As a pastor it’s easy to believe that everyone cares about spiritual formation as much as I do. In a community group years ago, I remember rambling on about something our church was beginning and something I, as a pastor at the church, really wanted everyone to understand. I was very excited about it and shared with this group how important all of this was going to be for them. Afterward, as my wife and I recapped the night, she gently said to me, “Chris, you need to remember that you care more about the church than anyone else.”
She was right. I care about the word “missional,” and how often a person interacts with his coworkers about faith. I care about church attendance, reactions to sermon series, and how a person defines “the gospel.” But most people don’t. They care about their kids, their families, their jobs, and their bills. They care about life. And this realization is how Dallas Willard saved my ministry.
He wrote: “Life, our actual existence, is not included in what is now presented as the heart of the Christian message, or it is included on marginally. This is where we find ourselves today…Transformation of life and character is no part of the [current] redemptive message” (The Divine Conspiracy, page 41).
Willard helped me see that the questions my people were asking had more to do with their lives than my church: How does life with God change my relationship with my family? How does discipleship under Jesus reorient my future plans? Does my faith have anything to do with the people I dislike? How do I say “no” to the guys at work? And why should I? These questions have nothing to do with church teaching campaigns or theological minutia—they have higher stakes; they matter to people who live in the real world, not a church subculture. They are, as Willard would put it, issues of discipleship or non-discipleship.