Definition of Spiritual Formation

Spiritual formation is the process of being conformed to the image of Christ by the gracious working of God’s spirit, for the transformation of the world.

1. a process:

  • gradual, life-long movement, not single, momentous conversion
  • goes against grain of “quick-fix, instant results, Five Easy Steps” culture
  • draws us by God’s magnetic attraction, awakening our desire for God

2. of being conformed to the image of Christ:

  • Christ is the image of God made visible to us (Col.1:15)
  • image of Christ is pattern of human wholeness — we share God’s image (Gen.1:26)
  • God’s likeness feels strange since we are misshapen by images of worldly culture
  • the Christ image heals, renews, restores us
  • moves us from being centered in self to being centered in God

3. by the gracious working of God’s spirit:

  • we want to make things happen in our self-reliant culture
  • but cannot conform ourselves to Christ by own will power
  • we can open ourselves to gracious working of God’s spirit
  • the Spirit enables us to choose way of Christ over self-interest
  • grace helps us give reins of control to God and to cooperate with Spirit
  • we resist Spirit’s work because change in ideas/habits/ behaviors is scary
  • spiritual disciplines (practices) are ways of opening ourselves to grace

4. for the transformation of the world:

  • being like Christ means living in self-giving love
  • spiritual life not about “me” but about the world God loves
  • as we are conformed to Christ we embody more of God’s love for others
  • fruits of spiritual formation are compassion, patience, truthfulness, reconciliation
  • transformed persons are leaven for transforming the world

This definition adapts and expands Robert Mulholland’s work Invitation to a Journey (InterVarsity Press, 1993). Companions in Christ Training © 2004. All rights reserved.

This is the best definition of spiritual formation that I have found. I like it because it emphasizes the process. We can not take a class to learn to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. We can not go on a weekend retreat and expect to be a fully mature follower of Jesus Christ. It is a reforming,re-engineering, realignment and repositioning of our core values that shapes our lives as disciples and allows us to live into the call to be completely devoted follows of Jesus Christ.

As a disciple of Christ my commitment to the community of faith will have priority over many of the culturally popular social trends. Soccer, football, baseball, basketball, cross country, golf, and other sports practice schedules will not take priority over the gathering of the saints. Our family obligations will be aligned with the priority of small groups and worship. We can not make disciples in anyway shape or form but we can create an environment for men and women to grow.

Our faith communities must strive to be the most empowering, engaging, enlightening and the most significant high impact event of our members lives. This is the total life engagement precess that Jesus engaged with the disciples. They followed him around, observed his disciplines, participated in his life encounter groups with other “sinners” and eventually became the men who would carry the message to the world about our resurrected Savior.

Making disciples is about asking the question “How do we engage people’s lives?” rather than “How can we attract them to an event?”

Can the modern mainline church re-engineer its ecclesiastical culture from events and committees to life style engagement and the beloved community of God? Can the administration of the church be driven by technology and the life of the church center around meals, coffee, pray and studying the scripture? I believe the answer is yes but the resistance will be significant because the old way must be evaluated and then sentenced to death. Holding on to mediocrity in ministry is the enemy of excellence. Holding on to the past is the enemy of God’s vision and call to the future.

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