The biggest obstacle to spiritual formation

Jan 29, 2015 by

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I’ve spoken at a quite a few churches over the last few years and have had even more conversations with ministers and pastors at churches. Most of these conversations have been about hospitality, about how we can create more welcoming and hospitable faith communities.

And over the years I’ve come to discern what I think is one of the biggest problems facing our churches when it comes to spiritual formation generally and hospitality specifically.

What is that problem?

Scarcity.

Here’s how Brene Brown describes scarcity in her book Daring Greatly:

We get scarcity because we live it. . . . Scarcity is the “never enough” problem. . . . Scarcity thrives in a culture where everyone is hyperaware of lack. Everything from safety and love to money and resources feels restricted or lacking. We spend inordinate amounts of time calculating how much we have, want, and don’t have, and how much everyone else has, needs, and wants.

Scarcity is the “never enough” problem. A mindset that is “hyperaware of lack.”

Brene goes on to share this assessment from Lynne Twist:

For me, and for many of us, our first waking thought of the day is “I didn’t get enough sleep.” The next one is “I don’t have enough time.” Whether true or not, that thought of not enough occurs to us automatically before we even think to question or examine it. We spend most of the hours and the days of our lives hearing, explaining, complaining, or worrying about what we don’t have enough of . . . Before we even sit up in bed, before our feet touch the floor, we’re already inadequate, already behind, already losing, already lacking something. And by the time we go to bed at night, our minds are racing with a litany of what we didn’t get, or didn’t get done, that day. We go to sleep burdened by those thoughts and wake up to that reverie of lack. .  . . This internal condition of scarcity, this mindset of scarcity, lives at the very heart of our jealousies, our greed, our prejudice, and our arguments with life.

One of the biggest obstacles to spiritual formation is this “reverie of lack,” especially a felt lack of time, energy and resources.

That’s the mindset people are carrying into church where they will hear calls to be more missional or more hospitable or a more radical, committed and fired-up follower of Jesus.

But do you know what the person in the pew is feeling when they hear all this?

This: You’re making me tired. All that sounds exhausting.

Jesus = Exhausting. That’s the equation created by the mindset of scarcity. That’s the battle churches are facing when it comes to mission, ministry and spiritual formation.

For example. People at a church might complain about not connecting at church and about being lonely. They express a craving for deeper, more authentic community. So the church hires a small group minister to invest in small group ministry. And then guess what? No one has time for small groups. That’s a weekly commitment that people just don’t have time for.

We crave deeper community. We just don’t have the time or energy for it.

How many initiatives and ministries have been started up at churches — often at the request of members — only to have staff people standing around waiting for the members to show up?

That’s the paradox in many churches. Members and churches feel that they are spiritually sick and dying but no one has the time or energy to commit to the remedies, even remedies that we’ve requested and know that we need.

In many ways, it’s our exhaustion that has made us sick and it’s our exhaustion that prevents us from getting better. So we cycle downward, deeper into a mindset of scarcity.

More and more that’s what I’m hearing from ministers, pastors and church leaders. We can’t, they report, get our people to invest in the church, in ministries, in mission or in spiritual formation because our people report being exhausted, tired, stressed out and overburdened.

Governed by a mindset of scarcity the way of Jesus just sounds way too exhausting.

This is the first in a three-part series. See also parts two and three.

Richard Beck is professor and department chair of psychology at Abilene Christian University. He is the author of Unclean: Meditations on Purity, Hospitality and MortalityRichard’s area of interest — be it research, writing or blogging — is on the interface of Christian theology and psychology, with a particular focus on how existential issues affect Christian belief and practice. He blogs at Experimental Theology, where this post originally appeared. 


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