Several years back I had a conversation about spiritual growth with a close friend.  Ben was bemoaning the fact that churches generally give little input to parents on getting their teenagers ready for adulthood.

I agreed with Ben, but told him there is an underlying problem–the dominant model of Christian growth in so-called conservative churches is behavioristic.  In other words, we mainly focus on people keeping their spiritual noses clean, and the way we do this is by having them jump through various hoops (read programs) we are have set up as indispensable.

These programs (they no longer feel like ministry) tend to promote disembodied principles rather than appreciating the metaphor of a journey or pilgrimage.  Granted, there are many invaluable principles to remember, but the Christian life should not be reduced to them.  Complexities which get reduced to simplicities where it is not warranted are labeled by philosophers as “reductionistic.”  It seems evangelical America is guilty of a dangerous form of spiritual reductionism.  

A journey or pilgrimage with its many twists and turns takes into consideration the uncertainties of life.  It also underscores, as Will Willimon likes to say, “a richer, thicker Chrisitan life.”  It further reminds us, as John Bunyan did so well in The Pilgrim’s Progress, that every Christian’s path of growth has challenges and opportunities for growth which are unique.  And that is indeed a refreshing truth amidst cookie-cutter approaches to Christian growth!


  1. Ben

    Good observations. Reductionism is truly a trap spiritual leaders need to be aware of. And it’s true that all Christians have their own journey that is unique to them. In Portland, where I live, this view has almost become sacrosanct; almost a “to each his own” view of the Christian life. Since we are all “jacked” as my pastors like to say, who can truly say anything to anyone, especially non-believers? I’m always curious about the “anti-program” rid. My church doesn’t “do programs” for the reasons you mention. But isn’t Sunday morning worship a program and the kids ministry a program and youth group a program and small groups a program? It seems that our distaste is not for programs, but for other people’s programs. If everyone’s journey is so unique, how do we talk with each other, encourage each other and share each others’ burdens? Are there common principles related to marriage, parenting, finances, etc., we apply from the Word? Are there common struggles/challenges in each also? I’m all for the personal journey. I just think we’re supposed to journey together.

  2. Dave Post author

    Hey Ben,

    Yes, same principles and same destination for the pilgrimage. But the twists and turns are varied as Bunyan so well illustrates

    And again like Bunyan, many friends to assist, encourage, and give of the gifts we don’t have.


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