Tuesday, August 9 2022 - 10:34 AM

Your Spiritual Journey by Monte Sahlin – Part One

By Warren E. Nelson


Part 1–My Friend, Monte, Wrote a Book You Need to Read!


More than 30 years ago, I was working with Monte at a church convention in San Diego and over lunch, in a Mexican restaurant, I asked Monte why, in our small church in Oregon, we couldn’t seem to find common ground on worship, theology and even what it meant to go to church. 

He grabbed a napkin, literally, and wrote the four words you see above.(I really wish I’d kept that napkin!) It was one of those life changing experiences. More on that later. I want you to read the book so I’m not going to spoil it here. Buy the book! 

While this book is written by an Adventist, it was not written just for Adventists; I’m not one anymore. In fact, I haven’t attended church in nearly three decades. Still, these four words have made a huge difference even in my agnostic/skeptic world.

As you will see in the book, this spiritual growth process is that…spiritual, not religious. This series of posts are from a couple of interviews where Monte and I chatted. Together, we’ve edited our ramblings into something readable.


What difference did this make in your life when you discovered this concept of spiritual development in people?


It gave me a way to hear people, to think about what they were saying to me in spiritual dimensions, separate from the mental health training and the community development training that I had. Those two ways of working, particularly because I went to a secular university, they work around faith, religion and spirituality. And actually, most professionals in both areas act like it’s not there in their heads. 

So if you come in with that education and, and you’re a religious professional, a spiritual professional, as a pastor, it’s kind of like walking on two canes, you don’t really have a basic standing point. This model gave me that. 

I really got started with this whole project, that the book comes from, in 1980, in a seminar with pastors from twenty or thirty denominations, with Dr. John Savage. He was a United Methodist pastor for many years before he became a seminary professor. And his specialty was in a problem that challenges all Christian churches in the western world, a huge drop out problem. People leave as often or more often than they join. 

In the middle of this class, some of us start talking about, “What do we really know about people’s spiritual journey? We get a little picture here. Somebody came to church for five years, they got a divorce, they quit coming. Three years later we went and visited them, maybe they came back, maybe they didn’t. But, you know, that’s a seven or eight year piece out of a typical lifespan of seventy something. What do we know about the whole journey? 

At the time we pretty quickly discovered that what was known boiled down to two piles of things. One was a lot of really technical academic stuff, that was so influenced by psychiatric models, that we said, “This isn’t pastoral. This isn’t church. This is something else. This is a psychiatrist understanding religious people. That’s not what we need. 

We got to talking during breaks and lunch about how we can learn something useful about people’s spiritual journeys? John Savage overheard us talking and said, “Hey, I’m interested in this.” He encouraged a group of us to start interviewing people and taking notes and collecting journey stories. And that’s how I got started.

For more than three decades, there were probably a dozen of us who talked two or three times a year, and shared notes and would write summaries of what we heard in hundreds and later thousands of interviews.

Over time, I began to look at these interviews for patterns and this model, this pattern emerged. I admit, this concept is very much shaped by the Baby Boom Generation, where the majority of American adults, grew up as children in some organized religion. 

And then in young adulthood, they kind of threw that out for a while. Or at least hung out with a bunch of friends who threw it out for a while. Then as they moved into early adulthood, and particularly as they began to have children of their own, they started going back to some spiritual structure, whether it was organized religion or a group of friends, or whatever. 

And so the framework of the book is kind of the discovery that out of these thousands of interviews, there is this pattern that the vast majority of American adults in our generation share.

I hope you find this interview helpful. I did! So, here’s the link to the book. The Kindle version is cheaper than a grande caramel latte and muffin!

“Part 2–The Spirit and the Dragonfly” is coming soon.

–Warren E. Nelson (Butch)

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