For centuries people have complained, protested, asked, begged, argued, whined, and have essentially driven themselves to distraction because the have desired to go “deeper in Church”. I imagine this has caused many Pastors to become very frustrated at times, if not downright discouraged. Its a familiar theme. It is the last refrain of the restless. People want deeper church, deeper bible studies, deeper worship and deeper community, but I’m not sure they always know what that means. I would imagine that from a Pastors perspective it is difficult to please the people who are always clamoring for “deeper”, especially because everyone seems to have a different idea of what “deep” is.
1. Depth as facts and the accumulation of knowledge.
This is the group that thinks the teaching is deep if they’ve learned something they didn’t already know. Satisfaction and a sense of fulfillment comes if they can walk out of a sanctuary with more information than they had coming in. For some it is looking for new ways to read bible verse, or delving into a more thorough explanation of the context. For others it is hearing a proper exegesis, uncovering a textual variant, or pondering thoughtful nuances. What is the caution? In many ways this is “deep”, but information is not the goal, and information alone is not depth. When this accumulation of knowledge becomes the main purpose it can produce an elite class of biblical hobbyists who are almost Gnostic-like in their love for more knowledge, isolating themselves from the community of faith and breeding a superiority due to the rigors of their intellectual pursuits. Is that really deep? Knowing biblical facts is important, but surely we want to go deeper than the demons, who know more about Scripture than we do and are devils still.
2. Depth as “Insights for Daily Living”
This group believes that “deep” means “insight for life.” They want to see the scriptures applied to their daily living, as method and techniques, so that they can behave a certain way or garner for themselves certain results. “Deep” means “applied well,” and transformation [rather than information] is the goal. The purpose is personal renewal, and so a high premium is placed on the unpacking of life principles which will be conducive to life transformation. In many ways this is good because Pastors don’t want people looking in the mirror of God’s Word and then walking away unaware of their reflection. Every teacher should hope for transformation. What is the caution? Even if people hope to apply the Bible to their everyday life, there is the propensity to be self-absorbed readers who skim the Scriptures in search for practical tidbits as if they are reading a self-help book. Is that really deep? If we go about Bible study this way, we never deal with the big picture of Scripture and therefore end up spiritualizing earth-shattering truths into cute and quaint verses and sticking them on coffee mugs.
3. Depth as relationships and “doing life together”
This group sees depth in the width and height and breadth of their relationships. Interpersonal relationships where quantitative and qualitative time is spent together is valued and esteemed. The focus is not on shallow acquaintances, but rather the forming of loving communities where they feel they can be open and honest with each other. They thrive in small groups where the purpose of the gathered group is not as important or central as the friendships that will be formed there. They find themselves unfulfilled if they are in a Church where they find it difficult to connect and “do life” together. What is the caution? They like to talk about spiritual things, and yet thorny and prickly issues of doctrine are often avoided as there is the fear it will cause division. To them the body of Christ is a family that does not fight and unity is central, and with this can come a failure to take theology seriously. Is that really deep? Relationships are important, but not if it means sacrificing spiritual growth and doctrinal proficiency at the altar of stagnation.
There are more categories than that, but it serves to show what a frustrating thing it can be for Pastors who are juggling these complaints from different people, and what cautions can arise for those who have particular views of what “going deep” is. Clearly a certain degree of balance is important. But those are only three examples, and even then the situation isn’t so easy to untangle. Because then you throw in the people who like the preaching, but think the music isn’t deep enough, or who like the music, but think the liturgy isn’t deep enough, or who like the liturgy, but think the sacraments aren’t deep enough, or who like doing like together and the insights for daily living, but think the preaching isn’t deep enough. It is a wild mess and it is a wearing, weighty thing for any Minister to endure. For this reason we need to check ourselves before we start talking about going deeper and how something isn’t deep enough, particularly at an individual level, lest we needlessly discourage our Pastors without some introspection on our parts.