I have a confession... I've watched more episodes of Masterchef Australia than I'm willing to count. There are something like 65 episodes a season, and, when I got hooked, there were already several seasons available. I didn't think it would really be my thing but somehow, just a few episodes in, I realised I was deeeeeep in...
Masterchef is a reality TV program where amateur cooks compete against each other in various culinary challenges over a number of months.
(Side note... if you've watched only Masterchef UK or USA, you need to repent, change your ways, and get yourself to Masterchef Australia. That's where the real action's at. You're welcome.)
Anyway... Sarah (my wife) and I have watched loads of these episodes of people cooking the most insane meals:
The other day I was thinking about what to cook for dinner for Sarah and I. I scoured through our kitchen to see what groceries we had. We had all sorts of ingredients, but I had no idea of what meal to cook, and it struck me that that was exactly the sort of challenge the MasterChef contestants are faced with regularly: they're given a pantry that is restricted in some way and from that they go ahead and create the most incredibly creative, innovative and delicious dishes.
But here I was - struggling to put together any edible meal. I'm not a terrible cook - I can do a few basic things in the kitchen. But.. What I'm actually able to cook hasn't really changed at all despite watching many, many, many episodes of Masterchef.
Then it struck me:
I wonder how many people follow Jesus in the same way that I follow Masterchef.
I wonder how many people go to church for years, sit through endless 'seasons' of sermons and talks on all sorts of topics, read books and go to conferences, but at the end of the day, aren't any better at living like Jesus?
The Modern Mistake
Most contemporary churches have been heavily shaped by the Enlightenment and Modernity.
Roughly, from 1700 to 1950 ish, the Western world has emphasised seeing humans as primarily 'rational beings'. You might have heard of Descartes's famous maxim: "I think therefore I am". In this 'modern' paradigm, we believe we change through more information. As JKA Smith says, we view humans as essentially brains on a stick.
Much of the church, influenced by type of thinking, has viewed following Jesus primarily in terms of information & knowledge.
We go to church to hear someone share their thoughts about Jesus, and then we meet in small groups to talk about what the talk was talking about, and then we have conferences with more talking about what Jesus talked about...
This is the mistake of modernity: that more knowledge & information is all we need.
If we want to be people who increasingly become like Jesus - conforming to the image of Christ, increasingly acting as Christ would in our context and situation - then we have to adopt practices that include but extend beyond information sharing. Or, as John Mark Comer puts it:
"If we want the life of Jesus, then we have to adopt the lifestyle of Jesus."
This is why I'm such a big advocate for spiritual formation.
Spiritual formation involves adopting practices and habits in our lives that over time shape and mould the whole person - including our loves and desires and hopes and dreams. Practices like contemplative prayer, fasting, and Sabbath-keeping do something deep within us. Yes they engage our rational, cognitive minds. But they go deeper too. They start to recalibrate our desires. Good spiritual formation practices are effective because they're affective: that is, they engage our affections, and - as Walter Brueggemann says - our prophetic imaginations.
A Personal Practice Audit
So, if you want to follow Jesus, why not do a little personal audit?
What regular practices do you have in your life that are shaping you towards Christlikeness?
What regular habits do you have that not only engage your rationality, but also your heart, your affections and your loves?
Are you intentionally and actively constructing your life so that you are indeed becoming more like Jesus? It won't happen just by accident. And it won't happen just by watching more 'episodes' of church.
May your following of Jesus be more fruitful and affective than my following of Masterchef!
Ok, I'm off to cook dinner...