Paideia – final thoughts for now

A few final, loosely connected thoughts regarding Paideia.

The model of discipleship that most of us (at least here in the U.S. Evangelical world) is missing something in my opinion.  I say this for a variety of reasons.  Think of the way discipleship has happened for most of us.  It generally involves two major settings.  The first is in larger classroom type settings where we listen to teaching.  This can be teaching from the pulpit or programatic type teaching.  Some programs try to incorporate small group dynamics into the mix (think cell groups or studies such as Experiencing God or the various Beth Moore studies). Others are much more lecture oriented.

The other is individual participation in spiritual disciplines (Bible reading, prayer, fasting, solitude, etc.).  There is no formal oversight or accountability in this for most of us.  There are “accountability groups” that meet but this is almost always informal in nature.  So the effectiveness of this is very dependent upon the individual’s incorporation of these disciplines in their lives by their own efforts.  At the end of the day, there isn’t any way around that type of individual responsibility but given the radical individualism of our culture I wonder if we lean upon this less because of a sense of responsibility than a sense of isolation.  That is to say, we emphasize this a great deal because we just don’t know any other way to do it.

One other thing that I should mention is discipleship also takes place in the conference or retreat within our culture.  We are willing to go to seminars and listen to a lot of lectures or maybe even a retreat where we get a short-term guided type of experience.  These can be effective and life-changing but it is still lacking the element that I have thinking of lately.  What is missing within our model I believe is the ancient practice of spiritual direction.  This takes place more frequently within older, more hierarchical church settings (such as Roman Catholicism, Orthodoxy or the more Anglo-Catholic elements of Anglicanism) but very little within classical Protestantism, Evangelicalism and the Charismatic/Pentecostal settings.

Spiritual direction is a unique kind of individual relationship that involves formal mentoring and the assignment of specific tasks or exercises.  The closest that most of us would have experienced of this kind of relationship is counseling, a financial planner or a personal trainer.  Two things likely discourage most of us from seeking out or participating in this kind of relationship.  The first is the lack of availability of spiritual directors.  I don’t think I know anyone who is specifically trained in spiritual direction although this practice goes back to the very earliest history of Christianity.  The other involves willingness to surrender what we perceive to be a bit of our personal spiritual autonomy.  I wonder if we are missing something.  I look at the pattern of my life and I am willing to pay money for financial advice or physical training.  I have also gone to counseling at various points in my life quite willingly.  But what about spiritual direction?  Am I willing to be mentored?  If I am honest with myself I think I need it.




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