by John Teal

It is possible that we are unable to see God's entire path from where we begin the journey. So, he leads us to a new place, not as a destination but as a place where we gain a new perspective that opens further insights into His will. With every segment of the Journey, God is leading, and our job is to pay attention, discern his voice, and move forward.

Stephen Shaffer – Mission Alive, Discipleship Cohorts

My previous boss, friend, and brother once said every good business he started came from solving a point of pain. Many of my worthwhile Spirit-led journeys also began from a pain point!

Common Grounds is a result of sharing my pain with an elder from a different stream of our heritage. We lamented the destructiveness of sectarian attitudes within our tribes and then planned a gathering in our small California town.

As a youth, I remember learning to sail with my father. He made it look easy. My experience was quite different, and the power of the wind seemed challenging to find. When I did catch the wind, it would soon escape my connection with it.

Common Grounds Unity put its sail out in 2018, and since then, I have experienced the thrill of the speed and the fear of where the Spirit might be leading.

God has taken us on an incredible journey I could have never scripted. I appreciate the CGU Board and many others who have contributed to keeping our sail in the direction of the Holy Spirit. The greatest blessing has been being surrounded by incredibly talented and, most importantly, Spirit-led people. Together, we have found new places along the way. And, with every segment of the journey, God has led us to pay attention, discern his voice, and move forward.

One of those moments occurred a few years ago, speaking with Douglas Foster. Douglas is a professor and renowned historian of the Stone Campbell Movement. I asked about the keys to unity within our heritage, and he, without hesitation, said Spiritual Formation.

I did not expect that answer. But, to borrow from the Matrix, his response became "a splinter in my mind."

Our attempts to perfect patterns of doctrine or practice will never result in unity. We have a better shot starting with relational connection, but even that can fail as we all have challenging relationships.

Yet, what if we are being "transformed by the renewing of our minds" (Rom. 12 1-2). Or, suppose we "are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit" (2 Cor. 3:18). In that case, we will find solidarity at the center where Jesus is, rather than roaming the fence line protecting the borders of the church – deciding who is in and who is out! I find myself ill-equipped to discern what ultimately belongs to God.

Could it be true that the idol of institutional Christianity tempts our Western Christian culture?

Are we more compelled by planting and building churches than we are interested in providing transforming communities of grace?

Whenever I have led CGU toward becoming an institution rather than a resource for transformation and spiritual renewal, we have lost our way. The sails have fallen flat, and we have had to learn how to discern and listen again. I do not want to be another voice making noise; I desire to be a voice for transformative spirituality! Maybe you do as well.

Another moment of clarity came in a conversation with our Associate Executive Director, Drew Baker. I was in a place, protecting my sanity by thinking, "Less is more," and not wanting to take on new projects or events. Drew convinced me that CGU can and should provide spaces for ministry leaders who are lonely, overburdened, facing burnout, and thinking of leaving the ministry.

Barna's research report shows two in five pastors have seriously considered quitting full-time ministry over the past year. A tragedy that is not getting better but worse.

And so, in October 2023, Drew planned a "Habitation Retreat" focused on serving ministry leaders at the St Francis Prayer Center in Stoneville, NC. Jim and Lindsay Long, who are Spiritual Directors, facilitated a spiritual formation and renewal retreat that was moving and transformative. We intend to continue this regional retreat annually and hope it encourages other regional events elsewhere.

Another moment of clarity came as I participated in a 16-week Mission Alive Discipleship Cohort. Tod Vogt, Executive Director of Mission Alive, is a Spiritual Director and a Certified Coach. The Mission Alive format creates a safe culture for spiritual growth and formation.

I was amazed by the simple genius of the journey they create, learning to listen to God through Scripture, silence, solitude, prayer, community, and mission. This journey created a space for the Spirit to untie knots in my rope. It gave me the tools and language to identify internal narratives holding me back from spiritual growth.

Thank you, Tod and Mission Alive!

As it turns out, none of us can see the end of the journey--or even the path just around the bend. But thankfully, we are following the One who does. Our job is to pay attention, discern His voice, surrender to His guidance, and take the next step.

Thank you for walking with us, and please pray for us as we advance gatherings of unity-minded Christians worldwide, provide resources for Christian spirituality and transformation, and provide retreats or ongoing transforming communities of grace.

John Teal is a founding board member and President of Common Grounds Unity. He and his wife, Danna, live near Raleigh, NC, and have two adult daughters. John has a BS in Biblical Studies from Central Christian College of the Bible. He retired from Waste Management and now enjoys a part-time career as a REALTOR, allowing him the flexibility to serve the mission of CGU.