Monday, August 15, 2011

Congregational Spiritual Formation

One more core praxis course to go after this one.

1. Pastor, Church, and World
2. Cultural Contexts of Ministry
3. Bible as Scripture
4. Introduction to Theology
5. Global Christian History
6. Missional Church
7. Congregational Leadership
8. Christian Worship
9. Christian Proclamation

I should probably have made the distinction in these posts between my "wish list" - angles I would like to see in these courses - and my general thoughts on the topic.  For example, are there particular angles to the Congregational Spiritual Formation class that I would like the course to take or promote?

The course does include Steve Harper's The Way to Heaven, which is an overview of Wesley's theology.  It also has an assignment on Wesley's class meetings.  So, yes, there are some distinctly Wesleyan elements that I would hope are eternally covered.

One thing I like about this course is that it takes a broad view of things and talks about Congregational "formation" rather than Christian "education."  Its title recognizes that spiritual formation isn't just an individual thing but a corporate one as well.  It is a course about discipleship.  I am told that such formation best takes place in small groups, so that is an element in this course as well.

I'm also proud that our course includes some discussion of the current phenomenon of "delayed" adulthood.

Beyond my wish list, I'll confess that I didn't have a lot of generic opinions on the topic come to mind like I did for leadership, worship, and proclamation.  I do think a church should have something formative for its congregation from cradle to grave.  It's formative agenda should take into account the developmental stages of life.  There is room for great creativity in how the church goes about it, limited of course by the church's resources, staff, and volunteers.

I personally believe that the church might very well take a very broad and grand sense of its formative function as the best place in the world to train people to be virtuous.  The church is once again getting a sense that our mission is not just to "save souls," but to be Christ to the whole person.  I see a similar and very important opportunity for the church as well in training communities for virtue.

It is sad and fascinating to me that churches--in their professed pursuit of the good--so often become permeated with the perpetuation of vice.  We take the idea of following God and use it as an excuse to be ungodly.  We take biblical exhortations and turn them into prison cells.  We take instructions meant to flesh out the love of our neighbor and use them to hate our neighbor.

Wouldn't it be great if the church helped people to be virtuous?  Wouldn't it be great if the church helped us see in a loving way our hidden motives and desires.  At my own church, Judy Huffman preached such a great formative sermon yesterday.  Not only did she engage the children (normally they would not be present but this was "One Day Sunday" - I personally like having the children in the main service once and a while) but she exposed the hidden thoughts of our hearts.  We think "it's my business what I do in private" and she exposed us, in a loving way, to the fact that it is not just my business.  My private actions almost always affect others eventually.

That's a lesson in virtue.  The question is who will teach us virtue.  Who will teach the pastor virtue and give her wisdom to present it?  Who will teach the district superintendent or bishop virtue that they might form the pastor?  I have a dream, that churches become places that train their communities in virtue.


FrGregACCA said...

Some resources that need to be mentioned in this discussion, and here is as good a place as any:

First, all Pastors need to be familiar with 12-Step spirituality. Therefore, seminary students should attend several open AA meetings, including at least one speaker's meeting, and be familiar with the literature, especially the "Big Book" and the "12 and 12". There is also a book called "The 12 Steps for Anyone who really Wants Them" and another, a kind of course in advance 12-Step spirituality, called "Conversations from the Bottom of the Bottle".

Second, a book called "Orthodox Psychotherapy", written by a Greek monk (who is a bishop, I believe).

Finally, another book called "Invitation to a Great Experiment: Exploring the Possibility that God can be Known". This places 12-Step spirituality in a very broad Christian (and non-Christian) context.

Ken Schenck said...

We have an MDIV course called Recovery and Deliverance that I hope will engage the 12 step process at least in overview.

FrGregACCA said...

At least in overview, I would hope. Two major reasons why such familiarity is necessary: first, the 12-Step process is deeply Christian and, at the same time, puts some new spins on old Christian truths. Second, any Pastor these days is inevitably going to encounter people whose spirituality is primarily 12-Step in orientation.