Formation

A Way Beyond Spiritual Hoarding

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I am a hoarder of spiritual and theological explanations. I treat my soul like I treat the library in my office – gathering and cataloguing the best information and putting it all on display like a colorful curriculum vitae.

My Library is a Sham

The truth, though, is that my library is something of a sham. It’s more like rotted drywall than a sturdy bridge. Give it a poke and the whole edifice becomes a crumbly mess. It gives me a false sense of confidence in the wisdom I possess, and it certainly says nothing of my character.

The library is not purely for show, of course. I depend on it to be my reservoir from which I can lead and teach others. But that too is something of a sham, I’m learning. Hoarding makes me a great regurgitator too.

All the explanation I hoard is not categorically bad. But it is also not sufficient on its own. In order to grow up into salvation and become a participant in God’s mission, I need training.

To grow up into salvation & become a participant in God’s mission, I need training. Click To Tweet

Explaining vs. Training

Libraries lined with the best resources are good – binders stuffed with copious notes from the hottest conferences are great – but gritty, on-the-ground training in the ways of Christ is crucial for becoming more than a theological hoarder and regurgitator.

Although this notion is not ground breaking, (as you well know, astute reader), I continue to be struck by how many visible, respected leaders are good explainers, while fewer are good trainers.

Many leaders have genuinely experienced deep spiritual formation. They are rightfully consulted because of the quality of fruit that characterizes their ministry. But not many of those leaders are doing more than explaining what they know. Fewer are curating the conditions ripe for carving Jesus-shaped caverns in the soul.

Seminar-based contexts full of explanation are helpful in many ways. But those leading the seminars have stories to tell because they were trained in the ways of Christ over time amidst the often-painful contexts of real life, not because they heard a critical mass of great explanations.

No wonder many students successfully become parrots of their leaders but also fail to replicate them in character and wisdom.

If the notion that training is crucial for discipleship and mission is not novel, then why am I still hoarding and regurgitating so much explanation? Why are so few visible, respected leaders choosing training over explaining (that’s anecdotal of course, I would be happy to see data that suggests otherwise)?

Many students become parrots of their leaders but fail to replicate them in character & wisdom. Click To Tweet

Why is training harder to come by than explaining?

I suspect that it’s harder because training is an inherently kenotic process. That is to say, training in the way of Jesus is nothing less than an embodied, self-emptying, cruciform dialogical relationship in service of another. Training gives up advantages and rights, stoops down and comes near, so that the other can grow.

Paul’s exhortation to the community in Philippi to mimic this posture had bite precisely because it was the posture in which he led them. Many explanation-based leadership models miss this point entirely while at the same time doing a great job of describing what Paul meant.

Alongside Leadership

The vision of the self-emptying, resurrected Christ is the fullest picture for what training in righteous means. If leading others doesn’t look like taking on the posture of a servant and humbly walking alongside them toward obedience, then its not training in the way of Jesus, and it might be perpetuating cycles hoarding and regurgitating spiritual explanation.

I suspect that it’s harder because training is also non-positional. Explaining takes place from a position of authority, success, or credentialing. But training takes place in via. Training walks with others along the way, embracing the reality that both leader and student are en route along an often perplexing and unpredictable journey.

Success is harder to idolize when you’re leading or being led in via. By virtue of being on a journey, the leader has not arrived at a terminal point from which to make pronouncements. Along the way, what matters most is the wisdom and presence for making it through the trials that lie just around the corner. It’s often easier to hoard or regurgitate information than it is to risk failing.

It’s often easier to hoard or regurgitate information than it is to risk failing. Click To Tweet

The way beyond spiritual hoarding and regurgitation is training, an inherently kenotic and non-positional posture. This possibility does not leave us with a false dichotomy between explaining and training, but rather recognizes and resists the inertia around each pole that tugs our habits in a distinct direction.

[Photo by Taddie88, CC via Flickr]

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