Over the last several years I have witnessed four Celebration of Life/Memorial services for friends who I would say each finished well as people. As I remember Randy, Kris, Mary, and Bill, I am continually struck by the beauty of their lives. It’s the sort of beauty that Simone Weil speaks of when she writes that two things wake us up in the world: pain and beauty. A person who finishes well is a beautiful thing to behold.
In pondering their lives, I am also personally challenged by the reality that finishing well is not simply an inevitability. “The world, the flesh, and the devil are in fierce opposition to the Christian way and wreck many lives that start off beautifully,” writes Eugene Peterson. Spiritual maturity is not like hopping on a train just before it leaves the station and expecting to make it to the final stop or destination (a C.S. Lewis metaphor). More than showing up is required. A deep communion and cooperation with the Spirit is necessary.
The great need in the church today is not how to get more people interested in Jesus but how to help them sustain that interest in Jesus. Good starts in the Christian life seem like a dime a dozen, while good endings seem far less common. There are so many distractions, disruptions, and barriers that discourage and derail us from a maturing faith. In this disorienting post-pandemic season in the life of the church, we must lean into James Houston’s words, “If we have been born again, then we must also be taught to live again.”
One of our central questions at VantagePoint3 is, How do we help adults connect good beginnings with good endings? Or perhaps more specifically, how can we help leaders cultivate conditions where adults can grow lifelong into persons of greater wisdom, integrity, compassion, joy, and service as apprentices to Jesus?
There is much that we can say in response to these questions. We have learned a lot over the last 23 years. But two elements, in particular, are worth emphasizing here:
- In an age of superficiality and distraction, adults need places of spiritual reflection and conversation if they are to mature lifelong in Christ. Our research tells us that many adults are looking for places to go deeper in their faith. They are yearning for more than the chitchat prompted by the fill-in-the-blank small group questions. They want meaningful conversation around the biggest questions of their lives.
- In an age of loneliness, isolation, and division, leaders must learn to build communities of belonging and practice for adults. It is in close relationships with others that we discover how Christ is actually, specifically, beautifully active in the fabric of our everyday lives. Over the last twenty years, we have learned that our attention to cultivating the relational environment for learning is as important, and perhaps more so, than our attention to the content being offered. The cultivation of “intense, thick community” is both a means and an end to growing, maturing persons in Christ.
As we turn our attention toward the end of 2023, we will be spotlighting both of these two elements. We continue to be deeply burdened by the pervasive superficiality and isolation of so many Christians; there is so much more to the Christian life. Our sights remain set upon the Spirit’s deepening and companioning work amidst these cultural challenges. Let’s join in with God’s activity in, among, and through us, patiently connecting good beginnings with good endings.
Eugene Peterson writes, “It is not unusual for any of us to begin something wonderful, and it’s not unusual for any of us to do things that are quite good. But it is unusual to continue and persevere. The difficulties aren’t for the most part external but internal—finding the energy and vision to keep the effort going.”
How are we going to continue and persevere in the Christian life?
How are we going to find the energy and vision to keep the effort going?
How will our lives connect good beginnings and good endings?
I remember warmly this afternoon Randy, Kris, Mary, and Bill (Hebrews 13:7). They are unusual and beautiful reminders to me that Christian maturity is not a pipe dream. There are people who do learn and mature and take on a “family resemblance” to God’s loving family. There are men and women who “grow up” and finish well in Christ.
May we become communities of men and women who continue and persevere in this life of faith… In Jesus’ name.