for me, this time of the year (ending one…beginning another) is always one of evaluation and introspection. i desperately want to be faithful and fruitful, so i regularly revisit the “what is god doing and how do i fit in?” conversation. my thoughts often drift to the quest for spiritual formation: what i need to do to grow, and what i need to do so the people who are following me will grow?
consequently, i often find myself thinking and talking about the state of the church. it’s sad, but there it is.
i recently read this quote by dallas willard:
Given the contents of the New Testament, one might expect local congregations of Christians to be entirely devoted to the spiritual formation of those in attendance. What we actually find in most cases is constant distraction from this as the central task: By the demands of the organization; and by the requirements of our ‘faith and practice’—our traditions. Often there is the recognition that what we wind up ‘having to do’ is not what we really feel it should all be about.
dallas willard often makes some off-handed comment that strikes me as unusually profound, and this is such a case. in the context of my end-of-year evaluation, i’ve been asking myself what results i expect in light of how i spend my time. i think i’m preaching the unadulterated gospel, and i’m honestly trying to live my life as an example of character and integrity. but could it be that some (or many) of the habits/practices i perpetuate actually inhibit spiritual formation among my church family?
in an article in leadership journal, john ortberg made the following observations about how church leaders spend their time:
—Lots of time gets spent on “programs.” This includes services that require messages to be prepared, music to be selected, stories to be told, segues to be segued, lights and sound and instruments and collection baskets. This can all be good stuff, but sometimes it feels more like Lucy and Ethel trying to wrap candy as it speeds by on the conveyor belt than like helping Christ be formed in people.
—Lots of time gets spent on planning stuff. This too can be good, and at its best can be creative and energizing. But all too often the unstated goal is: How can we get more people to come out to more events? Getting more people to our events is how we feel we demonstrate our success and worth. This is why there is often an unspoken but palpable perception on staff that the church is really an extension of leadership ego.
—Lots of time gets spent evaluating stuff. But rarely is the evaluation centered around whether or not Christ was more deeply formed in people. Or whether he was more deeply formed in us. More often it’s around categories of execution, excellence, efficiency, and whether or not we got enough people to participate in it.
—Lots of attention and energy gets devoted to numbers: attendance and/or giving. We often don’t necessarily want this to be the case. But our emotions seemed attached in ways that may not be healthy but are hard to re-direct.
could we really be that far off-track? is it possible that the pursuit of spiritual formation has become an afterthought? a victim of expediency?
i am challenged by so many young men that seem to be “living biblically” (their term). guys like matt chandler and francis chan and david platt…men that seem to be living out their commitment. i want to be a part of this “kingdom underground” and i want to take my people there. I want my fellowship to be involved in the reaching the majority of americans who have written off god/church. i want us to infiltrate the dark corners of our society with the light of the gospel: not just in word, but in deed.
how does one motivate people (christians) to pay the price–to go to the next level–when they are spiritually satisfied? and on their way to heaven?
how does one offset the overwhelming weight of spiritual apathy?
(NOTE: more on this topic tomorrow)