I've been thinking this morning of what a spiritual formation course would look like for the new M.Div program IWU is considering offering in the future.
WHAT WOULD SUCH A COURSE LOOK LIE?
The first issue is to face what the SF course is about—become a “better monk” personally by doing more fasting and praying, or is the course going to reflect more recent developments in spiritual formation where the focus is on the spiritual formation of the body of Christ—that is Paul’s original use of the term -- groaning as in childbirth until Christ if formed in you (plural you).
If we personalize spiritual formation it may be more popular to Americans already absorbed with themselves and it becomes like the spiritual gifts tests—another way to think about me and my preferences and my modes of personal spirituality. But if we consider that the pastor’s profession is to form Christ in the community of Christ then we have another matter. Should we do both—yes, but what many pastors lack is the knowledge and skills to form Christ in persons and people.
If a dentist was as random about her work as pastors are their SF work the dentist would give me a sermon on Chemistry when I went to him with a toothache. There are proven methods of spiritual formation of a group (and they are almost always group experiences in the body of Christ, not just privatized "devotions" or fasting or other private disciplines.) This second kind of SF is what pastors need better equipping for. The reason why we have churches full of shallow and immature Christian is the “dentist” does not know how to do the dentistry but knows mostly how to explain chemsitry based on their Bible courses. They need to know the proven means of using the Bible to bring about life change.
Many pastors assume “to know is to do.” So they lead bible studies (or proclaim in preaching) the Bible assuming that once it is clear what god wants the people will live it. They don’t, of course. If we were a Calvinist school ths would work too-for we would teach and proclaim and wait for God to do the transformation of whomever He has pre-slected to enliven. But we are Weslayen. Transformation occasinally happens through understanding but more often through proven methods of Bible study and preaching.
So “curriculum people” like Norm Wilson and me might see a course like this including things like this:
1. History & theology of the Bible as a Spiritual Formation tool. (History of the Bible’s use as a tool for spiritual formation including various methods used in the past; Theological underpinnings using the Bible as a SF tool including the role of the Holy Spirit, the body of Christ along with individual revelation; current approaches to transformation using the Bible text.)
2. How people change. (How do people change in response to the Bible? What are the sociological, spiritual, pedagogical, theological and psychological “change factors” that are ingredients besides the actual text of the Bible that must be considered in using the Bible as a tool for prompting life change? Exploring various theories of how God changes persons [and a people] by meeting them in the Word. Examining my own methods of SF in my leadership of the church and discovering areas where I need to develop.)
3. Bible outcomes. (Discovering the multi-level outcomes in the Bible—primary and secondary, corporate and individual—for describing a godly person and a people for God… cognitively, affectively, behaviorally—what are we trying to “make” when we make disciples? Developing, sorting and prioritizing the Bible’s expected corporate and individual outcomes then mapping outcomes to the generalized needs of today’s church and also the specific needs of my own local church, producing a schedule or curriculum or plan for preaching and teaching—a “curriculum” of sorts for the spiritual formation using the Bible.)
4. Personal spiritual formation. (Rather than addressing this first as if corporate SF springs from personal life [as Americans assume] put it last since personal spiritual formation more often springs from the corporate experience as above; focus on habits and attitudes especially those of a local shepherd.)
..at least those are my [summertime] breakfast thoughts....