What are the different definitions of 'spiritual journey'?
"Spiritual journey" is merely a metaphor for how spiritual beliefs change and develop throughout life. The phrase is common both within the New Age movement and in Christian churches.
In New Age philosophy, a spiritual journey is an intentional search to find the relationship between oneself and the universe. Searchers use aspects of Buddhism, New Age philosophy, and "laws of attraction" to manipulate the world to give them what they want. The New Age spiritual journey is not only unbiblical; it is dangerous, as it opens the door to demonic involvement.
The phrase "spiritual journey" is also used as the name of a discipleship method in many Christian churches. The trappings can look different—some churches see the journey as rounding the bases in a baseball field, others as different stages on a hike up the mountain—but the basics are generally the same. Classes or lessons take believers through several steps, which may vary, but usually include instruction about Christianity and the local church, Christian disciplines, ministry involvement, mentorship, and leadership. In broad terms, there is nothing wrong with putting a cute metaphor onto a church's curriculum to develop spiritual maturity. As long as the curriculum is Bible-based, it doesn't matter if people round bases, climb a hill, or build a house.
In reality, a Christian spiritual journey doesn't require formal classes or even steps. Good spiritual journeys are just Christians intentionally learning how to be more Christ-like. The Bible does suggest different levels of spiritual maturity, however.
- Babes in need of milk. The milk here is an explanation of Who God is, Who Christ is, and what Christ has done for us. This group includes both "seekers," who are curious but not saved, and newly saved Christians. Both should take 1 Peter 2:2 to heart: "Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation."
- Basics of Christian life. Richard Foster called it spiritual disciplines. The Bible just calls it obedience (1 John 3:6). Having a quiet time, praying regularly, and supporting the church financially are not things people do naturally. As believers understand Who Jesus is, they must also learn how to respond and live in unity in the church. Many Christians are stuck here, not wanting to give up completely, but not wanting to make the sacrifice to obey the Bible.
- Christian service. Really, this stage could be part of the previous. The New Testament makes it clear that fellowshipping with and serving the church—the universal body of believers—is essential for any Christ-follower (1 Corinthians 12). A spiritual journey isn't just about learning, but about applying that knowledge. Learning one's spiritual gift(s) helps, as does getting involved in a local church.
- Mentorship. In 2 Timothy 2:2, Paul tells Timothy, "what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also." We are called to teach and lead others into a deeper relationship with Christ; part of the Christian spiritual journey is helping others progress in their spiritual journeys (Titus 2:3-4).
- Christian leadership. It makes sense that the church should be led by those who are farther along in their spiritual journey. This includes elders, deacons, small group leaders, and Sunday school teachers. The qualifications for elders (1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9) and deacons (1 Timothy 3:8-13) are given in the Bible and assume that the previous steps have been covered.
We like checklists and programs against which we can measure our successes and advancement. But one's spiritual journey is a lifetime endeavor that cannot be measured so quantitatively. For one, someone can check all the boxes and still remain an immature Christians. Classes may show us where we need to go, but only submitting our hearts to Jesus develops the maturity that moves us further in the journey. Obedience and service mean little if not done with a willing heart that longs to be like Jesus. On the other hand, steps may help define what we need to work on, but only the Holy Spirit changes hearts (Philippians 1:6). It takes a heart willing to work with the Holy Spirit, not church classes, to develop spiritual maturity.
In truth, we are on a spiritual journey our entire lives. Everything we do and learn and accept affects our relationship with God. Whether we are changing for the better depends on if we are allowing God to lead us in our spiritual journey. Paul said the journey will take a lifetime (Philippians 1:6). The journey will only end when we see Jesus face-to-face (1 John 3:2).
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