Graeme Anderson is the Lead Pastor for Northside Baptist Church and an adjunct lecturer at Morling College. Prior to pastoral ministry Graeme was a primary teacher (and had a short and unremarkable career as an opera singer). He is an alumni of the Renovarè Institute, and was a Morling College Research Fellow in 2015. His research focused on the role of Christian spiritual formation in missional ecclesiology. So… spiritual formation is his shtick, and also what he will be speaking about at Seed’s August Coaching Night.
I asked him some questions about spiritual formation, which for many of us is an intangible concept. Below is Part One of our conversation.
How did you come to be interested in the area of spiritual formation?
I was frustrated with the fact that I was committed to Jesus, and had been all my life. I was heading into full time pastoral ministry and I was confronted with the reality that I didn’t really know what I was talking about when it came to Jesus. I knew the facts, the doctrine, and could even get my head around some deep ideas, but it wasn’t having an impact on my life – when it came down to it, it wasn’t a lived knowledge. I then started to read books by people who seemed to strongly suggest that life with Jesus not only involved a lived out knowledge but entailed deep and lasting change. I was intrigued. I had the opportunity to sit under the teaching of some of the more influential voices in Christian Spiritual Formation (Dallas Willard, Richard Foster, Jan Johnson, John Ortberg, James Bryan-Smith) and realised they weren’t so much teaching about the life with Jesus as they were simply living it and sharing out of their experience.
We all want to change and grow in the faith. Why do you think it is hard, and we don’t feel we are making headway?
When it comes down to it, it is about belief. One of the things I say is that we will always live up to our belief. We believe something when we are ready to act as though it were true. It may sound a little harsh, but I think the foundation of our frustration in the Modern Western Church is that when it comes down to it, we don’t really believe that Jesus offers us the best way to live. We might place our confidence in him for life after death. We may try to learn from him the right way to live, or how to avoid the wrong way to live. But we don’t really believe that Jesus has the best things to say about the most important things in life. Our focus is on getting people across the line from ‘unsaved’ to ‘saved’. But we don’t really know what do to next – how to live the life of salvation.
Is reading the Bible and praying enough for spiritual formation?
Yes. And no. Before we become genuine readers of the Bible and people of prayer, we need to learn how to listen. This generally involves learning how to be silent. When we know how to be silent before God we are ready to step into the world of the Scriptures without feeling the need to turn each reading into a propositional exercise (‘What is God telling me to do?’), instead we are able to hear God describe to us the character of God and what it looks like to live within the Kingdom of God. When we know how to be still before God we are ready to step into the world of prayer without feeling the need to present lists and wait for answers (‘What are you telling me to do?’), instead we are able to notice what God is already doing and participate in that.
For people trying to start something new, such as entrepreneurs, life can get really busy doing stuff. And even if that stuff is aligned with God stuff, it can crowd out devotional time. What do you recommend for busy people?
I recommend not being busy. Eugene Peterson says, ‘The busy pastor is a lazy pastor’. This is because the busy pastor is either allowing others to decide what she or he does with her or his time, or she or he is not committed to scheduling the week effectively. I think the same goes for entrepreneurs. When we’re doing ‘God stuff’ we can often provide good sounding justification for being busy. The sooner we cut back on focused time with God however, the less chance we have of knowing what God is up to and how we can align with God in what God is doing. I make sure I get to my calendar before anyone else does. I first block out times for space with God, then I block out times for space with family, then times for exercise, then time for work and play. Being busy is not only lazy, it’s boring – I have spent a lot of time with people in their ‘twilight years’ and I have never heard an older man or woman say, ‘I wish I’d been busier’.
Check out Part Two when we continue the conversation.