Last night the New York Jets upset the New England Patriots to win the Super Bowl. The Patriots were expected to become the first National Football Team to ever go unbeaten in 19 games, but it was not to be. Tom Brady, former University of Michigan star, quarterback of the New England Patriots, and most Valuable Player in the National Football League this year, was denied his 4th Super Bowl Ring.
Last month I watched an interview with Tom Brady, which highlighted the fact that he never attracted much attention as a college prospect, then was finally selected in the 6th round of the NBA draft, the 199th player to be taken. Tom Brady never had as much talent as other pros, but he made up for it with his competitiveness, toughness, and, most of all, his vision and ability to orchestrate plays. Brady knows how to read defenses better than anyone and can visualize everything that is going to happen.
Here’s what caught my attention, though. In a reflective moment, Brady said, “Why do I have 3 Super Bowl rings and believe that there is something greater out there for me? I wish I knew. There has to be something more. There are other parts of me that I wish I could find.”
That’s how I view the season of Lent. Lent is a time when we reconnect with who we are, where we are going, and who we can become. It’s a time when we intentionally seek a greater connection with God by journeying with Jesus to the cross.
Lent is the most sacred 40 days of the year for me. I love Ash Wednesday, Maundy Thursday and Good Friday because it is worship and liturgy that forms me spiritually. I take seriously the call to give up whatever stands in the way of an intimate relationship with Jesus. And I enjoy pondering the gospel accounts of the journey that began when Jesus set his face toward Jerusalem after Peter’s declaration at Caesarea Philippi.
I’ve discovered that the best way for me to travel with Jesus is to slow down, for when I live at breakneck speed, I often neglect my relationship with God. Lent provides an opportunity to recover the depths of spirituality which so often remain hidden in the course of the demands of ministry. Slowing down also means going back to the spiritual disciplines which keep all of us in love with God.
Six years ago Companions in Christ introduced me to spiritual formation in a deeper way, as I attempted to listen deeply to the Holy Spirit at work in scripture and in my life. Learning about and practicing classical spiritual practices opened new pathways of self-awareness, obedience and faithfulness. It also reminded me that cultivating our spiritual lives lies at the heart of congregational health. The deepest needs of people today are not to volunteer for one more program, work at one more bazaar, bake one more cake, or pound one more nail in a Habitat house, even though these are all important ways to serve. The cry of the heart is to encounter God in transforming ways by developing our spiritual life in a community of faith.
That’s why I was especially intrigued to read about a recent self-study done by Willow Creek Community Church called Reveal: Where Are You? According to the study, Willow Creek’s 30 year strategy of pouring millions of dollars into creating programs to meet perceived needs really wasn’t forming mature Christians.
Founder and pastor Bill Hybels called this study “the wake-up call of his life.” At his Leadership Summit, he confessed, “Some of the stuff that we have put millions of dollars into, thinking it would really help our people grow and develop spiritually, when the data actually came back, it wasn’t helping people that much. Other things that we didn’t put much money into and didn’t put much staff against is stuff our people are crying out for… We made a mistake. What we should have done when people crossed the line of faith and become Christians, we should have started telling people and teaching people that they have to take responsibility to become ‘self feeders.’ We should have gotten people, taught people how to read their Bible between services, how to do the spiritual practices much more aggressively on their own.”
- Do your many church programs help people grow, or are you just keeping people busy?
- Are lives changed in your church, or are you simply functioning as a social service agency?
- Are numbers all that matter, or could growth mean going deeper rather than farther?
- How might your church look different if you were to equip people to become “self-feeders,” to develop spiritual practices that will last a lifetime?
- Do you ever give church members permission to slow down, to simply experience God rather than get stuff done?
- What might happen if we were to ban all church meetings during Lent and encourage every church member be part of a Bible study group focused on spiritual practices?
- Are there parts of ourselves: body, mind and spirit, that we have yet to find? How are you leading your church in spiritual formation? Will you remember to start with yourself?
Dear Tom Brady, I know you were hoping for your 4th Super Bowl ring. But don’t worry. That’s not the “something more” for which you are seeking, anyway. There is something even greater out there for you. But you have to go deep to find it. Lent is a perfect time to begin. You might start with ashes. This Wednesday. At a church nearest you.