I’ve spent the last 20 years of my life figuring out how to grow spiritually. For the last 15 years I’ve given great focus to helping those alongside me grow spiritually as well. In the Church-world we call this the work of Spiritual Formation. I remember the first few years of my spiritual journey were awesome. It felt as though around every corner was a new program or event that was geared just for me.
After a few years it felt like something changed. I would look for the next class, program or event but it started to feel like the well had run dry. There didn’t seem to be as many offerings for me as their used to be. Perhaps you have experienced something similar within your church context?
It is only as I have sought to understand systems of spiritual formation that I realized our ultimate goal is not to get people into a never-ending system of events. The goal of a spiritual formation process is not about activity, but about helping people get to a place of being self-led and self-fed.
Life conditions us to look for the “next.” The easiest thing for me to do is boil my spiritual development down into a series of classes and programs. Much like a child, early on each of us need high structure to stabilize us in our spiritual journey. A clear system of steps gives confidence as we grow in our new faith.
By the time a baby turns into a young adult, some things begin to change. High structure is replaced by high guidance and encouragement. Somewhere along the way from 3-month-old to 20-year-old the parent’s role changes. Mom and dad go from personally feeding the child every meal to teaching the child how to make wise food choices. The baby-gate at the stairs is eventually replaced by guiding the child how to be safe with less guardrails. Simply put – parents are trying to get their children to a place where they can be self-led and self-fed as adults.
Our role as the Church is very similar. Our goal must be more than enroll people into a series of programs that will take up the next 50 years of their spiritual journey. A good spiritual formation process is highly structured on the front but is fairly open the farther you move along. As you grow and mature in faith the role of the church is not to provide you continual programs but rather to provide spiritual and leadership support as you become a self-led self-fed follower of Jesus.
Instead of looking for the next program to meet your every spiritual need, ask God what are the ways He could use your church to encourage you and challenge you in your faith. Will there be helpful programs and classes that would benefit you? Yes! But as we mature in our faith our growth has less to do with the classrooms we sit in and more to do with the ways we live out our faith and trust in God.