I need to have my life transformed. There are no two ways about that. Each day, again and again, I need to have my life transformed. I am hungry for that continuous growth every day in my life. Today I want to be closer to Jesus than I was yesterday. Tomorrow I want to be closer to Jesus than I am today.
How is this possible?
Traditionally, the church has taught people like me that this growth will come by learning from sermons, engaging in a daily personal walk with Jesus manifested in a “quiet time” which would include prayer and Scripture reading. The church would also have taught the importance of fellowship in growth as a Christian. All these are thoroughly important elements and traditionally have been the preferred methods of discipleship and formation for Christians. I would not disagree in as much as I would say that these things are unproductive in terms of Christian growth. To the contrary, reading Scripture and spending time in prayer and fellowship are wonderful things in which growth does occur. However, I can’t help but wonder if these things are not just vehicles which we use as we travel on the journey. Thomas Merton would suggest that it is folly for anyone to go on a journey without some kind of map or guide. I would suggest that none of the above mentioned traditional tools for growth act as a map or a guide. Rather, it is the duty of the Christian who seeks to grow in Christ to have a guide for the Journey. The vehicles of prayer, Scripture reading and fellowship will only move us in the correct direction if we have the company of a guide who will show us the way in each vehicle.
I am hungry to grow closer to Christ in my journey each day but I can only move in that direction if I have a guide. I am still a relatively young man and I am a very young minister and I need the fathers and mothers in the faith that will walk their respective legs of the journey alongside me. I need those people who will watch me succeed and fail and then help me reflect and grow from each experience. I need those people who know God, to continually show me how to know God. I need them not to show it in an authoritative or restrictive way but to show me in a relationship where listening is paramount, where trusting completely in the power and work of the Holy Spirit is paramount, where Godly wisdom exists in the context of a life that has been lived on the journey.
I don’t think that there can be any doubt that there is a need for Spiritual Direction/Accompaniment in the lives of young people and young adults within the context of the church. If the Church does not have people who are willing to gently and lovingly pass on the faith then deep faith will continue to diminish in the church because as young people and young adults become middle-aged and older adults, they will not have any contextual experience or framework from within which they can answer their call to gently and lovingly pass on the faith. The result will be a diminished depth in the faith.
I do seek out those fathers and mothers in the faith. I meet for regular spiritual direction with a local priest and several of my colleagues from the denomination I serve in (although they would not recognize that what they are doing in meeting with me for a coffee is a form of Spiritual Direction.) Their ministry to me is helpful and I usually come away from a session feeling that I have been helped on my journey in either a very specific or a more general way. I also know other people who seek spiritual direction and are blessed, encouraged and moved forward as a result.
I worry though that in many local congregations there are no longer many Christians who are willing to take on those roles as spiritual fathers and mothers. My perception (based only personal observation) is that this is creating a dangerously big hole in the church and is feeding the growing false identity of the church as a country club for Christians, as opposed to the church’s identity as a prophetic, nurturing community of Christ. It appears that for many years now people have come to church and have been left to do it themselves and have been expected to find faith and grow deeply in that same faith. This does not work and cannot work. The example all the way through Scripture is of people being nurtured in the faith by others: Paul and Timothy, Jesus and his disciples, Eli and Samuel, Elizabeth and Mary, Paul’s continuing letter writing ministry to the churches that he planted. The list could go on. The Christian faith has survived because there have always been faithful people who passed on the faith to those coming after them. Susannah Wesley passed the faith on to John, Charles and all her other siblings. There can be no getting away from the need to pass on the faith and passing on the habits of faith. Simply saying that we will let people/our children find it out for themselves is not good enough.
So what? How do we begin to fill this wide chasm? Well, firstly it has to start at home. I have a responsibility to pass on the faith to my children. They will only learn to pray if they see me praying and get the opportunity to pray with me. I know that my Dad prayed and continues to pray for his kids every night, but I never remember actually praying with my Dad. I can desire that my kids see and know Jesus in their lives, but if I do not show them Jesus in my life and in our life as a family then they will never know how to live that life. It starts at home. But what about the church – the wider family of God? How do we bridge the gap in churches? A recent book called ‘The Trellis and the Vine’ is a good place to start perhaps. I would not stand as theologically conservatively as the authors of this book on some things, but there can be no denying that the structure of their offering is a good one. They suggest that we seek to be reading, reflecting on and applying Scripture to our lives in partnership with brothers and sisters in the faith and seeking to invite others to do the same. They suggest that by doing so, we will encourage one another to take seriously the Word of God as well as encouraging one another to live well the Word of God. By reading in community, we are inviting the Holy Spirit to come and speak in to our lives through the reading and ministry of the Word.
Christianity must be passed on and it must be lived in order to be passed on well. The time is now right for people to throw off the shackles of nominalism and to live and experience fully the grace, mercy, peace and love of God.
Show us your glory God.