One of the pleasures of being in several different places lately (St. Louis, Kansas City, Lawrence, Belleville; Baptist, Methodist, Mennonite congregations; inner cities, suburbs, and corn fields; compact cars, tow trucks, Corvettes; coffee shops, restaurants, parks, churches, libraries, baseball stadiums, skeeball leagues – I could go on and on) is that I get to interact with lots of different people. While this doesn’t make up for the pervading sense of dislocation the last few years have brought, it does bring opportunities to expand the ways I think about issues that are important to me. All of us can easily “groove” ourselves into listening only to people who think like we do; such a life is simpler and more stable, though it lacks a certain robust quality (like the difference between store-brand ketchup and a five-star pasta sauce).
Spiritual formation has long been an interest of mine. While most other believers asked questions about how many people “walked the aisle” or “made professions,” during my childhood I kept wondering: What are we doing with folks AFTER they join the movement? Or, like Shane Claiborne puts it – In addition to life after death, does Christianity have anything to say about life BEFORE death? People I’ve worked with in ministry settings have pointed out that many churches know how to give an invitation at the close of a service, or lead people in “The Sinner’s Prayer” (current controversies notwithstanding), but relatively few churches/Christians are confident or consistent in their preparations for disciple-making ministries. It sometimes feels like we expect spiritual formation to take care of itself because of some holy blessing from the Lord.
How can we talk more (or at least better) about spiritual formation in our congregations? What kinds of practices benefit people in their spiritual development? Is practicing our faith about more than weekly worship attendance and a daily quiet time? These are the kinds of questions I asked of several people I’ve gotten to know over the past few years, people who are leaders in their faith communities, people whose robust faiths have inspired my own in various ways, people who represent different faith traditions and races and age brackets and roles and experiences – but who all share a commitment to Christian faith and have something to add to a conversation about these issues.
I’ve asked each person the same seven questions. As I receive their responses, I’ll post them here every few days. You are invited to add your own comments along the way. After the initial batch (perhaps seven different interviews?), you’re welcome to submit your own answers to me through e-mail for future inclusion on the blog. My hope is that these interviews will inspire all of us to approach the tasks of spiritual formation/discipleship with more thoughtful intention, that they will improve our ministries, that they will enhance the ways we talk and think about how our faith can progress from milk to meat (or from strained bananas to brussels sprouts, if you’re vegan!).