should i set goals for my spiritual growth?

I’m honored to have this guest post from my good friend, Scott Savage. I hope this post challenges how you exemplify Christ…I know it challenged me.
The church lost one of its best thinkers in April 2013 when Dallas Willard passed away. A professor of philosophy at USC, Willard articulated Jesus’ teaching on the Kingdom of God and discipleship in a way that shifted paradigms and influenced many. Willard powerfully influenced the life of John Ortberg, author and pastor of Menlo Park Presbyterian Church.

In this interview, recorded at Catalyst West 2010, Ortberg asks Willard about his unique understanding of discipleship. My favorite part is in the last minute of this clip.

I’ve watched that video numerous times and used it in talks I’ve given on the subject of spiritual growth and discipleship. I find Willard’s simplicity to be stunning for someone so brilliant. Willard could have chosen a complex and nuanced definition of discipleship and spiritual growth. However, he expresses a powerfully simple concept.

As I applied this concept to my own spiritual journey, I found myself having to re-examine my approach to spiritual goals. As a first-born and recovering overachiever, I have a love/hate relationship with goals. I can quickly become driven to a fault and task-oriented to the detriment of my relationships. I grew up with an affinity for goals.

However, if Willard is right in saying “becoming more like Jesus is doing the next right thing you know to do,” then the whole goal-setting paradigm becomes much different. The goal is simple and focused: become like Jesus. The path lacks a lot of nuance and really revolves around one question. “What’s the next right thing I know to do?”

Before the cynics raise their concerns, let me clarify: simple is not synonymous with easy. Those two can be quite tangential to one another. Maintaining simplicity demands great devotion and discipline. And some of the simplest things are actually the hardest. Complicated obstacles may stand in the way of our next steps.

This concept may ruffle some feathers, but maybe we need to set less goals and actually come back to one goal more often. In speaking only for myself, I’ve seen goal-setting become an ego trip to make myself feel more valuable, accomplished and significant. Goal-setting can become a barrier to actually taking action. If we know the next right thing to do, but spend time making goals instead of doing it, that’s a sin.

I’ve seen God reveal more of His will and intention as obedience that is produced from past revelation.

Let’s make our goal to do the next thing we already know to do and trust when that is complete, God will be prepared to reveal the next new thing. After all, if we aren’t acting on what we already know we’re supposed to do, why should we expect further revelation on the next thing?

In the comments below, please share your response to the following question:

What is one “right thing” you’ve been putting off doing that you can do before you go to bed tonight?

Scott Savage is a husband, father, writer and pastor. He serves as the Minister to Young Adults at North Phoenix Baptist Church. He blogs at When Scott laughs, his cackle can be heard around the world. Follow his daily adventures on Twitter (@scottesavage).


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