There is no one-size-fits-all approach to spiritual formation.
Each person has a completely different story, personality, and lifestyle. Therefore, it's important for us to develop our own plan for spiritual growth, instead of just trying the same program or method as everyone else with the expected guarantee of success.
When I visit a personal trainer at the gym, she doesn't give me a pre-designed, standard exercise plan; she observes my strengths, weaknesses, and lifestyle, and develops a customized workout plan based on that information. The ultimate goal is total body fitness; however, there are hundreds of baby steps that contribute to meeting that goal. She would never expect me to start by running five miles or setting the weight machine at the heaviest setting. Instead, she encourages manageable activities that show fairly quick results, creating a natural hunger for more.
In the same way, as Christians we should focus on the next step instead of focusing on how far we have to go until we reach the "ideal." Following are some manageable yet effective ideas for the most basic elements of spiritual formation.
Community: This is more than the typical church grapevine or casual associations. We need deep friendships that include personal accountability, but this can take so many forms. Some do best in a structured small group or Bible study; others, like me, feel safer initially yet ultimately very challenged in a less structured setting. At a previous church, I started golfing regularly with a group of women. It didn't take long before we were sharing the depths of our hearts at the same time we were improving our handicaps. Community can never be forced. Whether it's a shared meal or a shared interest, look to capitalize on natural connections.
Bible reading: There is absolutely no substitute for personal time spent reading the Bible, even if it's just several verses a day. We need to know that God speaks to us personally, not just through our pastor, Bible study leader, radio preacher, or favorite author. Rely on the Holy Spirit to illumine your reading of God's Word.
Prayer: Many Christians struggle to carve large chunks of time out of a schedule that is often dictated by others' needs: work, household, children, spouse, friends, etc. Yet all Christ-followers need to quiet their soul on a regular basis, so they can hear God speak and can talk to him, as well. Therefore, take advantage of even the smallest quiet moments. That may be in the stillness of the morning or evening, in the car at a red light, or even (perhaps often!) in the bathroom.
As with diet and exercise, in your spiritual life you can't rely on the big event or program to take the place of regular discipline. Learn to recognize and maximize your own unique situation to foster lasting life change.
Angie Ward is a leader of leaders with more than 15 years of leadership development experience in a variety of ministry settings. She is the founder of Forward Leadership and is a contributing editor for Leadership Journal.
Adapted from the Gifted for Leadership blog post, "Tailor-making Spiritual Formation," by Angie Ward. To read the original article and for reprint information, click here.