Formation is broken

Tether is built on a simple premise: we must find a way to embody vulnerability, accountability, and orthodox spiritual practice in the 21st century.
Everyone & Everything is Formed

Anyone who has tried their hand at gardening knows that a seed will not thrive outside of a suitable environment. It needs the proper nutrients, doses of water, and climate to make flourishing life possible. In the same way, us humans will not thrive outside of a suitable environment. Despite a national narrative of rugged individualism, our future trajectory and wellbeing are intricately linked to the physical, emotional, and spiritual environments in which we make our lives.

For thousands of years, Christians have been concerned with how these inputs and environments shape us into the likeness of Christ. Formation is a common term used to describe this process, and has been defined as “our continuing response to the reality of God’s grace shaping us into the likeness of Jesus Christ...”. Our response to God’s grace however is a choice, and often modern Christians feel conflicted: we act like we can self-prescribe the inputs we allow into our lives, while simultaneously embodying a supernatural spirituality. Unfortunately, evidence suggests otherwise.

Formation is Broken

Western society is often bent on convincing you to “become” one thing or another. Today, the average American views somewhere between 6,000 and 10,000 advertisements per day, all offering a fresh identity through the purchase of their products. Unsurprisingly, this deluge of messaging is having real effects on our physical, mental, and spiritual wellbeing. Emerging research exposes a nation of frayed nerves, anxious hearts, and isolated peoples, with 39 percent of Americans reporting being more anxious today than they were a year ago. The growth of isolation in our communities has given rise to the “attention economy”, a digital phenomenon where savvy marketers vie for our emotional investment in the hopes of garnering attention and resources.

Unfortunately, the Church has largely failed to prepare the next generation for a robust life in the Spirit in the face of the attention economy. A recent study by Barna suggests that as few as 20% of professing Christians are involved in any sort of discipleship activity. Many Christian leaders have assumed that if they provide engaging content and deliver sound messages, believers will naturally mature into thriving practitioners of their faith. This way of thinking ignores the outsized effects secular inputs have on the life of their people, which often leads to Jesus-followers defaulting to lifestyles similar to their non-Christian peers.

A Renewed Vision for Formation

Through the teachings of Christ and the writings of the church throughout history, we have an ample supply of blueprints for fostering environments of spiritual flourishing. Based on what we have seen, what is now critical is not reinventing the what of formation, but the how. At Tether, we believe the missing exercises required for going deeper in our cultural moment include commitment, vulnerability, and orthodox spiritual practice.

Commitment to a Community: Most American’s experience of community is probably quite shallow, built on conflict avoidance and surface-level connection. However, this level of superficiality is not enough to meet our cravings for intimate community. Instead, commitment and devotion to a few are emerging as necessary ingredients to a flourishing life. Authentic community is never easy, but nor is isolation or loneliness. Rich togetherness seems to be encoded in our bodies and our souls, and should we ever discover a deep spirituality, we must learn to be accountable to, and consistent with, other people.

Vulnerability with a Few: Modern Westerners live in highly individualistic environments: we drive, work, and eat mostly alone. More often than not though, we don’t really feel known. The concept of vulnerability is in vogue these days for good reason, but is ultimately nothing new to the church. Christian psychiatrist Curt Thompson observes: “Our vulnerability reminds us that deep relationship is the norm, not something we periodically require when we are in trouble or are lonely.”

Orthodox Spiritual Practice: Through establishing a consistent and safe community in which to be known, we now have a supportive vessel in which to live and grow into Christ-likeness. In discussing the ethos of spiritual practice, Richard Foster writes: “We become yoked to Christ, allowing him to teach us how to live our lives as he would live our lives if he were us... God then takes this simple offering... producing within us deeply ingrained habits of love and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” (emphasis added)

Tether

Tether is built on a simple premise: we must find a way to embody vulnerability, accountability, and orthodox spiritual practice in the 21st century. Our team leans on two tools for incorporating these ways of being into our modern context.

Technology: The technology we allow into our lives profoundly shapes our behaviors and practices, and can be used exploitatively or redemptively. As Andy Crouch observes in The Tech-Wise Family, “(w)e are continually being nudged by our devices toward a set of choices. The question is whether those choices are leading us to the life we actually want.” If we utilize technology consciously, with wisdom and purpose, we have the opportunity to harness its power for our good and God’s glory. And while digital platforms will never replace face-to-face interactions, they can be used to complement and nudge us toward making in-person relationships more meaningful and more frequent.

Behavioral Psychology: As far as we know, little has been done to practically apply behavioral psychology to spiritual formation today. However, if our minds are the conduit through which we know ourselves, know others, and know God, it would behoove us to understand how our brains work and how we can train our minds in Christlikeness. As “big tech” has learned to exploit our behavioral and mental tendencies for profit, Tether looks to redeem such tools for spiritual formation. At Tether, we’re interested in asking how we can make healthy spiritual habits more actionable, more timely, and more community-oriented.