Spiritual Formation, simply put (…simple, hmmm), is the process of being formed into the image of Christ.
It should be noted that the term “image of Christ” is different from “image of God.” In Genesis, it is said that mankind was created in the image of God. Our involvement in this process is completely passive – it is the nature of our very being which emanates from the Father.
The process of being formed in the image or likeness of Christ is just that; a process. This process is one of dieing to self and living in Christ, as Paul speaks of, and requires a lifelong journey. It is one in which we allow the witness of Scripture, the counsel of the Holy Spirit, fellowship with the great cloud of Christian witnesses (the Church - both present and historical), engagement in Christian practices with the goal of godliness in mind, and the example of Jesus himself to instruct and transform us into someone new. This process is called Spiritual Formation.
Spiritual disciplines, Christian education, personal and corporate times of worship; these are all important pieces of Spiritual Formation. They are not the only pieces, but they are important ones.
We are all engaged at some level in Spiritual Formation. Perhaps our formation is haphazard or even accidental. If so, it is undoubtedly frustrating – if not to us then to those around us! We should therefore recognize the need for Intentional Spiritual Formation.
This conversation is important and has implications for the whole scope of ministry within the church. What kind of person are we trying to form with our worship? Our education ministry? Our youth and children’s ministries?
How spiritually mature are our congregations? What does our involvement (or lack of) in the areas of social justice and missions say about our level of spiritual maturity?
Spiritual formation plays an integral part in answering these and similar questions because it endeavors to raise the level Christ-identity within the Body. Through intentional formation we become better equipped to handle the changing needs/wants/demands/challenges of society and the people muddling through the societal bog.
Spiritual maturity is sorely needed in many congregations. I listen to the “conversations” that are taking place among both members and leaders and I recognize the style and content – it often sounds just like the drama that our junior high students are constantly involved in. So why are our adults behaving like adolescents? I don’t know the full answer, but I believe that part of the problem lies in our lack of intentional Spiritual Formation.
I really like Walter Brueggemann’s book Prophetic Imagination. One of his major premises in that work is that until the community is engaged in grief and criticism (the healthy, constructive kind) over their situation, the growth is not likely. I hope that the day is approaching when our congregations begin to cry out to God for deliverance.
I want to leave this post with the words of Psalm 15, which I believe are a definition of sorts for spiritual maturity and thus provide important considerations for formation.
1 LORD, who may dwell in your sanctuary? Who may live on your holy hill?
2 He whose walk is blameless and who does what is righteous, who speaks the truth from his heart
3 and has no slander on his tongue, who does his neighbor no wrong and casts no slur on his fellowman,
4 who despises a vile man but honors those who fear the LORD, who keeps his oath even when it hurts,
5 who lends his money without usury and does not accept a bribe against the innocent. He who does these things will never be shaken.
 I’ll be taking a stab at this one in a future post.