Nathan Foster recently admitted having a “broken ‘hoper'” – even when it comes to the Church. He says: “It doesn’t take many years of living life, watching the way things work out, the conclusions, the trends, the frailness and predicaments of the human experience, to become discouraged and give into cynicism. I want to be positive. I want to hope, particularly when it comes to the Church.” (Heart to Heart, July 15, Renovare website)
I must admit to having a damaged “hoper” about the Church as well. Foster describes exciting new pockets of training in Spiritual Formation, but says because life “functions at a speed and fullness that humans probably were not designed to handle with any degree of health, . . . . few people are able to, or choose to, carve out time to seriously attend to the growth of their souls.”
Churches have to take the leadership in teaching, preaching, and modeling a Messiah who is worth the sacrifice of our schedules, our twitter feeds, and our ambition. Our emphasis on bringing people into our church buildings (thereby supporting the church budget) has had the unintended consequence of squelching the spiritual formation of the people who are already there – as well as that of those we work so hard to bring in. As Foster says, “Many churches are just not equipped to be helpful to people who seriously long to learn to live as Jesus lived.” He goes on to say, “The loneliness and isolation that many earnest followers of Christ experience is profound.”
I have experienced that loneliness and isolation. I also know others who feel left out of the 21st century Church because of their desire to drink from a deeper well. One person told me recently, “I have outgrown my church. Now what do I do?”
Spiritual formation is not academic in nature; it is experiential and practical. It is the “with-God” life, the intentional decision to enter a life with God. It requires surrender and dedication from the individual Christ-follower. But it also requires a new vision from the Church. Foster challenges churches to muster up the intentionality and creativity to “carve out environments that help foster a deep commitment to Jesus Christ, places where we can ‘provoke one another to love and good deeds'” (Hebrews 10: 14).
The hallmarks of this “environment” include:
- choosing to live in the flow of the Spirit,
- challenging rigidity and judgmentalism,
- bringing people together for extended periods of time of study and practice, and
- building people into a community that commits to accountability and growth for each person and for the entire group.
I have been part of this kind of church “environment” through the Apprentice Series and have seen the joy and passion that comes from this discipleship challenge, as well as the deep grieving when it ends or is taken away. I pray that Nathan’s “broken ‘hoper”’ (and mine) will see a swell of commitment to the spiritual formation of individuals and congregations in the coming years!
Note: Nathan Foster holds a master’s degree in social work from the University of Denver. He is a licensed clinical social work and level III certified addictions counselor. Nathan currently works as an assistant professor of social work at Michigan’s Spring Arbor University. He is also Director of Teaching Ministries for Renovare, a spiritual renewal organization found by his father, Richard Foster, and others more than 25 years ago. He is also a bassist for Christy & the Professors, a band founded by his wife. He has written two books: “Wisdom Chaser: Finding My Father at 14,000 Feet” and his latest, “The Making of an Ordinary Saint.”
image of Nathan Foster from new.renovare.org