the RenewalWorks spiritual life inventory). Each participant then receives an email with a helpful explanation of our findings, along with some tips for growing spiritually and the opportunity to sign up to receive a personalized 8-week spiritual growth program via email tailored to where they are currently in their spiritual journey.

Churches have gathered small groups and even challenged their whole congregations to take this inventory and then spend some time together reflecting on their personal results. Participants can meet weekly to share their experience of the program: What are they finding new, exciting, troubling? Which suggestions are they implementing to deepen their spiritual lives?

Bishop Curry recently did the My Way of Love himself and loved it! (He discussed it with Scott Gunn, Forward Movement’s executive director.)

Although the email program is personalized for each participant, the group sharing creates a way for the overall church to come together around the idea of spiritual growth.  More information can be found here:

The best part is—it’s free, a gift from Forward Movement and the Episcopal Church.


The second program we suggest for small groups and small congregations is Revive. This discipleship program is the perfect gift to offer the lay leaders who have poured out so much in service to your congregation. Revive is about transformation through spiritual formation. In just 10 months, this small-group program transforms leaders of practical church ministry into confident spiritual leaders who love God and participate in Christ’s ministry.

Thanks to the videos and extensive facilitator and participant guides, there is little prep work for the facilitator and can be convened online through zoom or in person.  The cost is $50 for a small church.

It is a beautiful program and participants report that it really changes their lives and causes them to grow spiritually in love of God and neighbor.

Information on Revive can be found here:

The mission of RenewalWorks is to help congregations of all sizes foster a culture of spiritual growth, and by spiritual growth, we mean growing in love of God and neighbor. Please contact us if this mission resonates with you, we would love to be a resource in this journey.