The Quest for Forward Progress in your Spirituality

by Rob Tims

Well, I’m going through it again, and I’m sure not alone.

I’m considering just how I’m going to read my Bible, journal, and pray more in 2018.

I struggle with the balance between picking myself up by my own bootstraps (sola boot strapa) and abusing the grace I’ve received and not doing anything to “work” on my spiritual growth. Searching the web for resources is absolutely dizzying, if not nauseating. Honestly, it drives my sense of futility and leads me to despair.

Working through some of this reminded me of this very helpful list by James Wilhoite of spiritual formation models that we put ourselves through.

  1. The Quick-Fix Model. This is the idea that the primary and desired way of God to work in our lives is through a quick spiritual fix … a “zap” that instantly cures our spiritual woes.  A book … a counseling session … a podcast … any one thing to be consumed is preferred by the individual, or perhaps even communicated by the church, in order for one to climb the ladder of spiritual formation.
  2. The Facts-Only Model. In this model, the most significant variable in determining whether a person grows or not is their intake of spiritual truth. Spiritual growth is often equated with the amount of knowledge one has of the Bible or theological ideas.
  3. The Emotional Model. This model tells us we are changed most profoundly when we have deep emotional or spiritual experiences. Such experiences could occur in any venue, though events and experiences that intentionally seek to jar the emotions are most common.
  4. The Conference Model. I’ve attended and benefited from many conferences.  With hundres and thousands of others sitting under the same teaching I am, I am prone to conclude that it is primarily at such events that spiritual formation occurs.  That is what this model teaches.
  5. The Insight Model. Such a model teaches that the primary way to mature spiritually is through personal analysis and introspection … to be constantly “taking one’s spiritual temperature.”
  6. The Faith Model. In this model, all spiritual growth stems from surrender to God and pondering areas where we lack the faith to do so. It is a model highly dependent upon the individual’s ability to identify those areas and respond accordingly.

As one can see, each of these models can and do positively contribute to one’s spiritual formation. The downfall occurs when we drift into one of these models as the primary means for spiritual formation.  For example, a church that drifts into the “emotional model” will be constantly seeking to stir the emotions, often positive ones. The end result could easily be a congregation that becomes overwhelmed when they experience the darker emotions of loss, grief, or despair. Rather than suffering becoming a catalyst for spiritual formation, it is viewed as a hindrance, unlike Jesus, who “learned obedience through what he suffered” (Hebrews 5:8).

I suppose my unsatisfying search for resources to help me is reflective of the “quick-fix” model, while my bent for more academic-style materials is a nod toward “facts only.” That I’m even concerned about it suggests a proclivity toward the “insight” model. Maybe I just go to a conference and cry a lot as I surrender some things to God by faith to just round-out my exposure to all the models?!

Who knows? What I must do, however, is just keep going. Just keep putting one foot in front of the other and never stopping. As Paul puts it Philippians 3, “But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and reaching forward to what is ahead, I pursue as my goal the prize promised by God’s heavenly call in Christ Jesus. Therefore, let all of us who are mature think this way.”

I hope you’ll do the same in 2018.

Rob Tims is husband to Holly and father to Trey, Jono, Abby Jane and Luke. He’s the author of Southern Fried Faith: Confusing Christ and Culture in the Bible Belt, and manages the team behind at LifeWay Christian Resources in Nashville. He writes regularly at and blogs every Friday at Forward Progress.

Subscribe to

Never miss a new post. Subscribe to receive these posts in your inbox and to receive information about new discipleship resources.

You have successfully subscribed. Click here to download your bonus.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *