What is Christian Spiritual Formation Anyway?

Several months ago I had someone ask me how to define Christian spiritual formation. It isn’t easy, because there isn’t just one definition. Some hear the term and choose to shy away from it altogether. But I’ve found it helpful. While in my reading of the Bible I understand spiritual formation and discipleship to be roughly equivalent, discipleship in modern parlance is often associated with involvement in a Bible study or a small group, and I’ve found that using the term “spiritual formation” can often open doors to a broader understanding of what it means to be transformed by the love of Christ. Discipleship to Christ takes place in far more spaces and places than a Sunday school classroom; ideally, the setting for discipleship is understood to be the totality of one’s life lived in Christ, by the Spirit, and under the reign, or kingdom, of God.

I’m linking the following here partly for myself; this article by Wilson Teo from a 2017 issue of Regent University’s Emerging Leadership Journeys journal explores this subject, identifying different definitions of spiritual formation, its theological foundations, goals, elements, and challenges, but for friends who have wondered about this term, where it comes from, and why it matters, this is a helpful survey.

It is certainly good if pastors and leaders are encouraging those in their orbit to become like Christ. In most circumstances this will not be up for debate. But the difficulty comes in answering, with precision and clarity, what the result would be and how it is done.

It has been done. It is being done. It can be done. And it must be done. By faith, and with God’s help.