Sometimes I can lose sight of the “why” of spiritual formation. In our Sunday Schools and Small Groups it can we can make it be about “your personal walk with Jesus”…we can make it be about “coming together as community, forming relationships”…we can make it be all about “pleasing God.” Each of these, in a way, loses sight of the end game here. They lose sight of the missional meaning of Spiritual Formation that should be guiding us closer to God and to each other.
Take the following from MaryKate Morse at Missio Alliance:
Definitions matter. They provide a simple clarity to what a thing or idea is. A few weeks ago my doctoral students and I were talking about the definition of Christian spiritual formation. The most common definition is “being conformed to the image of Christ for the sake of others.” I have used this definition for years, and I have found it attributed to several authors.
Defining Spiritual Formation
A definition I more recently adopted was proposed by Jeffrey Greenman in Life in the Spirit: Spiritual Formation in Theological Perspectives, edited by Greenman and George Kalantzis. His is a more developed definition:
“Spiritual Formation is our continuing response to the reality of God’s grace shaping us into the likeness of Jesus Christ, through the work of the Holy Spirit, in the community of faith, for the sake of the world (24).”
There is so much about this definition that I really like, which I hope you will notice too. However, my reflection here is on what one of my students, Mike Conan (a Presbyterian pastor), noticed was not there. During our discussion he said, “I’m bothered that the purpose of spiritual formation is ‘for the sake of the world’ or ‘for the sake of others’ and not for the sake of God.” Many commented that God’s mandate to us is to love the world, just as Jesus Christ did. Therefore, formation in Christ’s image leads us to that outcome, loving the world and loving others.
I like how that understanding of spiritual formation works, particularly how the author argues that it’s bothersome that it’s not “for the sake of God.” But, for God’s sake, we are to be for the world. It is in being “for the world” that we are for God. One of the problems we have in our understanding of spiritual formation is that we separate the two.