Real Transformation or a Pleasant Experience?

Today I ran across an interesting commentary on the quick fixes churches apply to the church growth problem. Dan Dick was writing about the United Methodist experience, but his comments could apply across the board. He considered the measures the denomination and local churches had taken to reverse church decline, and noted that “The United Methodist Church has suffered through over 50 years of “church-in-box” programs that have produced poor results at best.”

He goes on to describe the effects of the Disciple Bible Study, a UM series of scripture studies and spiritual discipline training:

“Disciple Bible Study came closest to delivering transformation, but ultimately ‘popular’ did not translate into ‘effective.’ Literally thousands of people have had wonderful, meaningful, enjoyable Disciple experiences. However, a variety of independent follow-up evaluations indicate that there is a very low retention rate, that few people adopt sustained spiritual formation practices, and few report any transformed behavior in their daily lives. I hear about the handful whose lives were completely changed, and I do not devalue any such experience—but unless Disciple has been an integrated component of a comprehensive developmental process of spiritual formation, it remains a pleasant experience for the vast majority.”

I believe in Bible study. But all too often we only scratch the surface of the scripture, and fail to wrestle with the bracing, demanding call of God in his word. I believe in spiritual disciplines. Spiritual disciplines in American Christian circles have all the romance and mystery of medieval lore these days, but are they embraced deeply enough to change lives? Are we all having “wonderful, meaningful, enjoyable” experiences that ultimately fail to bring about transformation? Or are we really growing in the love and knowledge of Jesus Christ and doing the good works that God has prepared for us to do?

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