The spiritual formation movement, at times (not always), seems to suggest if you practice the disciplines you will be spiritually formed. That tendency has then been picked up by churches to create “programs” for each discipline with the hope that by providing the program the church will foster spiritual formation. And sometimes this happens.
But Andy Stanley challenges this approach. Part 3 of his book Deep & Wide examines this topic and he calls it “Rethinking Spiritual Formation.” If Andy is right — and I think he is — we may need to reconfigure how we think about spiritual formation. “We don’t believe classes create mature believers. Classes create smart believers” (101). Andy is not against theology, but he knows theology isn’t enough.
In 1995 some leaders at North Point discussed forming a church around spiritual formation. They are not alone in that one. But what they did was discuss and discover five catalysts for spiritual formation, and these five catalysts shape ministry at North Point. As I read these three chapters, I said to myself time and time Yes, this is how it happens.
The question: What were the decisive catalysts in your own spiritual formation?
Here is what Andy and the leaders at North Point think are the top five, and these are their conclusions on the basis of the stories of countless Christians:
1. Practical Teaching: his focus here is on teaching with a view toward formation and change and praxis and not just toward information and theology. And he speaks of how so many witness to the importance of the Bible coming alive at some point. One of their mottos: “People are far more interested in what works than what’s true” (114). Agree? People are on happiness quests not truth quests. This is why they don’t so much teach through books in the Bible as teach themes derived from books.
2. Private Disciplines: Here is the spiritual disciplines classic emphasis, and many speak to the influence of the disciplines in their growth. They focus on Bible study and reading and prayer; they often provide cards of Bible references or prayers for the week. And on giving: priority, percentage, progressive. (Make giving a priority, determine your percentage, work on improving that percentage.)
3. Personal Ministry: “Few things will stretch and thus grow our faith [well, many today are using “grow” as a transitive verb] like stepping into a ministry environment for which we feel unprepared” (124). So they are big on getting people into ministries: “We are committed to involving as many people as possible, as young as possible, as soon as possible” (127). Unchurched and unbelievers are given responsibility according to their faith. But ministry transforms the minister.
4. Providential Relationships: most people speak of people who influenced their formation. They often see these as “providential” because they experienced the relationship as something from God. North Point tries to create environments conducive to the development of relationships, so they don’t change sunday school teachers ever year … they have small groups that can last from a child’s first grade into middle school years; small groups is the name of the game at North Point. Andy once told me they were a small groups that meet together on Sundays.
5. Pivotal Circumstances: nearly everyone has been influenced by “pivotal” moments in life, some of them tragic and others splendid. The issue here is how to interpret those moments. They discovered that what matters is two things: one’s worldview and those who are around the person when the pivotal circumstance occurs. Again, small groups is their central conduit in forming worldview and friendships.
What happens in your church and life if these five catalysts are given full weight?