Spiritual Formation & Discipleship

I don’t remember where I came across the link to this article, maybe in an email.

The Making of the Christian

Richard J. Foster and Dallas Willard
Christianity Today (9/16/2005)

Willard: Spiritual formation is the process of establishing the character of Christ in the person. That’s all it is.

You are taking on the character of Christ
in a process of discipleship to Him
under the direction of the Holy Spirit
and the Word of God.

What sometimes goes on in all sorts of Christian institutions is not formation of people in the character of Christ; it’s teaching of outward conformity.

You don’t get in trouble for not having the character of Christ, but you do if you don’t obey…It is so important to understand that character formation is not behavior modification.

Foster: …many Christian institutions have a system by which you find out whether you’re in or out. Sometimes it’s rules, sometimes it’s a certain belief system.

Willard: Spiritual formation is for developing a heart that is one with God…The business of the church is to bring that about…

Forget about perfection. We’re just talking about learning to do the things that Jesus is favorable toward and doing it out of a heart that has been changed into His.

In what context do spiritual formation groups usually function?

Foster: Sometimes they go to the same church; sometimes they don’t. Some group members don’t go to any church. It doesn’t matter. We bless the organized church structures and their meetings. But if there are 10,000 others that meet outside of these ecclesiastical structures, that’s wonderful too. The kingdom of God moves forward in lots and lots of ways.

Willard: …if we’re really concerned about reaching the world for Christ, we have to bring the church—which is the people of God—to permeate society. You can’t tie it to a building. That’s where we started. We went to buildings, but it was about community. It was Christ coming upon preexisting community and redeeming it where it was.

Read the entire article here.

Read further thoughts on this topic in my earlier post Disciples or Converts.


9 thoughts on “Spiritual Formation & Discipleship

  1. I’m a huge fan of Dallas Willard. I have a bunch of quotes from him in my blog posting queue that I’ve read in the past while (some from The Divine Conspiracy, some from The Great Omission). He and Foster’s focus on spiritual formation and discipleship is a breath of fresh air.

    1. Yes, Discipleship is learning how to follow Chirst. Once you do and your character takes shape . . .that’s Spiritual Formation!

  2. @Kansas Bob — I think the two could mean the same thing, but they come out of different contexts in the church. In my experience “discipleship” has often been reduced to training a new believer to read the bible, pray, have a “quiet time”, etc. I prefer the idea of “formation” in the sense that Willard uses it because it recognizes that we’re always being “formed” by something — and prompts the question what do we need to do to make sure we’re being formed by the Holy Spirit, and not the ads on TV?

  3. bob and maria,
    It is better explained in the article. Ideally, I believe they mean the same thing. However the word discipleship in particular has taken on connotations of practices of outward behavior rather than internal transformation.

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