Recently friends from a major publisher of Sunday school curriculum called me. They were researching trends in spiritual formation, they said, and they thought I might help them.

After a few warm-up questions, they got to the heart of the matter: "What would you recommend for spiritual formation in our time?"

"The monastery," I said.

There was a long pause.

"I'm serious," I said.

Another long pause. "You're going to have to unpack that for us," they finally said.

"It's a proven model," I pointed out, "a model that includes everything we know brings about transformation. What would happen to your life" (I was now turning the question on them) "if you lived in close geographical community and relationship with other people; if you lived in submission to authority; if you practiced silence and simplicity and discipline; if you regularly read the Bible and prayed and meditated on what you read; if you made study part of your life; and if you worked hard in some daily occupation, seeing your labor as full of dignity and offering it to God?"

(I thought, but didn't say, that this is the same general approach followed by YWAM, which started in 1960 and now has 1,000 locations in 149 countries.)

"But not everyone can move into a monastery," they said. True, but we already have the solution: they're called oblates or tertiaries, people who live outside the monastery but who in their daily lives follow the same ideals of sacrifice, simplicity, and service. Or consider the parallel model of Opus Dei, the Catholic organization founded less than a hundred years ago: of its 87,000 members, both men and women, 98 percent are laypeople, and most of those are married.

In fact, to the extent that our local churches are changing people's lives, they're ...

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