Currently our staff, elders, and board are reading a great book called The Present Future by Reggie McNeal. The book talks about how important it is for the church to be missional, to go out and make a difference in the community, and to not simply exist for itself. But the book also stresses the vital role that spiritual formation plays in this process.
In chapter four, McNeals says, “Jesus facilitated spiritual formation in his disciples by introducing them to life situations and then helping them debrief their experiences.” He says, “Helping people grow, particularly in the arena of spiritual formation, is about unpacking life: challenging our emotional responses that are destructive (envy, hatred, bitterness); challenging our biases (racial prejudice, social and economic elitism, intellectual snobbery); challenging our assumptions (‘my needs are the most important’); challenging our responses; unpacking our frustrations, our hopes, our dreams, and our disappointments; bringing life to God rather than teaching about God, somehow hoping to get him into our life.” (McNeal 85-86).
One of the best questions we can ask ourselves is “Are we experiencing spiritual formation on a regular basis?” If not, then why not? It is different for everybody. For some it happens in Bible study, a Sunday School class, a small group, in worship, on a Habitat Build, hosting Room in the Inn, volunteering at Nashville Food Project, reading a good book, going on a retreat. There is no ONE WAY to do spiritual formation but it simply must be done. In the same way we tend to our bodies – diet, exercise, sleep - we must also tend to our souls.
In his book Spiritual Formation, Henri Nouwen says, “Spiritual formation prepares us for a life in which we move away from our fears, compulsions, resentments, and sorrows to serve with joy and courage in the world, even when this leads us to places we would rather not go.” Nouwen gives a specific example of what spiritual formation can look like: moving from resentment to gratitude. “Resentment blocks action; gratitude lets us move forward toward new possibilities. Resentment makes us cling to negative prisoners of our passions. Gratitude helps us to transcend our compulsions to follow our vocation. Resentment exhausts us by complicated jealousies and ambiguities, stirring up destructive desires for revenge. Gratitude takes our fatigue away and give us new vitality and enthusiasm.” (Nouwen 64).
Human beings yearn to grow spiritually but often don’t know where to begin. One of the reasons we constantly push small group at Woodmont is because small groups, when done well, enable spiritual formation. The world is stressful, busy, and often overwhelming. We all need a safe place where we can connect with God, tend to the soul, and form meaningful relationships. If we can’t find a way to do this regularly, life will wear us out, and leave us tired, fearful, and confused. Jesus can show us the way to fullness of life, but only if we let him.