SPIRITUAL FORMATION IN COMMUNITY
I want to focus first on leadership, but primarily on the leader’s character and integrity. I am going to approach this form the perspective of missional leadership for that is the desired leadership about which I have chosen to learn and to which I have submitted myself. I believe that missiology and spiritual formation play hand-in-hand. For missiology by it natures requires a sense of contemplation, prayer, guidance, and commitment. All of these are found as disciplines or via the disciplines.
A leader’s personal character is paramount to the missional church and to the apostolic leadership model! Personal character can be summed up as self-identity, which refers to the leader’s nature, character, and behavior in the context of the congregation and its maturing and growing. The leader must be well grounded in a deep spring of faith. The leader must also have a strong commitment to be formed and shaped by the Spirit via cooperation with Him through the disciplines. I believe that in the following aspects of missional leadership require a strong commitment to the spiritual disciplines and foster a strong relationship with them. Through prayer and contemplation and self-examination that leader can have a good sense of where he is and who he is, but also where he must grow.
Missional leadership is primarily focused first on the individual leader’s growth, spiritual formation, and well-grounded foundation in Christ. Romanuk and Roxburgh write, “Leaders either form or deform the emergence of the Spirit’s work among God’s people” (The Missional Leader: 126). This is very important! It is absolutely necessary that the leader be well-grounded, personally transformed by Christ’s blood, deified by the work of the Holy Spirit via Deification, and led from deep waters. A leader must feel trusted by their people. Being a leader in the context of Missiology requires a lot of maturity and character! Leaders must base their lives around their values and beliefs and live those out, embodying them for themselves and the congregation. Romanuk and Roxburgh write, “Character is a matter of personal habits, skills, and behaviors that engender confidence and credibility. It also involves a leader’s motivation, values, and sense of life purpose. Character requires self-knowledge and clear evidence that Jesus Christ is the center of the leader’s life, meaning, and call. Character is the place where one’s deep hunger, personal identity, and calling merge to generate the confidence that allows people to trust a leader and agree to journey together in a new direction. Such character is observed in four personal qualities: maturity, conflict management, personal courage, and trustworthiness and trusting” (The Missional Leader: 127).
Missional imagination cultivated in an environment of God’s people requires a self-aware, authentic, and present leader who understands the realities and concerns of those he leads. A missional leader is personally mature has these three ingredients: being present to oneself and others, being authentic, and is being self-aware.
Missional transformation is by nature going to put a leader into a very tension-filled aura filled with high-conflict. The leader must be able to place the conflict within the confines of the changing environment and foster it in a very healthy way and not avoid it. The leader must engage conflict so that the people will ask themselves questions about what God is doing among them as a faith community. Engaging conflict helps all the community to think differently, name the conflict they are experiencing, and to find solutions to the conflict.
“Missional leadership is not for the faint-hearted. It takes courage to do the right thing when it is neither easy nor comfortable and to accept the personal consequences of leading people out of familiar habits and patterns toward an alternative future,” write Romanuk and Roxburgh (The Missional Leader: 137). Being a missional leader means one has to have the courage to stand up to public pressure, sacrifice popularity, and make tough decisions. Romanuk and Roxburgh continue, “Personal courage is the capacity to go on a long journey in the same direction, even when few seem willing to follow. It means keeping to one’s core values, ideals, and sense of call, even if they have become unpopular” (The Missional Leader: 138).
Trustworthiness and Trusting
Without trust there is absolutely no way a missional transformation can take place! In discontinuous change there is always a sense of insecurity. If the leader does not have the trust of the people and the people the trust of the leader then there can be no missional change in difficult times. One way to build this trust is to show that there is coherence between character and action. Right beliefs and right thinking leads to right actions! If there is disconnect there and those two are coherent and congruent then there is not trust and rightfully so! This is where an emotional systems approach to your congregation is vital! But it is even more vital to the leader that he or she have their core values and system in place and that they live and make decisions and perform actions out of those core values and beliefs. Romanuk and Roxburgh state, “You live from a set of consistent values that do not zig and zag under outside influence. People experience consistency in your leadership over an extended period of time. Values and skills combine to give people trust in your leadership. Trust is built as you demonstrate consistency in values, skills, and actions” (The Missional Leader: 139).
I think we have explored how the leader himself must be well-grounded and of upright character. Let’s look at how a leader can implement a plan of spiritual formation in his community.
Spiritual Formation Plan
I think the best chapter in Wilhoit’s book, “Spiritual Formation as if the Church Mattered: Growing in Christ through Community,” to begin to implement a plan of spiritual formation would be in chapter 4, To Foster Receiving in Community. This presupposes the need to receive a foundation, which Wilhoit addressed in chapter 3. We of course must realize our own brokenness and sin as a community, but I find that we receive this in the fact that we are already a community. Being in community helps to go and show how depraved we are and how often we make mistakes and fail. It shows us how sinful we truly can be. Wilhoit writes, “A sense of humble receptiveness on the part of the Christian community is so essential to true spiritual formation. A receptive stance requires both corporate and individual humility and spiritual provision, which is available for those who humbly seek. We must seek to promote an appropriate humility and brokenness on the part of God’s people, so that they are receptive to the Spirit’s work of formation and reformation in our lives” (Wilhoit: 81).
To have a sense of openness is absolutely vital to beginning spiritual formation with the practices and disciplines! Wilhoit writes, “A true spiritual openness has at its core a personal brokenness that results in humility and a tender openness to God’s work in us” (Wilhoit: 82). This is where we must begin. We must be open with ourselves and with one another to see first the need that we are broken, but also open to the need to have the Spirit spiritually form us and mold us into the Divine Nature. Our job as leaders is to help persuade our people that we in fact need change and repentance. That we need spiritual formation and reformation.
It is upon this persuasion and this openness that a vision. A vision provides hope that a real change is possible and that transformation can indeed take place as a ontological reality (Wilhoit: 82). This vision is not just something that is emotional, but it must also guide us spiritually and morally. It must set in place a view of things for us that motivate us to move forward spiritually. This vision is also grounded in the fact that there is hope. There is hope for our lives to be ontologically changed, shaped, molded, and conformed to reflect the Divine Nature and to be restored to the Divine Image. The vision helps us to grasp that hope and restoration are possible with the blood of Jesus Christ. Wilhoit says, “Vision is the wild card of spiritual formation…The ability to cast a vision of change and discipleship is a powerful means of grace. I know of many people whose spiritual lives have been forever transformed through a vision-communicating speaker, who was able to call them to a different way of life by giving them a moral/spiritual vision” (Wilhoit: 83). It is like a road map or a source of spiritual strength and exhortation. We can realize that we can come to live differently and not be trapped in our old selves.
Richard Foster talks exclusively about how worship plays into our spiritual formation. This is where I believe the Orthodox have a lot to share with other Christians. Worship is the eschatological destiny of the Church and this should inform everything about our lives and what we believe and how we practice those beliefs. The best place to look at how worship is would be the book of Revelations. This is where much of the Divine Liturgy for the Orthodox takes its ques. Worship centers on God! And if worship is going to help shape us spiritually then it must center on God. Wilhoit writes in his Corollary 7, “Worship filled with prayer and praise and opportunities for confession, repentance, receiving the sacraments, hearing and giving testimonies of God’s activity, and learning/challenging is the most important context of community formation” (Wilhoit: 86). That was something that drew me to the Orthodox Church. The worship is unlike anything I have ever witnessed on earth. It is a worship that is God-centered and mysterious. It is one in which all these things Wilhoit writes about are present.
If we want brokenness we must be broken. “Communities marked by a constructive and pervasive sense of brokenness all have leaders who are broken and open people. Some of these leaders are people who have genuinely been broken and seen the bottom through their own experiences” (Wilhoit: 87). I believe this goes back to much of what missional leadership is about. It takes a leader who is extremely self-aware and honest with himself and his people to be able to lead them into a place of being spiritually formed. But often this first includes their being broken. Wilhoit goes on to say, “Our message needs to have far more emphasis on the fact that we are all in this together: We all suffer from the same deadly disease of sin, and we are all in the same treatment facility. While there is progress, and while there is hope, there are also relapses, and there is an ongoing struggle. Leaders in their teaching, preaching, and pastoral ministry need to be open about the reality of struggle and awareness of brokenness in their own life if they want to create a climate that supports authentic recognition of our brokenness” (Wilhoit: 87). Part of our jobs as leaders is to foster a place where this can happen. We must provide places where brokenness can be exposed, so that it may be healed. This allows for an atmosphere where brokenness leads to discipleship.
The disciplines are about the cooperation with God’s work in our lives. Hence, they are indeed about submission. Jesus invites us to love God and obey Him. He also invites us to love one another and to submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. Out of this invent flows some more invites I want to address:
Jesus invites us to depend more and more on His grace. We must come to the realization that all growth and transformation comes from the grace of Christ. Wilhoit writes, “A curriculum for Christ likeness, which confirms Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, must lead us to see our brokenness and wretchedness and teach us where and how to receive the sustaining grace that God freely offers.
Jesus offers us the joy and freedom to practice the spiritual disciplines for they help to show us our hunger for God. Through the disciplines we come into a place of God’s sustaining presence where we can be healed. Wilhoit notes, “The disciplines are aimed at heart transformation and the growth of inner beauty” (Wilhoit: 93). The joy and freedom to practice disciplines does not mean they deliver us from trouble or remove us from bad situations. They are things we do to cooperate with God’s work in us.
Jesus invites us to practice discernment. As leaders it is our job to be offering wisdom and the Godly perspective on situations that the Church or individuals are facing. Wilhoit writes, “Churches should seek to build into their culture encouragement to turn to others for discernment in times of decision making so that they can receive wisdom from the body of Christ” (Wilhoit: 95).
Jesus invites us to pray. Wilhoit says that, “Prayer is one of the most important acts of receiving. In prayer we have direct interaction with God and the opportunity of receiving his care and grace, and naturally we put ourselves in a posture of receiving” (Wilhoit: 97). The thing about liturgical churches is that the liturgy is basically one big prayer. This is very important to all communal life. And it is sad that many churches neglect this. Some of the ways in which a church can cultivate this receiving in prayer is to hold prayer meetings, have prayer ministries, go on prayer retreats, hold special seasons of prayer, have prayer chains and emails, immerse themselves and others in prayer, give opportunities for practicing prayer, and finally by incorporate liturgical elements that focus strongly on communal prayer.
Jesus invites us to worship, to celebrate the sacraments, to use our bodies in prayer and worship, to use our money wisely, to repent and draw close to God and to Jesus. These are all things that as a community involve being receptive. Wilhoit closes the chapter by saying, “In our state of human brokenness and extreme need, the gospel brings grace to those who own their brokenness and seek repentance instead of building idols. Repentance includes a vision for a change brought by humbly acknowledging sin and devoting oneself to investing in a life driven by the invitations of Jesus. Jesus laid out a road map for those who could see that their idols were empty and who wanted to turn away to a different path” (Wilhoit: 102). It is the receiving of this map that begins the path to spiritual formation for the individual and for the community. It is this map that leads us to a new and better path together.