Redefining Depth

Deep-EndAs a pastor at a large church, I get this statement a lot:

You guys just aren't deep enough.

Possible reactions to that statement run from defensiveness ("We did 31 weeks through the whole Bible!") to dismissive ("Well, there's a really deep church down the street.") but I'm not sure either of those are great responses. What is the better response? Well, here's what I'd say:

What do you mean by "deep"?

Here's the reality: "deep" doesn't mean the same thing to every person. Deep to some people is exegetical preaching and hardcore Bible studies. Deep to others is emotional and practical application beyond just the "surface" (which is actually harder to define than "deep"). For some people, "deep" just means you use Greek words and shout often in your sermons.

We have to get past this tension, this divide, and the reason we need to do it is because deep is important. Deep expresses hunger, longing, and desire for more out of this life with Christ. Deep is to spirituality what raiding the fridge and finding everything is to a teenage boy. We need to progress more and more in our relationship with Christ, and deep is how we get there.

However, it's time we redefined deep. Here are three starting points for redefining deep:

1. Deep isn't just deep, it's also wide. Alan Fadling in his book An Unhurried Life (p. 160) gives an excellent breakdown of what depth should look like and he breaks it into three areas:

Cognitive depth: theologically, biblically and doctrinally rich stuff. Dealing with the concept of the Trinity, atonement, and predestination as well as the history behind the text of the Bible and what we need to know about God.

Spiritual depth: the level of my personal receptivity to and engagement with God in the moment-to-moment living of life.

Heart depth: I am more emotionally responsive to God and others as well as more willing to show my love for God by obeying Him.

Deep is beyond your brain - it moves into the whole solar system of your life and engages it all for the purpose of transforming you and the world you live in for the sake of the Kingdom of God. That is why Jesus said the whole project rises and falls for us on "loving God with our heart, mind, soul and strength" and "loving our neighbor as ourselves." (Matt. 22:37-40, paraphrase)

If we only have one of these aspects developing intentionally (i.e. "mind") we are actually shallow, not deep.

2. Deep isn't your church's sole responsibility. 2 Peter 3:18 is a great passage, where Peter challenges the community to "grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ." (paraphase) What interests me is that  many of the "growth" challenge statements are directed at individuals, not the church. Even when they are directed at the church, they're in an equipping sense. What I mean is that our deepening is an entrepreneurial enterprise. The church trains, but we are practitioners - whether alone or in community - and the local church is the restoration & training center.

3. Deep in an input/output enterprise. We have to see the project of transportation as a calorie intake vs. calorie burn scenario. The Scriptures talk about God's guidance and direction as "food" on several occasions. The point of food, other than enjoyment, is primarily to energize us for the tasks our body is required to do. In terms of our spiritual growth, the "calories" (grace-filled elements of prayer, Scripture, community) are meant to be "burned" (serving, mentoring, discipling.) Sometimes the deep challenge isn't a problem of input but a problem of output.

I want to close this with Alan Fadling's great words:

Are we open to God's bringing such depth to every facet of our lives? Will we enter into deep soul work, deep interaction with God, deep sharing of our lives together and deep engagement with the non-follwers in our lives? Will we seek LIFE DEEP and not just settle for INTELLECT depth? (160)