Developing Leaders: Seven Pathways to God

Contributed by: Emily Paterson and Kirstin Cant, Diocese of Auckland, 17 July 2017

A series of exercises to help young leaders and older teens to explore different ways of engaging and connecting with God.

God has made us all uniquely. Therefore, the way we draw close to and connect with God will be different for each of us too. Prayer and reading scripture are really important ways of connecting with God, but the way we go about engaging in these activities might be different depending on how we best connect with God.

In John Ortberg’s “God is Closer Than You Think“, he describes seven spiritual pathways to God – relational, intellectual, serving, worship, activist, comtemplative and creation.

Read the summary of each pathway below and give each one a go – one a week for seven weeks. There are exercises related to each pathway for you to try out, as a way of connecting with God.  Some you will find you easily engage with and others you will find more difficult. This is because we are each wired differently – we will naturally lean more towards some pathways than others. The aim of these exercises is to be open to different ways of connecting with God, so have an open mind and give each exercise a go. Hopefully over these seven weeks, you’ll find some new ways of connecting with God that really do work for you.

Week 1: Relational Pathway

These people enjoy interacting with other people and feel close to God when doing so. They have great difficulty relating to God when they are on their own. But when they study the scriptures with a group of people, or pray with someone else they find it much easier to draw close to God. For them their primary pathway to closeness with God is through relationships with other Christians.

This week invite a friend or a group of friends around to read the bible and pray together. When you get together first choose a passage to read and discuss it using the ‘Head, Heart, Hands’ model. Then pray together for what you’ve discussed and any other needs you are each facing at the moment. Alternatively, attend your school/uni Christian Group this week.

Week 2: Intellectual Pathway

These people are the thinkers. They have been created in such a way that their mind has to be engaged for them to feel close to God. They love reading deeply stretching literature or theological books that are four inches thick. They love logic and reason, they have lots of questions, and cannot engage their hearts until their minds are absolutely convinced. The sermon is their favourite part of a church service, and they feel closer to God the more they understand deeply complex Bible passages or theological ideas.

Listen to or watch a sermon or video on the Bible this week. Try the Bible Project’s What is the Bible? or The Gospel of Mark; What is the Gospel? by NT Wright; or Tim Keller on overcoming anxiety. Alternatively, read an article that explores theology or biblical understanding in more depth.

Week 3: Serving Pathway

These are people who feel closest to God when they are serving him and his people. They are often found doing the dishes or painting something behind the scenes… They love doing practical tasks at the church or volunteering at the city mission, because when they sense that they are being used as an instrument for God’s work and that they are doing something that contributes to the overall mission of the church, they find this a deeply spiritual experience.

Choose to do one of these things this week – try something you wouldn’t normally do!

  • Help with the dishes/cleaning up Morning Tea after Church on Sunday
  • Come early and stay late to help your youth pastor set up and pack down youth group this week
  • Offer yourself to your youth pastor/Vicar for a couple of hours during the week to help with any cleaning or odd jobs they need doing

Week 4: Contemplative Pathway

These people like to spend endless time alone with God. Being around other Christians can drain them, but when they are alone with Jesus this energises them. Give them a Bible, a good book, a poem or a journal and they can disappear for days. They love being in solitude and silence… this is where they find they are close to the Lord.

Sometime this week, light a candle and set it on a table before you. Sit comfortably in a chair where you can look at the candle. Spend some time focusing on the candle before you, breathing deeply. Cast your gaze into the depth of the flame. Repeat the following phrase over and over as you seek to understand the constant energy of God’s presence, like the candle flame, in your life:
God, your light sustains me
Jesus, you are the light of the world
Spirit, you are present in flame and energy

Alternatively, give The Daily Examen a go at the end of a day this week.

Week 5: Activist Pathway

The activists feel closest to God when they are out on a limb or taking a step of faith, and have to trust in God for everything. They are often juggling several balls at the same time, or scrambling to meet half a dozen deadlines. They need a challenge-intensive environment and if they don’t feel like they are being stretched then Christianity becomes boring for them. They love catalysing others into meaningful ministries and they get a real buzz when others are mobilised into serving God.

Research a current issue in NZ or our world (climate change, housing crisis, deep-sea oil drilling, banning plastic bags, animal welfare, homelessness etc.) Is there a petition you could sign? Is there an event to join in on? What does God think about this issue and how is he inviting you to care?

Week 6: Creation Pathway

These are the people that come alive and feel close to God when they are out amongst nature, enjoying the splendour of his creation. In open spaces like mountains, the beach or in the bush their awareness of who God is dramatically increased. This is where they encounter God and feel closest to him.

Take a half hour walk through a local bush, to the beach or down the road, and take time to notice and observe all the different things that God has made as you walk (the intricate details of a leaf, the waves coming in at the beach, the sound of cicadas, the birds chirping, the sun setting etc.) Pray and thank God for all that you notice.

Week 7: Musical Worship Pathway

These people who feel incredibly close to God through sung worship and music, for them the most important part of a church service is the sung worship. The sermon is important and nice, but once it’s over they just want to get back into sung worship. For them they really connect with God when they are singing or losing themselves in worship songs. They often have worship music playing in their homes or cars etc. because this is how they connect with God.

Set aside half an hour to listen to, sing or soak in songs of worship to God. You could stream a worship event on youtube or use a Spotify worship playlist.