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Spiritual Formation & The American Dream - Organization and Over-structuring Everything

In the Introduction to this short series, I shared the idea that we are all being formed to value American ideals. Some of which line up well with the teachings of Jesus, and others don’t.

In the last post, we looked at individualism and some of the barriers it produces that prevent us from becoming fully formed disciples of Jesus.

A second American value which can hinder our growth as disciples of Jesus is the value of Organization and Structure. You could say that this is more of a symptom of our busyness than it is an American ideal, but regardless of how we define it, our lives are much more programmed than they used to be.

We see this most clearly in the lives of young families. Gone are the days when kids would wake up Saturday, run out the door at 9am and be back home for dinner. Between day camps, after school care, scouts, sports leagues, and other extracurricular activities, there is a program for any need your family has or any skill your child wants to develop. There are even non-profits that exist to help kids cultivate play.

Adults are not immune to this. We plan and schedule our activities weeks and sometimes months in advance. My wife and I often laugh over the thought that even if we had a free night on a Friday or Saturday to invite friends over for an impromptu game night, the likelihood that they would also be available was slim-to-none.

The ways in which we go about organizing our lives has even influenced how we think about the church. Church is often referred to as a place we go to or an event we attend, rather than a people who gather. Small groups were organized by churches out of the realization that meeting for an hour on Sunday wasn’t leading to the type of community we read about in the Bible. I love small groups when they are focused on the Scriptures, fellowship, sharing a meal together, and prayer (as we see in Acts 2:42). I think meeting once a week for these things is a great start for disciples to grow together. Yet, if this structured time of gathering is our only means for becoming like Jesus with others, we’re missing a lot of opportunities for growth.

Why is this so important? Because our spiritual growth does not fit neatly in a structured learning environment. If we want to make disciples like Jesus did, we have to examine both his structured and unstructured approaches to helping people know God and follow Him.

Jesus’ approach to discipleship was much more holistic. It was fluid, and allowed him to reach a multitude of people. While he did teach in the Temple and synagogues, he found opportunities to teach in other settings as well. Teaching wasn’t the only method he used to form his disciples, either. In the next series, we’ll explore the components that made Jesus’ approach to making disciples so fluid, and how we can incorporate these components in our lives as 21st Century Americans.

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