What is Christian Spiritual Formation?
Why Spiritual Formation?
What exactly is “spiritual formation”? In conversations with ministry leaders and academicians who boldly proclaim Christ, there have been mixed views about this topic. Concern over the use of this term has even created the fear that churches promoting this concept are leading people away from Jesus. The reluctance to use the term “spiritual formation” is not without cause. Nonetheless, the decision made by the leadership of Hershey Free Church to pursue spiritual formation came as a result of our commitment to being a community where people take next steps in following Jesus Christ. Ultimately, we want people to live with Jesus, love like Jesus, and lead others to do the same.
Foundationally, there was a recognition that for many in conservative, evangelical churches, spiritual growth had focused primarily on a biblical knowledge and obedience. However, what is sometimes overlooked is the truth that God’s will for our lives involves internal transformation. Spiritual formation reflects the biblical theme that, through the work of the Spirit, our relationship with God produces Christlikeness (2 Corinthians 3:18). As Hershey Free has embraced the value of transformation, an emphasis has been placed on helping people create rhythms that provide opportunities to engage the Spirit of God such as reflection on Scripture, silence, listening, praying, and journaling. These types of disciplines create space for the believer to hear from God through his Word and the presence of the Spirit.
As the ministry staff and leadership of Hershey Free, we have been very careful to always keep the Word of God central to the practice of these spiritual rhythms with only one goal in mind: to help people become more like Christ. While we acknowledge that there are spiritual formation practices that are outside of the bounds of evangelical Christianity, we are absolutely committed to staying true to the Word of God in the pursuit of Christlikeness. Therefore, we understand spiritual formation to be “the process by which God forms Christ’s character in believers by the ministry of the Spirit, in the context of community, and in accordance with biblical standards.” This definition is deeply rooted in the essence of the gospel. The intended result of the process of spiritual formation is a changed person whose life manifests a heart of love for God and for others.
This article is an example of how spiritual formation is discussed in our denomination, the Evangelical Free Church of America.