Prioritizing Spiritual Disciplines

The mission of InterVarsity’s spiritual formation leaders is very simple. “They’re teaching staff how to integrate the rhythms of spiritual formation into their staff life,” said Tom Boyle, InterVarsity’s Director of Staff Development and Training. “It’s not mysterious, spiritual disciplines are known. But where do you find the time to do the foundational work we all need? If you don’t find the time and don’t do it, you’re going to pay. You can’t give away what you do not have.”

For InterVarsity, helping staff on the spiritual formation journey is not an afterthought. It is intentional, and has been since 1999, when the Spiritual Formation Leadership Group was formed. This past summer the leaders of that group, Doug and Marilyn Stewart, began stepping back from their roles. Jay Sivits and Joe Moore, who have been members of the group since the beginning, are InterVarsity’s new co-directors for Spiritual Formation and Prayer.

“It’s easy to get caught up in the work of ministry and the academic cycle of the year and not be attentive to your own spiritual well being,” Jay said. She learned from the Stewarts that “your devotion to God really fuels your ministry and your ministry fuels your devotion to God.”

In a healthy life, each part of the cycle feeds the other. “When we’re not attentive to that cycle, that’s when we run into trouble,” she said. “And we often blame other things then—anywhere from blaming the ministry, to blaming ourselves, to blaming our family, to blaming God.”

“Our primary purposes and goals are to make sure that as we are participating in the mission, we don’t lose sight of and focus on our own deep longings and growth intintimacy with God,” Joe said.

Three of the spiritual formation concerns Joe prioritizes are:

  • Better understanding of the spiritual formation dynamics for different ethnic communities or bodies represented within InterVarsity.
  • Helping those in leadership and supervisory positions grow in their own relationship and intimacy with God, so they feel equipped to ask questions about relationship and intimacy of the people they supervise.
  • Addressing spiritual formation at the student level through staff training and staff leading their chapters in the InterVarsity traditions of a personal daily Quiet Time and the daily chapter prayer meeting.

Jay would like to see spiritual formation placed at an even higher priority within InterVarsity. “We’re not explicit in terms of what we are saying publicly in our initiatives about how healthy the person needs to be to do ministry,” she said. “I would also like to see a growing joy and excitement at a grass roots level in the organization around prayer, not as a ‘have to’ but real enjoyment at being able to engage with God in kingdom business.”

Burnout is one consequence of lack of attention to spiritual formation. But Joe sees more to burnout than just busy-ness. “Burnout for many folks is a sign they are beginning to move into a new phase of life,” he said. “They’ve used up all the resources that they had in the last segment of their life. They’re now having to change their patterns and think about what God has for them next in terms of spiritual rhythms and practices.”

Joe believes that giving people care and attention, and the right resources, can prevent burnout and bitterness and allow them to make a healthy transition in life, and continue to contribute in significant ways to the mission.

Jay sees a need to address cynicism that sometimes surfaces in the lives of mid-range staff. Those who have been on staff for 10-20 years are often at a stage in life where they need to reinforce their spiritual foundations.

She is thankful that a mature friend early in her career got her started on regular retreat days and prioritizing her spiritual formation. “That’s one of the best gifts I ever had,” she said.

Both Jay and Joe expressed their appreciation and admiration for their mentors, Doug and Marilyn Stewart, and to Mary Anne Voelkel, who continues to lead the prayer area. “We owe them a tremendous debt of gratitude,” each said, in separate interviews. “They will continue to be our mentors for awhile,” Jay added. “We’re not letting them go off to retirement easily or quickly.”

Photo: The Spiritual Formation Leadership Group. Front row, left to right: Mary Anne Voelkel, Marilyn Stewart, Judy Johnson, Jay Sivits, and Hallie Cowan. Back row, left to right: Tom Boyle, Steve Stuckey, Barney Ford, Joe Moore, and Doug Stewart.