Sometimes in my classes I place a book on the syllabus that I haven’t read before. It gives me a chance to incorporate fresh new material and learn a new perspective together with my students. There is certainly the potential for some “misses” here, but as long as an assigned text is notable and/or well-reviewed, it probably won’t be that bad as a pedagogical tool.
In my “Discipleship and Spiritual Formation” course this semester I have assigned MOVE: What 1,000 Churches Reveal About Spiritual Growth. Coming out of research done by Willow Creek Community Church (megachurch and early leader in the seeker-sensitive movement), the survey touched upon over 250,000 individuals in more than a thousand churches.
Though I do have questions about the details and reliability of their methodology and conclusions (as do others), one cannot argue with the sheer size of the undertaking…and the willingness to admit that their own church needed to change the way it was operating. One of their ideas that I really find fascinating is this: “not only do we find the same top priorities for the dissatisfied and satisfied….[but] helping people understand the Bible in greater depth is one of the top two priorities for those who are dissatisfied across all the believer segments.” Their study lifts up the Bible as of prime importance through all stages of a believer’s movement towards becoming a mature Christian.
The Bible. Imagine that. After all the time, money, and energy dedicated to a study of this sort we come right back to the basic building blocks of Christianity: the story of God. If this study’s information is accurate, it fills me with great hope as I continue to encourage ministers to engage others with and in the biblical narrative. Even if the findings aren’t at 100%, I agree that a renewed emphasis on the Word is essential. Far more than simple memorization of Scripture, this kind of engagement should seek deep identity with the themes, teachings, and story of the Bible. If the holy narrative is truly alive by the power of the Spirit, it is then not simply something “out there,” but something which must rather be deeply interior– not just to our minds, but to our worldviews and corresponding actions in our daily lives.
As my students are presenting on the findings in the book this week and next, I’m excited for the direction it will take our discussions of spiritual formation and discipleship. We’ve been utilizing the false dichotomy of discipleship as “what you know” vs. “what you do” as a way of framing the discussion thus far, and it seems that the findings and conclusions of this study will only serve to further our reflections as we consider what it is for our whole lives to be spiritually formed.