John Alan Turner

Speaker, Author, Mentor, Coach, Facilitator

Events-Based Spiritual Formation

When I was growing up, spiritual formation was tied to a series of events. There were youth rallies and lectureships and retreats and, of course, summer camp (which always ended with a forced march into the darkness and a campfire and a story about a group of kids who were going home from this very camp a few years ago and died in a car crash so if there's any unfinished business between you and the Lord you should make it right before you leave here). These were our "Mountain Top Experiences", and they were designed to charge us up enough to make it to the next event. It was like charging the battery on your laptop or your iPod. You knew the charge wouldn't last forever; it just has to last until you can plug in again.

See, we knew that the "spiritual buzz" always fades. Moses experienced this in Exodus 34:29-35. He went up on a mountain to talk to God, and, when he came back down to earth, his face was actually glowing. I'm sure it freaked people out, so he put a veil over his face. At first, it was just to avoid freaking everybody out. But the Apostle Paul says it changed after a while (see 2 Corinthians 3:13). Moses started keeping the veil over his face longer than he needed to, because he didn't want people to know that the glow had faded. He wanted them to think he was still charged up.

That's one of the problems with events-based spirituality. It gets easy to fake that glow and pretend you're still buzzed. But it fades. You know it. They know it. In fact, like your laptop, the charge starts fading more and more quickly over time.

In the end, you end up either faking it or looking for a bigger buzz, something that will give you a longer charge. If you went to one week of summer camp last year, go to two weeks this time. If your youth group had a fall retreat last year, add one for the spring this year and see what happens. What if we could have a youth rally every other weekend? Maybe that would give us the boost we need!

Yes, let's have a retreat once per quarter and a mission trip and a youth rally and two weeks of summer camp! Let's move to the mountain top so we never have to come unplugged!

Well, that's not very realistic, is it? We have to live in our houses in our neighborhoods and go to our jobs and drive on these roads. We can't spend every waking moment at an event designed to charge us up. We do not live on the mountain top, and, if we did, we'd grow weary of that life anyway. It's unsustainable. Besides, someone some time would ask the inevitable questions: What are we getting charged up for? So we can say how charged up we are? You charge something for a reason, don't you?

So, if real spiritual formation isn't about super-charged events like these, how does it happen?