Christian Spiritual Formation, as M. Robert Mulholland Jr. defines in his book Invitation to a Journey, is “the process of being conformed to the image of Christ for the sake of others.” Christian Spiritual Formation (CSF) is not about me, and it never will be. For my classmates and I, this point is being emphasized and driven home in Renovation of the Heart, the CSF course we are currently in. We are repeatedly visiting what it looks like for our formation into the image of Christ to become inseparable from our mission in the world, and the process by which that formation happens. One of the textbooks that we are using, The Good and Beautiful Community by James Bryan Smith, hones in on community as one of the key components of the process of transformation into Christlikeness, and the simultaneous growth in personally and communally joining God’s mission of “being the light of the world.”
On the first day of class, our professor, Matthew Johnson, noted the tension that exists between formational community and our action in the world. In an intentional, formational community there is a context of learning, safety, and warmth, which is necessary for transformation. However, we cannot squat there; we have to continue to be the hands and the feet of Christ, being the witnesses of the Gospel of Jesus to “Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1.8). This is God’s mission that we are called to be a part of.
This raised an issue for me personally. I am the type of person that generally likes comfort, and avoids confrontation and change. Without any other influences, those are some of the characteristics that drive how I operate, even in my community building. I have my community, and it is just the way I like it – consisting of friends who just so happen to be quite similar to myself! As I continue to grow in my understanding of the Kingdom of Heaven and continue to learn from Christ, I am faced with the challenge of balancing my comfort zone within a safe community and stepping into my role of bringing the Gospel message of life to the world.
To illustrate this relationship of community and mission, our professor gave us the image of the cloister door (I had never heard of such a thing!). The cloister door was the divider between the living space of the monks in Christian monasteries and the world outside. On the inside of the door radical community was taking place with shared times of prayer, meals, and study, and on the outside they had a mission of love and care in the surrounding area. Surely they too felt the tension between community and mission, and yet seemingly were able to strike a healthy balance between the two.
I am learning that instead of letting the pressure of living both in formational community and being on mission in the world bury me, to embrace it, and find the appropriate balance between community and mission in my 2016—Friends University—Friends Church context. As I continue to be immersed in my formative Christ-centered community, I am finding that Christ is meeting me there, teaching me how to be a brighter light and a saltier salt. I am also finding that as I continue to take part in mission Christ meets me there as well, teaching me what life in the Kingdom of Heaven is all about. Both my community and mission are opening my eyes to the world’s tremendous need for Jesus and his liberating Gospel, and are avenues through which Christ forms me into his image.
The reality is that formative community and mission are in tension with one another at times, but I am called to both. They are both essential aspects of being an apprentice of Christ, and I am learning that they are life giving when balanced properly.
This is a glimpse into what students are learning in the Christian Spiritual Formation Program at Friends University, a ministry of the Apprentice Institute. If you are interested in finding out more about the CSF Program or The Apprentice Institute, please feel free to contact Damian Berry at firstname.lastname@example.org, or check out apprenticeinstitute.org.