A simple formula for spiritual formation
By Bill Salier, Youthworks College Principal
In Korean culture there is a tradition called Doljabi, where family and friends hold a party on a child’s first birthday to discover their future. Six to eight items are placed before the child, each representing possible futures. For example, a pen represents a writer, money represents finance, a ball represents an athlete and so on. The child is put on a mat in front of these objects, and whatever they pick up first will be their vocation, with the next two items being their passions.
Often, one of the challenges of youth and young adult ministry is vocational guidance, helping young people to decide what to do with the rest of their life. If only these conversations were as simple as Doljabi!
When addressing questions from young people, it is key to understand vocation in the broad sense of service of God. Vocation is a function of the wider concern of Christian formation especially if we take a wide view, beyond career and work, and see it broadly as addressing our identities and our way of being in the world. If we can help people get this Romans 12:1-2 concept, the rest will more easily follow. Essentially, what we should do is a function of who we are and how we should ‘be’.
These thoughts have been prompted by my recent engagement with the thinking of Stephen Garber, author and lecturer at Regent College in Canada. Garber is concerned to think about how to preserve young adults in the Christian faith in those years we know are so critical. He is interested in Christian or spiritual formation, and how that will work itself out in action in the world. He explores that through his two books: The Fabric of Faithfulness: Weaving Together Belief and Behaviour¹ and Visions of Vocation: Common Grace for the Common Good².
There is so much that is stimulating in these two books, but I want to reflect on one aspect of Garber’s thought that I think is helpful for our ministries to young people.
Garber’s formula (my word, not Garber’s) for persevering faith, and therefore spiritual formation and vocational guidance, is a coherent worldview allied with a mentor, situated within the context of a like-minded community. This is simple, and yet profound, especially in the way that he unpacks it.
A Christian Worldview
A Christian worldview is a view of reality shaped by the Scriptures. To think ‘worldviewishly’ is to help people to be able to grasp the Scriptures in their contours and outline and ask how they answer the big questions about the nature of reality, want it means to be human, the meaning of history and morality. And to answer these questions in dialogue with alternatives that are around.
The grand story the Bible tells provides the essential building blocks for establishing an identity (who am I?) and the parameters for thinking about action in the world (what should I do with my life?). It does this in the broadest terms by telling a story with four basic movements:
a. Ought: The story of creation and presents a picture of how the world ought to be. Fundamental here is the confidence that right and wrong have been stitched into the very fabric of creation and that we can see how a plan for how things ought to operate.
b. Is: The story of sin and the fall provides an ‘is’. This is the way the world is now … Rebellious and expressing that rebellion in a variety of ways in different contexts and cultures. This provides a clear-eyed view that things will not always be great, that they will be broken, corrupt, incomplete, and frustrating.
c. Can: The story of redemption that provides a ‘can’ that basically encompasses the story of redemption. Things can be different thanks to the work of the Lord Jesus Christ in dying and rising to make possible the forgiveness of sins and the prospect of new life.
d. Will: The story of the consummation in the new creation that provides a ‘will’; the promise and hope that one day all things will be made new when the Lord Jesus returns. This enables the believer to live with hope and confidence in this future.
These four movements encompass the biblical worldview and help us locate our identities as the hopelessly and helplessly sinful, yet wonderfully loved, children of God by grace. We can consider what this might mean as we aspire to Christ’s likeness in a world that needs loving.
We may be teaching the Bible but are we building worldviews?
Here Garber stresses the point that we need to see in action what we talk about believing. We need to see the ‘Word made flesh’. And if we can find a mentor who will in some sense enflesh the Word for us that will better establish us in the worldview mentioned above. We get a small inkling of this dynamic in Paul’s letter to the Philippians when he commends both Timothy and Epaphroditus to the Philippians as characterising for them some elements of the portrait of the Lord Jesus he has outlined in Philippians 2.
Who ‘enfleshed’ Christ and what it means to follow him to you?
Who do you ‘enflesh’ Christ to?
Who is mentoring the young adults in your care?
A collection of mentors and mentees forms a like-minded community of faith that provides the context for exploring what vocation means for each member. Garber points to the powerful influence of the Clapham Sect, which involved William Wilberforce among others. Garber is part of a community in Washington, USA, that seeks to have Christian input into the culture through movies, books and other artistic endeavours to shed a little light in the darkness.
How could our communities better seek together to explore what it means to know the Lord Jesus and serve him in the world?
A simple formula: worldview + mentor + community.
As always so much more could be said, but how do we to respond to this?
Personally, I am thinking about how I can more self-consciously help young people develop a coherent Christian worldview that they be confident in. I want to be an active participant in a community that has constant conversations about how what we believe effects who we are and what we do with our lives. I am grateful for mentors who have enfleshed the word of life for me and seek to do this more faithfully for others. And I pray that the Lord will use this to help the young people I know persevere in their faith and find ways to live effectively and joyfully for others in his service.
So, how will you respond?
¹ Garber S 2007, The Fabric of Faithfulness: Weaving Together Belief and Behaviour, IVP, Westmont, IL.
² Garber S 2014, Visions of Vocation: Common Grace for the Common Good, IVP, Westmont, IL.