I returned from my time at the Ecclesia National Gathering last night despite the somewhat treacherous driving conditions. Overall, it was a great time of meeting new people, reconnecting with some older friends, and learning about spiritual formation. In the next few posts, I’ll give some of the highlights of our time and what they may hold for the future.
As I mentioned in the last post, Todd Hunter and MaryKate Morse were the two main speakers. They opened our time Wednesday afternoon with a general introduction to what spiritual formation entails. A simple definition was given: “Spiritual formation is the process of being conformed to the image of Christ for the sake of others.” This is a great, concise definition with some key elements to being the people of God.
First, it is a process. In many Christian circles the emphasis is on salvation (typically a very reduced version of it: dying and going to heaven someday) and then anything of substance usually tails off. Discipleship and formation aren’t necessarily entered into the equation because it is simply seen as that: an equation. Rather than being seen as a process we enter into through salvation, Christian faith is seen as a decision in which all the benefits of said decision are immediately ours. The reality is that life is the process time in which Christ forms us into his image. It is a lifelong journey.
Second, we aren’t being transformed into just “a better person”, but we are being made into the image of Christ. This is essential for our understanding, not just of New Testament Christianity, but for our understanding of the entire Christian narrative. If we were made in the image of God in the beginning, it was fragmented and broken because of sin, part of the redemption process must be the restoration of this original image-bearing. Along with the image being reformed come the works and original purpose of this image-bearer.
This is the third aspect of our definition: mission. Formation into the image of Christ, thus rendering us into the humans we are supposed to be, naturally leads into mission. We don’t begin our journey into Christ-likeness and then keep it all to ourselves. No, formation into the image of Christ pushed us into the world for the sake of the world. This is (again) linked to knowing, understanding, and embodying the entire narrative of God. Because he is a missionary God we are a missionary people, formed in his likeness for the benefit of others. This is why Todd Hunter says, “Missional without formational will always remain aspirational.” They are two sides of the same coin.
Perhaps this is why we don’t see much missionary activity in local churches. If there is a link between embodying the entire narrative of God and missional/formational concepts, and I think there is, then we must ask if we’re lacking in any of these areas. Do we know the impetus behind our being and doing as Christians? Do we anticipate living fully someday “in heaven” or do we strive for life here and now? Are we intentionally pursuing formation (transformation of our malformation) for the sake of others or are we intent with the way things are? If formation and mission are in constant relational tension, what are we intentionally doing to shape our being and vice versa?