Help Is Already Available For Your Spiritual Journey

The Participatory Paradigm Introduced

I’d just finished up a seminar where our presenting team guided our attendees to write up a spiritual formation plan to implement over the next 3-6 months. This plan would help them go deeper in their relationship with God. It could include silent/abiding prayer, sacred reading, journaling, retreats, community, or other spiritual disciplines. As I talked with Brian at the snack table, we discovered a common concern – “How can I do all these practices? It seems overwhelming.” So, which practice is most needful? What one practice could not be overlooked without serious spiritual consequences? 

I gave Brian an answer that has continued to haunt me over the years following our conversation. It has driven me to replace all “spiritual disciplines” with one essential practice – a practice that opens up the vast abyss of God’s Mystery. At that time I simply called it prayer. Now, I’d expand prayer to mean: participating in and communing with the Triune God from a heart of stillness through prayer.

A Dangerous Path

At the time, I didn’t realize the danger that crouched behind my answer. But, following the prayer journey before me, I entered a glorious struggle of knowing God that would literally revolutionize my life. It could do the same for you. 

So today, as I begin to do some preliminary work on a paradigm that best represents a growing understanding of spiritual life, I do so with fear and trembling. This is no small thing. I am messing around with putting words and picture to the Mystery Who cannot be explained. Without a doubt, the Christian life is a mystery reflective of Mystery Himself. I need to stop and simply stand in awe. 

Yet, love compels me to explore, ask questions, write, and communicate. I am a kindergartener scribbling shaky letters with a crayon – every line, an intense effort; every letter, a herculean achievement. 

Four Paradigms

I begin with broad-brush descriptions. Also, it’s often easier to understand something by describing what it is not.

Participatory Paradigm – This model’s sole focus is communion/union with the Trinity. There are a few “practices” involved. Yet, they all have one purpose (goal) – to participate in the life of the Trinity; to experience/know God. Transformation is the ongoing process of living in the Trinity. 

Spiritual Growth Model – This model involves self-determination while cooperating with God who assists us to become who we think/imagine we need to become. Spiritual maturity is the goal. There are a host of practices that can be engaged to reach this goal. 

Mysticism Model – In this model you lose yourself in God’s essence. There is often a transcendence of space and time. Attainment of complete inner identity with God is accomplished in which God and human, in some way, become absolutely one mutually and equally. Ecstatic experiences become an end. 

Exchange Model – In this model it’s all God, no you. You get out of the way in submission and death to self, and Jesus Christ through His Spirit takes over.  Your life is “exchanged” for His. A “higher life” of “entire sanctification” or “perfectionism” allows a more holy, less sinful, or sinless life to be lived. It is often associated with the holiness movement. 

I’ll be examining the “Participatory Paradigm” more fully in posts to come. I’ll be contrasting it with the Spiritual Growth model primarily. 

Which model has been your “go-to” paradigm to help guide your Christian journey? Why is this so? Share below. 

Dr. K 

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

2 thoughts on “Help Is Already Available For Your Spiritual Journey

  1. In my youth, in the early 1980’s it was undoubtedly the ‘spiritual growth’ model, following after some of the great writers of the past 100 years in their analysis of walking the straight and narrow path.
    Having gone through much pain and strife, most of by my own hand, and come back to the feet of my Saviour as the prodigal son, I think that my spiritual life has really taken on a hybrid of the ‘participatory/exchange’ paradigm, especially within the past few years.
    As I walk together with others in ministry, and minister to those the Lord has sent my way, it almost seems to be taking on a life of it’s own…

    • Hi John, Thanks for sharing your journey with us. As you’ve experienced, the hardships of life bring a reality to our “spirituality” that grounds us in Christ in a different way. The journey is not so linear and upward as it is cyclical and inward (toward the Trinity). The major difference between “participatory” and “exchange” is the role of the human will. In participatory, our will is fully engaged as we learn to sync it with God’s will. That is no menial task! In the exchange model, the will tries to become passive, is relatively inactive, and God does His work through an “empty” vessel. Of course, there are elements of each model in the other. If I’m observing this spiritual journey with any insight at all, as we travel the journey, we transition from one dominant model towards the participatory paradigm or we lock ourselves into one (thinking it’s the only right one) and ride it into eternity. I may be off base. But, as God draws us to Himself, the participatory model seems to provide the fullest experience of knowing God. Thanks again for being a companion on the journey. It’s exciting to see God’s work of grace in your life. Blessings, Keith

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