When I was 19 years old, Jesus Christ saved me from a life of futility and sin. By his grace, God not only ignited in my heart new affections for Christ and other Christians, he also gave me a clear sense of purpose and calling and dislodged the hopelessness that previously characterized my life. The all-consuming call on my life now was to glorify God in everything I did, and I was ready to respond to that call. “I’ve wasted 19 years of my life,” I reasoned, “I need to make up for lost time.”
Soon after my conversion and from a desire to give myself to vocational ministry, I completed my sophomore year at the University of Portland and transferred to The Master’s College (TMC)—a small Christian college north of Los Angeles—in order to study the Bible and prepare for ministry.
Religious Busyness as a Path to Spiritual Growth?
Shortly after I arrived at TMC, I sought ways I could serve God and grow as a Christian. I went on a local mission trip, joined a Bible study, went regularly with friends to Santa Monica’s Third Street Promenade to evangelize, packed my class schedule, started playing drums for my church’s college group, and even joined the cross-country team—all within the first semester. But my unofficial plan to catapult myself into spiritual maturity backfired, and I soon found myself in a mire of spiritual confusion.
At a time when I should have been growing my roots deep and focusing on the basics of Christian discipleship, I pursued busyness in ministry. Partly out of ignorance but mostly out of pride I believed that spiritual growth was stimulated chiefly by religious activity, and that my maturity was gauged by the amount of such activity I was involved in. The busier I was–or, rather, the more set apart from others in terms of activity–the better. Unfortunately, it didn’t take long to learn that the tender branches of my newly sprouted faith could not bear the weight of such rigorous, extraordinary demands.
Over time and through the counsel of wise friends and family, the Lord drew me out of my spiritual malaise. The temptation to overload my life remains, however, and I still battle against the lure of busyness for its own sake and engaging in too much activity.
Resistance to the Ordinary
That’s why I am grateful for books like Michael Horton’s Ordinary: Sustainable Faith in a Radical, Restless World. In Ordinary, Horton argues for what he calls a sustainable approach to Christian faith; an approach characterized by quiet faithfulness, commitment to a local church, and slow, steady spiritual growth.
Horton’s vision of the Christian life is placed in direct contrast with the typical approach taken by many millennial Christians. We twenty-to-thirty somethings are a restless bunch, characterized by, if anything, a firm resistance to the ordinary.
‘Ordinary’ has to be one of the loneliest words in our vocabulary today. Who wants a bumper sticker that announces to the neighborhood, ‘My child is an ordinary student at at Bubbling Brook Elementary’? Who wants to be that ordinary person who lives in an ordinary town, is a member of an ordinary church, and has ordinary friends and works an ordinary job? Our life has to count! We have to leave our mark, have a legacy, and make a difference. And all of this should be something that can be managed, measured, and maintained. We have to live up to our Facebook profile. It’s one of the newer versions of salvation by works (12).
But whether it’s millennials reacting against the “self-focused and consumeristic” approach of their Baby Boomer parents and grandparents, or, forty years earlier, the Boomers reacting to their parent’s lifestyle by developing programs that were “orientated around personal improvement and church growth” the underlying problem is the same in both cases. “[B]oth of these generational fads,” Horton explains, “share something in common: an impatience and disdain for the ordinary” (18).
Sustainable Faith is Persevering Faith
But a constant discontent with the ordinary and obsession with the remarkable can prove spiritually unhealthy, even deadly. If we are consumed with propelling ourselves past the ordinary, we will tend to trade slow, hidden, quality growth for growth that quick and visible, but less substantive. Following such a path to maturity can lead to developing a superficial faith that withers in the face of difficulty and ultimately falls away (see Luke 8:13).
To pursue a sustainable faith, then, is to pursue a persevering faith. Because of this vital connection between sustainability and perseverance, we would do well take heed to Horton’s counsel. In the next articles I will reflect on three lessons I’ve learned.