What "Going Deep" Actually Means

"The impulse to 'go deep' is essentially spiritual boredom, which comes from a stalled discipleship life."

From time to time I hear people moving from church to church saying they are looking for a church that will “really go deep.” At one point their previous church offered depth, but somewhere along the way, they feel the church sold out, started watering down the Gospel and scripture, and stopped “going deep.”

“We just want really meaty teachings,” they say.

While I think I know what they mean by that, my actual question is this: Do they?

Now I think most of us can agree on what we want out of our spiritual journey here on earth: Transformation. We want to live increasingly more in the Kingdom of God, where God and his life are more and more available to us. And really, that’s all discipleship is. The process of discipleship teaches how to live in the Kingdom of God right now, right here . . . today.

That’s what is being offered to us as disciples of Jesus.

I think the impulse to “go deep” is essentially spiritual boredom, which comes from a stalled discipleship life. We’ve essentially stopped obeying in some way (or never were truly obeying), God’s voice has gone silent (or we never really heard him) and his presence seems far away (there are other reasons for these things happening as well, of course – dark night of the soul and all).

BUT, I think people essentially mis-diagnose the problem and thus prescribe something that ultimately won’t help that much: Learning something new about the Bible.

But what they’re really seeking, I think, is simple, radical discipleship. They want to live a life full of meaning and significance – they’re just not going to get it by hearing the Word only. They have to DO it to “get it.” To really “go deep” requires that we put the teachings of Jesus into practice. That’s where the rubber meets the road, and where many choose not to go any further.

I think what people refer to in their desire to “go deep” is the hit they get from hearing something they’ve never heard before; a new idea, a new paradigm, a new angle. We often get this tingly sense when that happens. We want more tingles. 

But I think Richard Rohr hits this kind of thinking on the head:

We operate with the assumption that giving people new ideas changes people. It doesn’t. Believing ideas is, in fact, a way of not having to change in any significant way, especially if you can argue about them. Ideas become defenses.

If you have the right words, you are considered an orthodox and law-abiding Christian. We burned people at the stake for not having the right words, but never to my knowledge for failing to love or forgive, or to care for the poor. Religion has had a love affair with words and correct ideas, whereas Jesus loved people, who are always imperfect.

You do not have to substantially change to think some new ideas. You always have to change to love and forgive ordinary people. We love any religion that asks us to change other people. We avoid any religion that keeps telling us to change.

As has often been said, we have taught people far beyond their obedience levels. They don’t need more information. They actually need to do what scripture says to do!

Recently I read an article by Jeff Vanderstelt and he put it this way:

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Often when I speak to leaders and people who wish we did more bible studies at Soma (his church community), I ask them what was the last book of the Bible they studied. Let’s say they’ve respond with “James.”

I then say something like, “That’s great! I’m sure you’re now caring for widows and orphans, visiting the sick, caring for the poor, etc!” To which I generally hear, “Well no, not really!?” Then, I say, “But I thought you studied James?” “Well, yes, but I’m not necessarily doing that.”

As my friend Alex Absalom would say, “The problem with Christians isn’t that they don’t understand what Jesus said. The problem with Christians is that they don’t do what Jesus said.”

I think the rich young ruler had this impulse. “What must I do to be saved?” he asks Jesus, even though he’s a “good boy.” There’s something compelling him to go further, to “go deep.” This Jesus guy seems to know a lot, maybe he knows what I need to do.

Jesus teases him a little, I think, by telling to obey the commandments. Almost as if to say, “Didn’t that do it for you?” He says, “No. I still want something more.” So Jesus says, “Here’s what you’re lacking, and what you really need: sell everything you have and come follow me.”

Internship opportunity of a lifetime (which it is for everyone, actually: discipleship to Jesus is the best opportunity you’ll ever get as a human being), and instead he goes away sad because he won’t part with his wealth. He wanted some kind of “deeper” teaching, but Jesus knew what he really was longing for was the freedom and joy of being his disciple. But he couldn’t get over the “giving up everything” part.

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The rich young ruler wanted the hit of a new idea from scripture. He knew it all. He wanted something new. He wanted to “go deep.” But he got a hit of a different kind: You’re not actually getting the point of knowing the law. Here’s what you need to do to fix it.

He was interested in the “right answers” but nothing that required him to change.

And that’s my fundamental issue with the “I want to go deep” kind people. If we were going to make mass generalizations, it’s that while they want to go into the endless minutia of scripture, which can be a good thing, they rarely really want to do anything with it. The have bought into the lie that knowing more scripture changes you.

It doesn’t.

Doing what scripture says and responding to God’s voice changes you. This isn’t to say that knowing scripture isn’t important or that knowing creedal statements and doctrine isn’t important. But the point is that it is incarnated in you. That you are the flesh and blood embodiment of these things.

Ultimately scripture, creedal statements and doctrines are statements about what we believe reality is…so let’s live in reality! This isn’t something that can be disembodied from the way we live. If you’re not actively seeking to live in it, you don’t really believe it.

It requires a fundamental desire to want to change the broken person that I am and let God’s Spirit do his work. It is saying, “I’m not fully living in the reality of God and his Kingdom and I’m going to orient my life to do that.” In people who say they want to “go deep,” I have not seen that desire in these kinds of people.

They’re looking for the hit.

Now scripture does speak to a large degree about what we as Christians should want, but it’s not “going deep.”

Doug Paul
Doug Paul serves as the Director of Content at 3DM, where he works alongside Mike Breen developing books, blogs, webinars, whitepapers and other content initiatives. Before moving to Pawleys Island, SC, he served as a Teaching Pastor and Director of Multi-Site at a church in Richmond, VA. He went on to plant a church using Missional Communities and Huddles while participating in 3DMs first Learning Community.