For several years, I worked with a ministry that put on retreats for Christian leaders to learn practices that would nurture their spiritual formation – most for the very first time. I watched many of these leaders experience the transformation that comes from these practices – but I also watched so many of them, returning to the retreats time and time again, going through the same struggles year after year, and failing to take any lasting transformation back home with them. What was missing?
One day, having lunch at the retreat center with a denominational executive who had been in the process himself for four years, we started discussing why it seemed that so many leaders got stuck, and I asked if he thought it could be that we were only focusing on one area – spiritual formation – but neglecting other aspects of the person, such as our relationships, emotional lives, and understanding of mission. His eyes opened wide and he said, “I think that’s it!” Thus began my journey into what I call “holistic formation.”
Holistic denotes an understanding that the parts of any whole are interconnected; therefore, holistic formation puts the focus on our whole life, rather than just one area. This is radically different from how consumer Christianity tends to deal with spiritual formation alone. Holistically formational thinking isn’t about religious goods and services. It is process-oriented – it isn’t just about getting our needs met, or a “quick fix” for the stress or problems in our lives. It addresses life at the core in a way that nothing else does.
I think if you look at your own life, you might realize that it is often very fragmented. We learn some things as we grow and change, but the things we learn are pretty dis-integrated. What exacerbates this problem even further is the pressure we often feel from others in the church to “have it all together.” I first dealt with this pressure at a very early age. I became a Christian in the ’70s, when the proper way to refer to oneself was “a born-again Christian.” I didn’t fully understand why or how I was supposed to be different, or, for that matter, even what “born-again” really meant. But it was in this context that my idealistic teenage mind took a word that I had heard from some Bible teacher or preacher and took it to its logical extreme.
Do you feel like you are taking steps to grow in your spiritual formation, to little or no lasting results? Do you ever feel this pressure to have it all together, and from whom? Next time, we’ll talk about the kind of results God wants to see in us.
This entry is the second part in a four-part series by guest blogger Michael G. Bischof of SOULeader Resources.
© 2015 Michael G. Bischof, SOULeader Resources. Used by permission. Dr. Michael G. Bischof (M.Div., D.Min.) is Founder and President of SOULeader Resources, an inter-denominational ministry established in 2000 to empower transformational wholeness in leaders, churches, denominations, and organizations. He is also Adjunct Assistant Professor of Spirituality at Fuller Theological Seminary and Azusa Pacific Seminary.
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