Have you ever experienced a challenge that compelled you to reach deep into your soul in search of the resources you needed to meet it? You feel equipped to deal with the challenge, but when you reach into that space – hunting for wisdom and answers – there’s nothing there! Or maybe there are a few fragments of something, but certainly not enough to effectively handle your challenge. And now not only can you not solve your problem, but you feel even worse – because all along, you thought the right stuff was in there. You might even be getting paid by your church to periodically access the stuff that’s supposed to be in there. I’ve experienced this often.

But how can that be? I am a leader – and leaders become leaders because they have the required amount of experience, giftedness or knowledge. Now I must face the reality that my training and talents aren’t enough. How did this happen? Why do I often feel empty when I’m supposed to feel full?

Beyond spiritual formationWhen I bought my car, I initially didn’t plan to buy the extended warranty – but when I called my mechanic, he explained that cars aren’t made like they used to be. Things used to be simpler – if something went wrong, you could pull into any service station and they could most likely diagnose the problem. But my new car had 21 computers running things! My mechanic suggested I get the extended warranty, since so much can go wrong with such a complex car.

Our lives are like that car – comprised of many parts, such as our bodies, minds, emotions, relationships and souls. We usually just want to know that they’re working, but in those moments when we fail to find the resources to meet the challenges we face, we become aware that something is missing. We want to meet the demands that are put on us, but we can’t.

Most of us are not aware of “the doctrine of inability,” which refers to the idea that, as humans, there are certain things that we are simply unable to do. We often respond to this realization with anger, depression or anxiety. We run and hide from our inadequacies, or try to compensate by focusing on our strengths and ignoring our weaknesses. And, like so many others both within and outside of the church, we often turn to “self-help” books and materials that claim they will “fix” or “improve” our spiritual formation.

We’d like to think that anything published under the moniker of “Christian” would have excellent intentions and be guaranteed to impact our lives, but as I learned at the Christian Bookseller Association conventions I used to attend, if something will sell, publishers will find it. Sales and profit are often more motivating than the prospect of truly helping readers – though that’s the banner under which these materials are published. For thousands of years, followers of Jesus have pursued practices that nurtured their relationship with God – but it wasn’t until the last decade or so that this focus on our spiritual formation has been distorted into another tool in the “Christian marketing machine.” I believe we need to get beyond spiritual formation to transcend these issues.

But why? Isn’t spiritual formation a good thing? Why should we need to get beyond it?

Because it is so easy to get stuck there, and fail to realize what else is needed in order to thrive as a person, a Christian and a leader.

Are you experiencing an emptiness or a lack of inner resources to face the challenges of life and ministry? Do you feel a bit “lost” in your spiritual formation? Are there parts of your soul that feel malnourished or neglected? Next time, we’ll talk about an alternative to trying to strengthen our spiritual formation through coping mechanisms and consumer Christianity.

This entry is the first part of a four-part series by guest blogger Michael G. Bischof of SOULeader Resources. 

© 2015 Michael G. Bischof, SOULeader Resources. Used by permission. Dr. Michael G. Bischof (M.Div., D.Min.) is Founder and President of SOULeader Resources, an inter-denominational ministry established in 2000 to empower transformational wholeness in leaders, churches, denominations, and organizations. He is also Adjunct Assistant Professor of Spirituality at Fuller Theological Seminary and Azusa Pacific Seminary.

www.souleader.org – michael@souleader.org – (949)829-0625