Spiritual formation: more than a buzz phrase

Two words combined to be a buzz phrase have appeared at different times and in different ways in Baptist life lately, especially at CBF General Assembly last month: Spiritual. Formation.

The new Dawnings CBF initiative that offers a missional visioning process for new and old congregations has 3 components — vision, formation, and engagement. In Dawnings, formation is considered the sustaining force of visioning. Spiritual formation is the sustaining force of more than visioning, but also a sustainer of corporate and personal faith and discernment in every way.

As Johnny Sears and Sharon Conley of The Upper Room discussed in their breakout session, Spiritual Formation: The Soul of Faith and Mission, Glenn Hinson expanded on Friedrich von Hügel’s 3-legged stool of spiritual formation to describe spiritual formation as a 4-legged stool. This metaphor includes the legs of institutional, intellectual, experiential, and social for stable spiritual formation. At gatherings like Assembly, we increase the social and institutional legs as we network, socialize, and revisit institutional policies and procedures. Many Baptists traditionally excel at the intellectual and experiential legs from week to week and day to day through Bible study and worship. In order for spiritual formation to be stable, all 4 legs must be present in a Christian’s life. Different seasons and occasions will have more of 1 leg than another, but all 4 legs must be present in a healthy spiritual life as individual and Fellowship life are reviewed holistically. In order for individual faith and corporate faith to be stable, all 4 legs must be sturdy enough to support the weight of change and challenge.

Spiritual formation is critical for clergy and laity alike. No one gets a free pass or particular priority — all people need spiritual formation. As Sears and Conley discussed in their session, spiritual formation is like a trellis supporting growth of vines and the plant together.

Spiritual formation is a way to move forward. A goal of Assembly is looking toward the future. Sears said, “This [spiritual formation] matters for the future”. There is no future without spiritual formation because it is through spiritual formation, discipleship, intentionally connecting with God through prayer practices and other spiritual disciplines, that there can be clarity about who we are and who we are not individually and corporately.

Devita Parnell, CBF Missional Resources Specialist, said that “spiritual formation is really infusing what we do at CBF”. Spiritual formation necessitates looking beyond familiar Baptist authors and ideas, and considering the wisdom of forefathers and foremothers of our shared Christian spiritual heritage. CBF has partnered with Upper Room, a Methodist ministry, for nearly 10 years. Some of the greatest Christian spiritual thinkers and authors happen to be of Christian traditions other than Baptist, and are worthy of time and ink to be studied.

May discussions about spiritual formation be more than tossing around a newly found buzz phrase, but instead be truly a movement toward making disciples of all nations- widening and deepening Christian faith rooted in spiritual practices from tradition and Scripture for all people.


Erica Lea

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Erica Lea is a 4th-year M.Div student at George W. Truett Theological Seminary where she focuses on spiritual formation and pastoral leadership. She also blogs at olgaproverbs31.wordpress.com.

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