Last week I wrote about how I have watched the faith of Christ-followers deepen and change over a lifetime. I am intrigued by how many writers of discipleship and/or spiritual growth write on the subject while still in the first half of their life. For me, the most instructive authors are those who wrote toward the end of their lives. During the first half of my life, I would ask questions about “how” to make disciples behave like followers of Christ. now I ask questions about “how” to transform their hearts, knowing that their behavior will ultimately follow.
During the last several years, I have thought deeply about this subject due to three factors (in addition to working on 4 separate assessment instruments dealing with this subject). These factors have forced me to reflect on what I see across the church today. The three factors are: 1) Observing churches, pastors, and Christians navigate Covid, 2) Good thinkers outside the church, and 3) Good thinkers inside the church.
I will spend the following several Thursday Thoughts unpacking what I am learning from each of these three influences. Several of you have asked what books I am reading, so I have included a link that gives the books I have read over the last three years. The unhighlighted books were ok, the yellow highlighted were good, and the green highlighted were very good.
I have come to realize that as Christ-followers we all have a window that can either be open to God teaching us new things or we can close it by refusing to be curious in our faith. Some individuals keep their windows open their entire lifetimes and it is obvious. They are not where they spiritually were 20 years ago, and they will continue to see life differently in another 20 years. Their personal understanding of God deepens through their lifetimes in a way that they possess a deep vitality in every state or stage in which they find themselves.
We have all seen those who have gradually closed their windows to God, growth, and ultimately life by becoming bitter, stubborn, or acting as if they know all they need to know. Often they have just enough of God to get by, but not so much to transform their lives. They look to consume spiritually to meet their needs but not so much to change their values or priorities.
I am watching Christians all around me closing their windows. I think many churches encourage this process through their programming or priorities. I will unpack this through these next three episodes of Thursday Thoughts. In each episode, I will attempt to explain how each of these factors informed my thinking. The following provides a brief synopsis of each of these factors in general.
- Observing Churches, Pastors, & Christians Navigate Covid
Having lived through several wars, pandemics as well as social, cultural, and economic crises, let me suggest the most pressing danger to the Church is not a virus or political struggle; rather, the overwhelming presence of anxiety has been destructive to our faith. It is our reaction to pervasive cultural and personal anxiety that continues to close our windows of faith. We have all witnessed sincere followers of Christ cowering behind closed doors, screaming at others who think differently from them, and generally freaked out because their rights were not being met. Over the last 2,000 years, followers of Christ have reacted much differently through many and varied crises. Certainly, there have always been disciples who were polarized on different issues or those who denied their faith or panicked during crises throughout the ages; however, during these past several years, I saw a much larger percentage of Christians react out of fear and anxiety and close themselves off from Gods work in and through them to others.
- Good Thinkers Outside the Church
Within the last decade, there has come to the front a group of researchers and writers who have changed how we view our brains, minds, and bodies. No more are these subjects of study viewed as separate. Instead, research and careful observation reveal the innate relationship between the physical structure (physio) and sickness in the other (psycho). Not only is the brain rewired by repeated thoughts and actions, but actual chromosomal changes occur from chronic stress and traumas. The body will respond to these changes in very negative or positive ways depending on how we regulate or dysregulate ourselves. Researchers now see how one’s spiritual health impacts mental health (this is little surprise to Christian thinkers). A person’s ability to handle mental, physical, spiritual, and emotional challenges is directly related to their ability to regulate and restore themselves in the face of stress and/or trauma. Their window is opened to serve others more selflessly as they maintain intimate relationships, meditate on Scripture, and take care of themselves physically through appropriate diet, sleep, and exercise.
- Good Thinkers Inside the Church
Consumer Christianity has finally become the norm across many churches in the United States (and those cultures we have influenced). Churches have succumbed to giving people in church enough deliverables to keep everyone attending, giving, and content. The deliverables may include doctrine, worship, entertainment, exegesis, social action, relevance, etc. There is nothing wrong with any of these if they are used as part of heart transformation. However, the deliverables most often become an end in themselves, and people become clients looking for a church where they can get the deliverable they desire. At best, it becomes a sin-management course, and at worse, we produce shallow converts or Pharisees. If the contemporary church were to be evaluated on its ability to make disciples whose hearts and lives reflect the transformative love of God and the transformative love of others, I would not give it a passing grade. We have narrowed the window of most people in churches today to only focus on their needs and managing their sins as best they can, given the church’s program Du Jour.
In closing, let me suggest that for most Christ-followers, this is neither an intentional act nor something they are entirely oblivious to. It has been a slow-growing subculture within the church that has now become the norm, and it is an observable phenomenon to those who care to look.
PS: I realize that I have said some harsh and challenging things in this blog. I will unpack much of it in the next three episodes but feel free to leave comments.
PSS: One last comment on my book list, it will continue to be updated. I have a much longer list of books that have influenced my whole life, but these are the books from the last few years.