Bro. Littles, tell us a little about yourself and your ministry background.
We began our early ministry co-pastoring with my father in western New York before serving as pastor of that small congregation. As a bi-vocational pastor, I also served as an elementary school teacher in a neighboring rural school district. Following four years of pastoring, I served twenty-eight years in Apostolic higher education at Kent Christian College, Gateway College of Evangelism, Urshan Graduate School of Theology, and Urshan College. I currently serve with discipleship ministries of North Cities UPC in Garland, Texas, as academic director for Purpose Institute, as a traveling preacher and teacher, and occasionally teach college or seminary courses as Professor Emeritus from UGST.
What is meant by the term “spiritual formation”?
I believe spiritual formation helps us to build on our past emphasis on spiritual disciplines in a way that shifts the goal from quantitative measures (hours prayed, chapters read, days fasted) to the goal of becoming more like Christ. In doing so the effort shifts from our work to His work in us. In the book, I define spiritual formation as “the lifelong personal and communal commitment to know Christ, to be remade in His image as a part of new creation, and to be on His mission.”
What are the primary areas of spiritual formation a Christian should focus on?
I think the first step is shifting the question from “What do I need to go to heaven?” to “How is the Lord calling me to be more like Him so I can serve as a missionary in my world?” The confession in Matthew 16 immediately led to a discussion of the church and the need to pick up crosses and follow the Master. Peter accepted Jesus as Messiah, but he was not ready to hear of the journey to follow Jesus on the mission. Matthew 28’s commission starts with Jesus’ declaration that all power is His and that power/authority will be used to do one thing – send His people to make disciples.
As Oneness believers we will be constantly discovering more of Jesus’ nature and then asking how that impacts the way we live. The gospel of Luke shows the ministry of Jesus on the way to Jerusalem and the cross, while the book of Acts shows that ministry continuing in the church from Jerusalem and the upper room to the rest of the world.
What are the primary barriers that tend to harm or hinder our spiritual formation?
Spiritual formation is always about the mission. As such, growing in Christ is never an individual process. I recommend folks read the book and reflect on the given questions with someone they trust. Laboring together helps us mature together on the mission. Growing in community helps to overcome the North American barrier of individualism. Some folks are surprised that Jesus is not coming back for them… individually. He is coming back for the church. The early church had to be in fellowship and breaking of bread just as much as they needed the Apostles’ doctrine and prayer.
Finally, I think misunderstandings of the church can be a barrier to spiritual formation. For example, many people think the church is a hospital to help people feel better, meet needs, recover from suffering, or provide programs for all members of the family … all while having a great music program. According to Ephesians 4, the church leadership gifts are given to equip saints for the work of their ministry. As such the church is more of a deployment center than a hospital. I think the church has a first aid station to attend to needs, but the primary task is to worship together as we are formed to serve on the mission.
Many struggle with physical health problems that appear to hinder their spiritual walk. They wonder, “Why doesn’t God just heal me so I can do more for the Kingdom?” How would you answer in light of the message in your book?
I believe the issue is a matter of emphasis. Following Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 5-7, that great sermon on the Kingdom, we will learn that kingdom living has to be paramount over even the most basic elements of survival. Placing physical and personal needs at the top of our lists displaces us from being Kingdom-focused.
Secondly, the question also assumes we believe we know a better way to be used by God than the way we are right now. As I discuss in the chapter on suffering, I had to walk through Paul’s thorn in the flesh experience during my own health crises. Jesus could have miraculously healed me in a moment, and He would have been glorified. Instead, He chose to place me in a six-month recovery process where I could learn to trust His wisdom and plan above my own.
Our prayer asks for the wisdom to walk faithfully in the crises in a way that brings Him glory. At times we may even have to pray for the grace to drink from a bitter cup if that is the Father’s will rather than to be delivered from a trying situation.
Why did you write More Like Him? What kind of response have you had thus far?
Originally I began writing the book as a request from Pentecostal Publishing House. They wanted to use the book as a part of the revised UPCI local license reading requirements. Due to a number of circumstances, the book took longer than the time allowed for that project. Ultimately I finished the book as an act of faith… the One who called me to begin the book still had a purpose for it.
I have had numbers of churches use the book for small group and discipleship classes. Most pastors and saints who share their thoughts with me highlight the way the book must be read slowly and applied. Folks quickly learn that it cannot be read like a novel or history book. The Master will invite them to pause and become more like Him.
I have submitted a twenty-lesson small group curriculum for publication. I am waiting to hear if that will be of value to folks. I pilot tested the lessons in a small group here at my home church before revising them and sending them to PPH.
What is the cost, how can readers order, and what is the best way to contact you?
The book costs $16.00. Hard copies can be purchased through PPH. A digital Amazon Kindle version can be purchased for $10. I can be contacted via email at: firstname.lastname@example.org.