A Vicarious Spirituality?









I don’t talk to many people who are content in their spirituality.

I don’t talk to too many who say they are enjoying their relationship with God and feeling good about it.

It seems we are in constant struggle to grow and develop our own spirituality. Perhaps that’s why we are attracted to apparently successful images of church. I say ‘apparent’, because some genuinely are ‘successful’ and others are just apparent.

By being part of a happening church, where the worship is intense and the preaching is powerful I can feel like I am in a healthy place. I can feel like I am a powerful, victorious go ahead type of Christian. I think there are many who do actually develop vicarious spirituality – where their own faith is lived through the vibe of the church or the charisma of the leader, but it doesn’t actually take root in their own heart.

That’s a scary place to be, because all you have to do is ask the ‘what if?’ questions.

What if the church splits?
What if the preacher leaves?
What if you get a new job in another city?

More to the point…

What if you wake up one day and realise your spirituality is a thin veneer covering a vacuous space? What if you were to face reality and say that there is no ‘me and God’ there is only me and the ‘Sunday gathering’ and thru this event I meet God?…

What if you find yourself in a place where church fails to cut it for you?

I am all for inspiration, all for creating a vibe that engages people, but I am concerned that there are people living off the fumes of a ‘rockin church’. I am concerned that people have outsourced their own spiritual development to either a pastor or a ‘church’. And church is in inverted commas because I don’t think this really is church anyway.

Sometimes our structures tap into the dark places in our hearts and work against genuine spiriutal formation.

The solution? I don’t think we should seek to be less inspiring, less engaging. But somehow we need to create a space where people are both challenged and encouraged to ask the hard questions of themselves and then to take personal responsibility for their own discipleship – to form a faith that isn’t dependent on the competence of the worship leader, the charisma of the speaker or the vibe of gathering.

When we centre our efforts on creating an event that wows people we can only expect this kind of response. If we were to centre our efforts on helping people get to know Jesus then we probably won’t need to create such events. They may exist and may serve a purpose, but chances are they won’t undermine what we actually hope to do – to help people stand on their own two feet and know who they are in Christ.




7 thoughts on “A Vicarious Spirituality?

  1. Have you read anything by Peter Rollins? ‘Insurrection’ in particular covers the way in which people live their spiritual life through structures and others as a way of denying or hiding their emptiness/fears/doubts etc. etc.
    His books and blog come highly recommended by me. Not so much by the more orthodox folk.

      • Some of his stuff is pretty academic-y but Insurrection is toned down quite a lot for the lay folk 🙂 I find he’s very worth wrestling with.
        Basically, Insurrection discusses What does it mean to have a spirituality in the midst of an experience of the absence of God, like Jesus did on the cross? Do we still love God when ‘the cow stops giving the milk’ (his analogy)?

  2. Hamo, I’ve been there–the point where I see it’s “a thin veneer” and “church fails to cut it” for me. Since then, I’ve returned to the Liturgy, Church calendar, Fixed-Hour prayer, and the Catholic church. Nothing hip and sexy there…but it is rich.

    • A side-effect of my current state is that these questions of “What is church?” “What is mission?” “What is worship?” “What is community?” “What is discipleship?” “What is ____?” have really taken a back seat. Certainly (and to the offense of many), Catholics have defined these already and many within Catholicism accept them a priori. But I find myself digging into the Catechism, Vatican documents, history, and encyclicals and discovering some beautiful theology. Now, the Nicene Creed truly is a synthesis/summary of a broad range of thought and spiritual debate.

      When I hear an evangelical pastor engage in some extemporaneous prayer and I wonder “does he even know what he’s saying?”

  3. as a Catholic raised, AoG ‘converted’, Baptist baptised and disciples…New Day, Mosaic, village churches under coconut trees in Mozambique…and now kind of hanging around with Baptists again – all I have to say Hamo is RIGHT ON!

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