A couple of researchers wanted people to eat healthy. After they looked at all the things they could do, they decided to encourage people in two towns in West Virginia to buy 1% or skim milk instead of whole milk.
According to Chip and Dan Heath, who tell the story in Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard, the two researchers built a media campaign around that simple change. They showed that one glass of whole milk has the same amount of saturated fat as five strips of bacon. They showed the amount of fat in other ways. And they said, “Buy lowfat milk.”
Before the campaign, less than one in five gallons of milk people bought was lowfat. After the campaign? More than two in five.
I love that story. But I have to work to understand how it works for me.
These two researchers were working with physical formation, helping people be more healthy physically. My day job is working with spiritual formation, helping people be more healthy spiritually. More particularly, I look at the kind of spiritual health that comes from living alongside Jesus. (It’s what I write about all the time at 300WordsaDay.com).
And I’m wondering what the 1% milk is in spiritual formation?
Every church seems to start at a different place. There are so many places to start, so many questions, so many aspects of spiritual health. Do you start with sin, with confession, with Bible reading, with meditation, with conversion, with evangelism, with prayer, with going to church, with giving, with baptism, with eating, with not eating, with stopping x,y, or z, with starting a,b,or c, with staying away from, with going to?
It all is so complicated. It’s no wonder that people who look at church people and rules and fussiness throw their hands in the air and walk away.
So is there a place to start with spiritual formation that works like 1% milk?
Let’s go back to the milk story for a moment.
If I were a health fanatic, I would get very frustrated with the 1% milk campaign. Changing the milk you buy doesn’t address the lack of exercise in American lives. It doesn’t add vegetables to our plates. It doesn’t talk at all about making good choices or getting plenty of rest.
Those are important concerns. But most people trying to bring about change start with the wholistic, with the massive, with the complete and complex. And in the process, people get confused about which and how many vitamins, about which and how often exercise, about which and how much food groups.
And while we are spending time trying to figure out how to help people understand what it means to be healthy and how to change our lifestyles and all, one fifth of the people in two towns in West Virginia are not putting 5 strips of bacon in every glass of milk.
Rather than starting complicated in spiritual health, what if there were a clear and simple step, one endorsed by Jesus?
Here’s what I’m thinking right now. I’m thinking that the 1% milk for spiritual formation is hanging drywall in Gulfport, Mississippi. (Okay, that and reading 300wordsaday.com.)