The Message Doesn’t Change, But The Method Has To

I recall with great excitement when Conversations Journal was launched ten years ago. I thought, This is an incredible way to bring the beauty of sacred art and the message of formation into Christlikeness to the masses. The journal provided a new method for exposing the world to the message of Christian Spiritual Formation.

Pastoring in an urban setting the most formidable expression that I had seen of formation, of any kind was the model that Alcoholics Anonymous and its counterparts Cocaine Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous use. Hurting men and women whose lives had fallen apart at the seams were meeting in secluded spaces were they could in complete anonymity, transparency and vulnerability share their pain. The message was clear. They were being formed to sobriety. They were learning to live without dependency on drugs and alcohol.

Spiritual Formation is a far more widely known concept than it was ten years ago yet in many ways we have failed to attract the masses that desperately need what Christian Spiritual Formation offers—the message of being formed to Christlikeness. Often we are simply satisfied to have a saving relationship with Christ. We need a transformative one. I know a personal trainer, but knowing a trainer and taking advantage of what the trainer has to offer are two very different things.

At St. John’s – Downtown, I have tried to establish small groups that would provide the space and place for the experience of transformation to begin. Few have taken advantage of the opportunity. Perhaps I was inept in sharing the proper invitation, my own zeal may have clouded the way.

A member of our congregation who had attended an introductory six weeks Spiritual Formation group once responded, “Well, to be honest, I just checked it off of my to do list.” I was taken aback. Here this incredibly educated, articulate teacher was unable to grasp the value of the spiritual practices that promote our needed spiritual transformation.

What I am learning is what AA already knows. I must keep talking the talk of Spiritual Formation. We can be trained to do what Jesus did. We can learn to love those who hate us and get on our last nerve, really we can. I am learning. We can practice disciplines that foster our life with God in the same way that those in recovery attend daily and weekly meetings to be trained for sobriety.

Yet, sobriety is not enough we yearn for relationship in Christ. We long to have the deepest needs of our soul made whole. Our quest must be as intentional as those seeking sobriety. We seek life. Life—in the pattern of Christ abiding in his father and being filled with the fullness of God.

The message can never change but my methods have to. I must tell my story and hold the space for others who in their own time will seek a space and place where they, too, can begin the process of transformation into Christlikeness.

Like Conversations Journal, I will keep the conversation going. I have moved it to the big room, our sanctuary. I no longer expect people with busy, distracted and dysfunctional lives to come looking for me and the tools of spiritual formation. I upon the urging of my daughter have now brought Spiritual Formation to every sermon I preach at St. John’s.

As with AA, I am reminded that when the time is right those who are searching will find what they need.

This is the message of Spiritual Formation: God is available when you are ready to be conformed to the image of His Son.

I love you and there’s nothing you can do about it!!


Join the Conversation

Have you seen people check off the message and methods of spiritual formation as just another “been there, done that”?

Where do you think that the method of sharing the tools and gifts of spiritual formation need to change? What might that look like?

Oh my God… That’s Me!

I’m a contemplative pastor thanks to Eugene Peterson.

We started at St. John’s United Methodist Church, grateful to our Sr. Pastor Kirbyjon Caldwell, in the heart of downtown Houston. We began our work there the way we did everything. We worked HARD!

Rudy and I are both entrepreneurial and we know how to scrub floors and shake hands. We did whatever needed to be done and that was a lot.


Remembering the Streams: Modeled by a Breakfast with My Dad

My father has always been ahead of his time. As an African American man in the late 60’s early 70’s he was self-employed and while that was rare in my neighborhood it provided my sister and I with some incredible experiences. My father’s faith was and remains one that is a celebration of the joys of all the streams or the six great traditions as my friend Richard Foster calls them. (more…)

We Are All Hungry

That very first day I stood in the serving line for the Bread of Life we were serving a Wednesday meal out under the pecan trees. I stood that fall evening at the beginning of the line passing out the plastic serving ware—you know the kind that have all the white utensils, a salt and pepper packet and a little napkin. I had never served—not in this way. Oh, I have served all of my life but only to my peers.  To men and women who looked like me and shopped where I shopped and took their children to the same school. You know, it was a kind of mutuality in service. (more…)

Spiritual Directors From the Past and Present

I have been gifted with the delight of having several spiritual companions who have guided, taught and helped me pray along the way. Companions who have shared their very best selves with me as we have nurtured our souls and sought out the wondrous mystery of life with God. I am grateful to them all.

In the late 90’s I met Sister Mary Dennison as I attended the Spiritual Directors training at the Cenacle Retreat House in Houston. She urged me to read the classic spiritual literature and let me tell you it’s timeless stuff. (more…)

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