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The London Institute for Contemporary Christianity

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25.04.2023

RESEARCH: Embedding spiritual practices and seeing the benefits

Second part of in-depth ‘Shaping Disciples’ research reveals the day-to-day benefits of regular engagement with spiritual practices.

Shaping Disciples: Part Two

Read the full report now!

Spiritual practices change everything

Welcome to the second and final part of LICC’s ‘Shaping Disciples’ research project! If you want to live more like Jesus in your everyday life, this report is for you. And if you want to help others in your church, network, or small group do the same, this report is for you, too.

A spiritual practice is an intentional habit, designed to help disciples deepen their faith, shape their character, and integrate faith into daily life. Our engagement with spiritual practices is one of the most significant influences on how we live out our daily discipleship.

In conducting this research, we wanted to learn more about the effect of different spiritual practices on how Christians live; the ways people engage with various practices; and what factors help them engage with practices regularly. During a previous research project on sustaining whole-life disciplemaking, we sensed this was an area within which there was much space for church communities and individual Christians to grow. So we set out to answer two questions:

  1. What spiritual practices are whole-life disciples currently using, and what impact are they having?
  2. What impact would we see if we taught a group of disciples some tailor-made spiritual practices with a whole-life focus, and helped them integrate those practices into their lives?

Part One focused on the first question. Through a survey of 10 churches across the UK in autumn 2021, we discovered a very strong link between regular engagement with practices, and the extent to which people felt like God was actively working in and through them in their everyday places.

This report is concerned with the second question. Over 12 weeks, we helped 82 Christians embed four spiritual practices into their daily lives. Then, through a series of interviews and questionnaires, we examined the impact those practices had on the way they behaved and the state of their faith.

Read on for 10 of the most interesting things we discovered.

Discover Growing on the Frontline

LICC's new small group course provides a great introduction to spiritual practices in an accessible, discipleship-focused way.

 

  1. Spiritual practices are for everyone. Sometimes we can have self-limiting beliefs. We say things like, ‘I’m not that kind of person’, or ‘I could never do that’. But what we discovered through this process is spiritual practices are both doable and usable, whoever you are. Whatever your age, life stage, or occupation, you can engage with them and you will find them helpful for your life.
  2. Spiritual practices enrich every aspect of discipleship. Practices help us grow in every element of our life with God: upward (in our relationship with him); inward (within our own hearts and minds, and in our relationships with other Christians); and outward (in our ability to represent Jesus in our everyday lives through our words and actions). They mustn’t become disconnected from the everyday lives we lead.
  3. It’s helpful doing practices ‘on the go’, as well as when you ‘stop’. There is a depth of learning and formation that takes place when we carve out deliberate time to pray and reflect on Scripture when we’re by ourselves. And our discipleship is enriched when we learn to connect with God as we go about everyday life – in the midst of all the challenges and opportunities we face out in the world.
  4. We can incorporate the stuff of daily life into our practices. If you’re a teacher, you can pray for your class as they line up. If you’re on a lot of video calls, you can remind yourself of your Christian identity as you wait to join. If you’re in the military, time spent cleaning your sidearm can be a chance to ask God to strengthen you.
  5. Intentions don’t make things happen, plans do. Participants who were able to ‘find a spot’ for their practices were much more likely to begin using them, and to keep using them. They didn’t just say ‘I’m going to read the Bible’. They worked out when a realistic time and place for them to do it was. For example, when they got on the train, or soon as they got back from walking the dog.
  6. Experimentation and personalisation are key. The more participants personalised practices – making them meaningful to them, and fitting them into the life they lead – the more consistent they were in using them, and the more benefit they saw as a result.
  7. Busyness is not the biggest barrier – chaos is. Levels of busyness didn’t make a difference to how well people embedded the practices in their lives; the key was structure. For example, some participants were more likely to read the Bible on the days they commuted into work, compared to when they were off or working from home.
  8. God’s grace matters. We discovered a whole lot of people experience background guilt when it comes to spiritual practices. Words like ‘failure’, ‘ guilty’, and ‘should’ were used a lot. Conversely, many of those who engaged regularly and joyfully with the practices were operating from a place of love and grace. Perfectionism was not helpful; a healthy blend of taking the practices seriously and remaining aware of God’s grace was.
  9. Connection with others matters. Though our research focused on practices people could use by themselves, the fact they were on a journey with others, and that they knew we would be following up, provided a form of accountability and encouragement. Many said this was a significant factor in helping them to get going and keep going. Forming new habits isn’t easy. Receiving the wisdom, support, and encouragement of others can be the difference between practices becoming embedded in a person’s life, or not.
  10. The Bible matters. In the past research we’ve done, the Bible has shown itself to be disproportionately effective at growing whole-life disciples. Once again, we saw just how significant engagement with the Bible is – especially when people find links between the words they read, and the lives they live.

 


 

See the difference in your own life with our quick surveys

Being part of this project gave participants the chance to see just how spiritual practices were changing them – and we’d love you to get the same chance! If you fancy trying out some practices, use these super quick questionnaires to benchmark how you’re doing on day one – and see how you’ve grown a few weeks on.

Read Part One

Explore the first in this two-part research series, which shares insights on the practices Christians are already using, and how they shape their lives.

Discover all our research

Read more practical insights on what helps disciples grow and thrive, drawn from our field research with churches across the UK.

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