Cultivating a Desire for Jesus In Your Congregation

Yesterday, in the last session of our last Vibrant Faith MasterClass of the 2023 season (“Emotionally Healthy Spiritual Formation,” taught by Rev. Dr. Todd Hunter), a ministry leader in the class (Bob) asked: “If we’re trying to help people follow in the way of Jesus, what is the responsibility on the side of the apprentices? We want people to want to follow Jesus, not because we drum it into their heads. So, if that’s going to happen, how do we posture ourselves as leaders?”

Dr. Hunter responded: “You’re asking about how we cultivate desire. How do we amend or help change the affections of a human being? If we don’t desire what God has to give, nothing we do to try to follow Jesus will have lasting traction. So, cultivating desire is our way forward as ministry leaders.”

I think this missional goal—cultivating a desire for Jesus among our people—is not only our way forward, it’s the top priority for ministry leaders. And if it’s not, it needs to be. Here’s why…

As the interchange above suggests, transformation never happens because people are “shoulded” into or harangued into or disciplined into it. Transformation happens at the heart level, and that means desire always fuels transformation. I’m going to assume, because you’re in ministry leadership, that you walk in the way of Jesus because He is your heart’s desire. We know how our deep desire for Him has transformed our life. But if we try to systemize how Jesus has become our heart’s desire, we struggle to do it. We understand Peter’s response when Jesus asks His disciples if they are going to abandon Him like all the others: “Where else would we go? Only you have words of life and hope” (John 6:68). But we don’t know how to bring others to this same point of passion and abandon. I’ll take a stab at it with these two practices…

1. Taste and See – King David encourages us, in Psalm 34:8, to “taste and see that the Lord is good. Oh, the joys of those who take refuge in him!” To taste means to take something outside of you, inside you. To invite intimacy. To practice the spiritual discipline of appreciation. When we appreciate something, we are metaphorically “tasting” it. So, how do we help others learn to taste Jesus, or appreciate Him?

Over the last half century, fewer than 300 people in the world have earned certification as a master sommelier—a “wine steward” with sophisticated expertise in wine selection and service. In a career that commands average salaries north of $150,000, why so few? Well, only five percent of candidates can pass the grueling three-part exam because, simply, it seems impossible. The first stage targets theory; the second requires the candidate to serve a table of demanding master sommeliers. And in the third stage candidates must blind taste-test six glasses of wine. In a 25-minute window, they’re required to accurately determine the grape varieties, country of origin, district of origin, and vintage year.

For the trickle of candidates who succeed, the process develops an extraordinary attention to detail. They learn to detect nuanced influences in a wine, training their palate to appreciate a wine’s essence. Their secret? They have learned to “taste and see,” or appreciate, the nuances of wine. They do this by…

  • Slowing down to savor (so we slow way, way down when we are reading the gospel accounts of Jesus).
  • Grow acutely aware of nuances (so we pay ridiculous attention to what we appreciate about Jesus when we read about Him or experience Him through storytelling).
  • Pay much better attention to the wine’s essence (so we consider how we experience Jesus in everyday life, and through life’s joys and heartbreaks).
  • Taste often and widely (so we slow down to appreciate Jesus through our study, prayer, and communal experience of Him).

When we savor every “taste” in Jesus, we discover the height and breadth and depth of his beauty, expanding the palate of our worship and fueling our desire for Him.

2. Invite a Deeper Experience of the Spirit of God – Do we know how to invite others to experience the person of Jesus in their life, not just read or study about Him? Those who are transformed by Jesus share a common trait: We have given up our quest to summit, on our own, the Everest of deep change. Instead, like the woman in Luke 7, we push our way forward to Jesus and pour our precious perfume over his feet, bowing and weeping and worshipping. We shift from self-reliance to Jesus-dependence. “Your faith has saved you,” he tells the weeping, kissing, perfuming woman. It’s in our surrender, not our resolution, that we finally find the immovable force that changes us.

Self-renovation gives us a sense of control over the uncontrollable—we prefer to be the foreman on all our personal construction projects. But Paul reminds his protégé Timothy that desperate dependence is the doorway into real freedom: “A true widow… has placed her hope in God” (1 Timothy 5:5). And so true dependence begins with an invitation—we invite people to invite the Spirit of God to come in from the front porch of our life and take up residence in our kitchen or family room or bedroom. I mean, we give people opportunities to invite the Spirit to live in their intimate places—to yield to the Spirit in a deeper way than they already have. And when the Spirit is given greater freedom in our lives, Jesus tells us what will happen: “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own but will tell you what he has heard. He will tell you about the future. He will bring me glory by telling you whatever he receives from me. All that belongs to the Father is mine; this is why I said, ‘The Spirit will tell you whatever he receives from me’” (John 16:13-15).

It’s the Spirit that generates our magnetic desire for Jesus, so we need a deeper “yes” to the Spirit’s access to our heart. Dr. Hunter reminds us: “Dependence on the Spirit is ‘relational reliance.’ Jesus modeled this by telling us that He only says and does what He sees His Father saying and doing… The Spirit is meant to be known by experience. We may not be clear about when and how the indwelling influence of the Spirit comes in our life—but we do want a life inspired by the Spirit.”

If you would like help in drawing your congregation toward a deeper cultivation of desire, reach to connect with a Vibrant Faith Ministry Leadership Coach. Just CLICK HERE for more information. Coaching is an intentional process that moves you forward into the future you long for.

Rick Lawrence is Executive Director of Vibrant Faith—he created the new curriculum Following JesusHe’s editor of the Jesus-Centered Bible and author of 40 books, including The Suicide Solution, The Jesus-Centered Life and Jesus-Centered Daily. In the Spring of 2024 his new book Editing Jesus: Confronting the Distorted Faith of the American Church will be published. He hosts the podcast Paying Ridiculous Attention to Jesus.


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