I have held seats on both sides of the aisle. I have been a pastor in the local church for several years, and I have lead a spiritual formation ministry for several years. Spiritual formation was dubbed a “movement” a few years back, but let’s face it within the evangelical world a “movement” can produce very little movement. After all of these years I find that it has been a conversation piece for conferences and blogs more than it has had a meaningful impact on the local church. I am not sure of all the reasons, but I want to offer a few musings after years of observation, and see what you all thought. My sense is that there is blame to be had on both sides of the aisle.
First, I believe that the spiritual formation movement has failed to actually care about the church. I know this is a bold statement. I don’t mean to say that the spiritual formation movement doesn’t want to see its vision and values take root in the church. Of course it does. What I mean is that the spiritual formation movement has done little to thoughtfully, intentionally and whimsically engage the local church. Within the writing and content produced by the spiritual formation movement very little thought has been given to how the principles and concepts developed fit within an evangelical ecclesiology. The spiritual formation movement has largely been content to remain a monastic order of sorts. Believing that its existence outside of the church would in some way serve as a prophetic sign of the churches failure to truly make disciples. Perhaps it has done so to a certain degree. However, what often lies behind this is a resignation on the part of many in the spiritual formation movement to truly see real growth and change in the church the way they would envision. Many who are in the spiritual formation movement have been wounded by the church, and don’t wish to return to its rigid quarters. What has resulted is a ghettoizing of what is fundamentally meant to be a part of the life of the church.
Second, churches that have embraced spiritual formation have done so for unhealthy reasons or without discernment and wisdom. Often when pastors do gravitate towards spiritual formation it is not because of a personally meaningful engagement, but merely because they are hunting for the next “thing.” Because spiritual formation has been baptized as another movement within evangelicalism they turn to it in hopes of finding the solution to the waining energy and enthusiasm of their congregation. On the other hand there are many pastors who have decided to welcome spiritual formation into the walls of their church because of a personally meaningful experience. However, they do so with little discernment and wisdom. Because their encounter with certain spiritual formation authors has been so radically life changing they move to reinvent their entire ecclesiology built on these spiritual formation principles. Often they have spent little time truly wrestling through the theological implications of their experience, and situating their new understanding of the Christian life within a doctrinally developed ecclesiology.
Of course, there are exceptions to every rule. There are spiritual formation ministries who have focused on the church well. There are churches who have implemented spiritual formation thoughtfully.
What are your thoughts?