Adults Want Help With Spiritual Growth…What’s Your Next Step?
Written by Pam Edwards on March 25, 2015
I would like to have a dollar for every conversation I have with a friend, a facilitator of one of the VP3 processes, a pastor or leader, and even with myself, around “what are you thinking about for next steps?”
Deep in the DNA of my spiritual life, and therefore the lens I see others’ personal spiritual DNA, and also the “BIG C” life of the church, is that we ought to be thinking about our next steps for growth. There are always next steps. Jesus talks about things that grow all the time. There is an expectation that we, too, will grow. And in my language, I’ve adopted the words, “What are your next steps?”
To a friend it may sound like, “So, what’s your next move?”
To a facilitator of The Journey process, “Are you helping each of your group participants think about their next steps after The Journey concludes?”
To a Pastor and church leader, “Are you thinking about your church’s next steps for adult spiritual growth? Do you find yourself thinking about some kind of pathway for that growth?”
Let me pull back the curtain on ways we may find our selves thinking about next step conversations.
In this sketch, Paradigm #1 suggests a linear view of spiritual next steps. This sketch assumes that spiritual growth is always forward and growth is upward along a predictable path. I’m pretty sure that all of us fall suspect to some of this thinking because of the world we live in and the desire to produce results.
In my adult development classes we called these “stage theories”. Many a text has been written on different phases, levels and stages of adult progression. The feeling you may be having right now as you read about these (hum drum…I’m clicking out) unveils the gap we know to be true.
God’s Spirit alive in our lives doesn’t always reveal itself in linear forward steps of growth. These stage theories are helpful, but they can also leave us disappointed or frustrated. “What level am I at?” “How do I get to the next phase?” “How far have I advanced?”
Perhaps a more life-giving sketch is Paradigm #2.
The musical notes symbolize the ongoing, always present and active, Spirit of God in our lives. The notes imply that there is “someone to listen to or music to be heard.”
The stick figure symbolizes an adult seeking to respond to the sounds of the Spirit, so that their next movement is in step with the Spirit. These movements are anything but linear and more like a dance step that moves in different directions, but always God-ward along the long walk of faith.
Spiritual progress “tends to come in cycles throughout our lives, with only a broad and hardly predictable progressive order. Instead of stepping up to higher and higher stages, as if achieving one stage leads to the next level and the next, we tend to vacillate back and forth between the poles that we seek to resolve. We move “from fear to love” and then back “from love to fear,” for example in a dynamic process that is never complete.
Rather than resolving the tensions once and for all, the movements continue to call us to conversion and transformation. Rather than allowing us to conquer some aspect of life and move on to the next stage of spiritual development, we are called to return to prayer, to love, and to intimacy with God.”[i]
As you think about your own spiritual next steps, or movement, as well as those you have conversations with, or lead, it is reasonable to expect that the more practice we exercise in forgiving, for instance, the easier and more natural it will become—we will grow or mature.
It has also become abundantly clear to me, and is evidenced by continual feedback assessments we gather from participants in the VantagePoint3 processes, that purposeful, relational community cultivates the ideal conditions for adult spiritual growth. Strangers, who become friends over time, help us hear the sound of the Spirit and give us courage to move and take next steps.
Perhaps the better question for me to get a dollar for asking is this:
As you listen to God, and those close to you,
what next move does it seem like you hear God asking you to respond to?
[i] Henri J.M. Nouwen with Michael J. Christensen and Rebecca J. Laird, Spiritual Formation: Following the Movements of the Spirit (Harper One, 2010) 134-135.