I had just signed up for my first solo personal growth conference and I couldn’t wait to share the excitement with others. While I immediately thought of the people I could openly tell about my upcoming experience, I felt hesitant to put the information out there for the world to pick apart. But it wasn’t the world I was waiting on for criticism on social media or behind closed doors, it was the Christian community.
Just a few weeks ago I scrolled through yet another Facebook post from a friend who was ranting about the latest personal development best-seller. “What she teaches is wrong because she says you can control the outcome of your life just by striving for more and setting bigger goals. As a Christian, I believe God is in control.”
Why do Christians openly disagree about the premise of personal growth? We as Christians tend to believe personal growth is sinful. We can be judgmental towards those who set goals and call them self-centered, and sling criticism about personal development. Thoughts like, “if we’re striving for more we’re not being grateful enough,” or “by reflecting or thinking about how we can grow, we’re just being too focused on self-care and not enough on Christ.”
But the more posts I read about why popular “self-help” books are dangerous and from the devil, the more I want to unpack why I think we as the church may be off base when it comes to labeling personal growth good or bad.
What is Personal Growth to Me?
You can find a lot of definitions out there about personal growth, but to me, personal growth and development include ways for me to enhance my self-awareness, improve my health, cultivate daily gratitude, develop my potential, pursue goals and improvement, and lean into the dreams that God has placed on my heart.
My pursuit of personal growth is rooted in my desire to keep growing into the woman God made me to be, to live courageously without fear of the future, and to be wildly grateful for the life and opportunities the Lord has blessed me with. On a day-to-day basis, this looks like quiet time and prayer, reading books about these topics, gratitude journaling and reflection, setting and holding myself accountable for goals around relationships, exercise and creativity, and the occasional meditation to clear my head.
Is my personal growth journey different than someone who isn’t a Believer? Absolutely. But that doesn’t mean I can’t walk alongside others who are putting in the effort to be their best selves and be afraid to share my spiritual motivation for wanting to grow. And I’ll give a disclaimer: I’ve had conversations, heard lectures and podcasts, and read some passages in books about self-improvement and personal development that I didn’t agree with. However, my belief in God, motivation to seek His will and wisdom, and desire for understanding of the Bible helped me filter them out and take the good with the bad. As with anything, we can’t look at the extreme version of something and make a blanket statement that covers the rest of the spectrum.
Should Christians Pursue Personal Growth?
I believe we are made in the image of God. I also believe He created us to reach our full potential as a way to show up in life and express gratitude for all He’s blessed us with. But in order to do that, we have to do a little work to know what that potential looks like. That means digging deep and seeing how we can grow. It means working on our emotional, physical, and spiritual health. It means setting goals to keep us accountable and motivated. It also means taking the time to dream and uncover what our gifts are and how we can truly make an impact on the world while we’re here for the short amount of time we are. But as Christians, we tend to feel guilty when thinking about wanting to improve. Why is that?
In a faith-based essay on self-development by Jack Kelley, he writes “every creature that God has created is predisposed to achieve its destiny and to fight with every ounce of its strength to do so… Only mankind has been given the choice to settle for less than our Creator intended for us to be, and only man is taught to do this to avoid offending God.”
Yes, there are people who can take the pursuit of development and growth too far; who let their potential become their idol and their determination to become their God. Personal development takes a turn when we place our hope in our own ability to improve or fix ourselves. But when we focus on personal growth with the intention of showing up and becoming better versions of ourselves so we can serve others and glorify God, we’re on the right path.
Worried about your own motivations for personal growth? You might take some time to reflect on these questions before you start or continue your journey.
Am I seeking personal growth to better serve God and others, or is it for personal gain in finances and status?
Can I clearly see God in my goals and personal growth journey? Can I worship Him in this process?
Just remember, as Christians we are given the gift of being filled with the Holy Spirit, meaning we have access to God’s wisdom and insight for how we should handle situations. Pray about what personal growth should look like for you and ask the Lord to direct your goals, guide your growth, and be the driver of your dreams. And if you’re still feeling overwhelmed by these questions or worry you’re going to get it wrong, I highly recommend listening to the Cultivate Your Life podcast episode, “Is It Okay to Set Goals as a Christian?” There’s tons of biblical wisdom and great takeaways from three Christian ladies who cover this topic in depth.
My Case for Christian Personal Development
The pursuit of personal growth for a Christian can be different. It doesn’t have to be just rooted in self and it doesn’t have to mean replacing God with the belief that we can save, clean ourselves up or manifest things for ourselves. Christ can be the basis, the foundation for our motivation to grow. Because He lived and died for us, not only can we face tomorrow, but we can walk fearlessly into the future with the confidence that our salvation is set. We can pursue dreams, let go of past mistakes and work on putting to death the sabotaging lies we tell ourselves. Because God lovingly created us, we can choose to make the most out of every day and every quality He placed in us. God’s gift to us is our life and its potential. Are we going to take it for granted and let it go to waste?
Simple Ways to Get Started with Personal Growth
In an effort to keep this as tactical as possible, here are my best suggestions for how you can pursue personal growth to work on becoming who God made you to be, and a version of yourself you can be proud of when you’re 80.
Get up earlier: If you don’t have a routine already nailed down, you’re going to want to wake up 30-45 minutes earlier than you’re used to. I know this can seem intimidating, but in the long run, those minutes matter! To get acclimated, set your alarm clock ahead 10 minutes for the first week, another 10 minutes for the second week, and continue this process until you’re in a rhythm that’s early enough to work for you.
Start with quiet time: This time can include Bible reading, gratitude journaling, and prayer, and be a time of reflection with you and God. Focus on being thankful for the little things like the breath in your lungs and the coffee in your hand. This is your time to start your day with perspective and focus.
Tend your Powersheets: I’ve referenced Powersheets before, and can’t emphasize enough how powerful I think this tool is for personal growth. Powersheets are goal planners where you can explore the right yearly goals for you, and break them down into incremental bites so you can make better routines and habits to accomplish them.
List your Top 3: Write down the three things you’re really wanting to get done today. This can include big items that take more time (like writing a blog) or be small, incremental things that need to get done (like calling and making a dentist appointment.) Once you’ve written them down, put them in a reminder on your phone so you’re motivated to complete them today!
Throughout the Week Routines
Write out your dreams: This is a shameless steal from Rachel Hollis, and whether you agree with her books or not, this practice she swears by is one of the most effective things I’ve done to help me grow. Start with 5-15 dreams you have for yourself and write them down as if they’ve already happened. For example, a few of my goals are “I am a published writer,” “I am a patient, kind, grace-giving wife,” “I am a confident public speaker,” and “I am not held back by fear of failure or what other people might think.” Once you start writing them down over and over in the present tense, your brain shifts from a someday mentality and starts believing change is not only possible, but it’s already here.
Read more books: As I mentioned earlier, when it comes to books about personal growth and development, you’re going to have to take the good with the bad. No book other than the Bible is perfect, so don’t hold any of them to that standard. When we go into it with that mindset, we can highlight the good parts and disregard the stuff that doesn’t apply. Here are a few of my favorite books that I think apply to personal growth that you might enjoy:
Schedule a creative retreat: What’s a creative retreat? Well, there really aren’t any rules because it’s something I made up. Once a month I schedule time on my calendar to escape to a coffee shop, park, or just a place where I can get a change of scenery. During this 2-6 hour block of time, I journal, write, read, and just give myself space and permission to dream about the future. It’s during the creative retreats that I come up with most of my big picture ideas, but I don’t put that pressure on myself each month. You get twelve of these a year! Go into it with an open mind to just create, whatever that looks like.
Work on your monthly Powersheets goals: I love the end of each month because it means getting to dig into what the upcoming month could look like, and choosing the good goals I want to pursue. Even if you choose not to use Powersheets, you can find free goal planning materials from Lara Casey and the Cultivate What Matters team here.
As with most topics related to Christianity, the topic of personal development is gray. And if what others interpret from the Bible tells them to play small for the sake of calling it humble, I won’t judge. A person’s interpretation is just that; their own. However, while I won’t shy away from good dialogue if others may disagree with the pursuit of personal growth, I won’t let it hold me back either. I’ll be doing my best to live life to the fullest as a means of gratitude for the blessings I’ve been given. Because I want to be able to stand before God someday and say I gave it my all to love His people harder, serve and help them find Him, and fulfill every ounce of potential He so kindly placed in me.
Have (tolerant and open-minded) thoughts about personal growth? Drop them in the comments below and let’s chat!