Spiritual formation

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Spiritual formation is an intentional Christian practice that has as its goal the development of spiritual maturity that leads to Christ-likeness.

  • Ancient Christian spiritual practices (prayer, the study of scripture, fasting, simplicity, solitude, confession, worship, etc.)
  • Spiritual Theology that includes historical and contemporary practices
  • Christian Spirituality and Mysticism

Many authors have attempted to define spiritual formation. Christian spiritual writers and institutions have differing definitions due to their various purposes of spiritual formation. Some authors suggest it is to discover the leadings of the heart,[1] renewal of the mind (sanctification),[2] walking in the spirit,[3] intersection between spirituality and vocation, or a type of character formation.[4] The single thread of commonality between the different definitions is engagement in spiritual disciplines by the spiritual traveler.

In Care of Mind, Care of Spirit, Gerald G. May has written, “Spiritual formation is a rather general term referring to all attempts, means, instruction, and disciplines intended towards deepening of faith and furtherance of spiritual growth. It includes educational endeavors as well as the more intimate and in-depth process of spiritual direction.”[5]


Dallas Willard writes that spiritual formation “is a process that happens to everyone…. Terrorists as well as saints are the outcome of spiritual formation. Their spirits or hearts have been formed.” [6] A study of various world religions such as Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, and others would enable one to understand specifically how each religion views spiritual formation or spiritual growth within its unique belief system.


In Christian Spiritual Formation the focus is on Jesus. It is a lifelong process as a believer desires to become a disciple of Jesus and become more like him. This would be possible because of the divine grace of the Gospel and the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit. Dallas Willard writes that “spiritual formation for the Christian basically refers to the Spirit-driven process of forming the inner world of the human self in such a way that it becomes like the inner being of Christ himself.”[7]


Formal Study[edit]

Informal study[edit]

Community/church involvement[edit]

  • Corporate worship
  • Volunteer service
  • Activism

Practice of spiritual disciplines[edit]

Ordinary experiences of everyday life[edit]

  • Work and play
  • Family life


More and more people have started to see the importance of seeing leadership development as a process of spiritual formation.[citation needed] Building on the emphasis of Christian spiritual formation in leaders, leadership expert Timothy H. Warneka has written:

Today's world cries out for people who can lead with a global perspective. We need leaders who lead from the heart as well as the mind, leaders who understand that decisions made about even the smallest of organizations affect the entire global community. We need leaders who can act ethically, intentionally, and with respect for existing citizenry as well as for future generations. We need leaders who can address problems from an integrated, holistic perspective—the only place that solutions for today's most pressing problems will be found. Most of all, we need leaders who understand that the primary function of a leader is to serve, not to be served.[8]

Biblical references[edit]

But now, this is what the LORD says— he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: "Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.

He handed out gifts of apostle, prophet, evangelist, and pastor-teacher to train Christ's followers in skilled servant work, working within Christ's body, the church, until we're all moving rhythmically and easily with each other, efficient and graceful in response to God's Son, fully mature adults, fully developed within and without, fully alive like Christ.

  • Romans 8:29 (New International Version)

For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.

  • Romans 12:2 (New International Version)

Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

  • 2 Corinthians 3:18 (New International Version)

And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.


Christian Spiritual Formation involves the growth of the whole person: the mind, body, heart, and will. Over time a believer may work with different pathways or facets of spirituality in the process of spiritual growth. In Conformed to His Image, Ken Boa explores 12 ways of approaching or studying Christian spirituality and spiritual formation. They are:

1. Relational Spirituality: Loving God Completely, Ourselves Correctly, and Others Compassionately
2. Paradigm Spirituality: Cultivating an Eternal versus a Temporal Perspective
3. Disciplined Spirituality: Engaging in the Historical Disciplines
4. Exchanged Life Spirituality: Grasping Our True Identity in Christ
5. Motivated Spirituality: A Set of Biblical Incentives
6. Devotional Spirituality: Falling in Love with God
7. Holistic Spirituality: Every Component of Life under the Lordship of Christ
8. Process Spirituality: Process versus Product, Being versus Doing
9. Spirit-Filled Spirituality: Walking in the Power of the Spirit
10. Warfare Spirituality: The World, the Flesh, and the Devil
11. Nurturing Spirituality: A Lifestyles of Evangelism and Discipleship

12. Corporate Spirituality: Encouragement, Accountability, and Worship.[9]


Some authors and speakers concerned with spiritual formation can eventually agree that believers can attain spiritual growth through the practice of spiritual disciplines. Spiritual disciplines are exercises aimed to usher one into God's presence, where his life has the opportunity to transform our lives. Dallas Willard writes:

We meet and dwell with Jesus and his Father in the disciplines for the spiritual life.[10]

Spiritual disciplines, as a strategy towards spiritual formation, have risen and fallen in popularity over the centuries. Christianity asserts two things: first, transformation of the heart is a work only God can accomplish, and second, we are saved not by our works or efforts, but by God's grace, that is, his unmerited favor, the church has often been tempted to marginalize the usefulness of these disciplines so as not be confused with preaching "justification by works."

However other scholar respond by saying that, it is not salvation that is at stake, but rather the need to develop people of genuine Christ-like character to live in the world and confront its values.

Richard Foster, in his book Celebration of Disciplines[11] includes several internal, external, and corporate disciplines one should engage in through their Christian life. These include the following internal disciplines: Meditation, Prayer, Fasting, and Study. External disciplines include: Simplicity, Solitude, Submission, and Service. Finally, corporate disciplines, those that are completed within the body of the church are confession, worship, guidance, and celebration.




  1. ^ Michael J. Christensen and Rebecca Laird. Spiritual Formation: Following the Movements of the Spirit HarperCollins Publishers, 2010, p xix
  2. ^ Larry Christenson, The Renewed Mind: Becoming the Person God Wants You to Be Bethany House, 2001
  3. ^ Gerald F. Hawthorne, Ralph P. Martin, Daniel G. Reid. Dictionary of Paul and His Letters: A Compendium of Contemporary Biblical Scholarship InterVarsity Press, 1993, p. 909.
  4. ^ Tennant, Agnieszka. "The Making of a Christian", Christianity Today, London, 27 October 2005. Retrieved on 14 August 2014. ] ,
  5. ^ May, Gerald G. Care of Mind, Care of Spirit: A Psychiatrist Explores Spiritual Direction. 1st HarperCollins paperback ed. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1992, p. 6.
  6. ^ Dallas Willard, Renovation of the Heart: Putting on the Character of Christ. (Colorado Springs: Navpress, 2002) p. 19.
  7. ^ Dallas Willard, Renovation of the Heart: Putting on the Character of Christ. (Colorado Springs: Navpress, 2002) p. 22.
  8. ^ Warneka, Timothy H. (2007). Black Belt Leader, Peaceful Leader: An Introduction to Catholic Servant Leadership. Asogomi Publishing International. ISBN 9780976862758. Retrieved 2014-09-03. 
  9. ^ Ken Boa. Conformed to His Image: Biblical and Practical Approaches to Spiritual Formation. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2001), p. 21-23.
  10. ^ Dallas Willard. The Spirit of the Disciplines. (New York: Harper & Row, 1988). pg xi
  11. ^ Foster, Richard. Celebration of Discipline: A Path to Spiritual Growth. (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1998). pg v

Further reading[edit]

  • Dallas Willard. Renovation of the Heart: Putting on the Character of Christ. (Colorado Springs: Navpress, 2002).
  • Dallas Willard. The Spirit of the Disciplines. (New York: Harper & Row, 1988).
  • Ken Boa. Conformed to His Image: Biblical and Practical Approaches to Spiritual Formation. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001).
  • Gerald G. May. Care of Mind, Care of Spirit: A Psychiatrist Explores Spiritual Direction. (San Francisco: Harper, 1982).
  • Richard Foster. Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth. (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1978).
  • David Benner. Care of Souls: Revisioning Christian Nurture and Counsel. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1998).
  • Oswald Chambers. My Utmost for His Highest (Discovery House Publishers, 2014).
  • Thomas A Kempis. The Imitation of Christ (Lulu Press, 2010).
  • Henri Nouwen. Spiritual Formation. (Harper Collins, 2010).
  • John Bunyan. The Pilgrim's Progress. (Uhrichsville Ohio: Barbour and Company.
  • Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Cost of Discipleship. (Simon and Schuster, 2012).
  • Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Life Together. (Simon and Schuster, 2012).
  • Don Postema. Space for God: Study and Practice of Spirituality and Prayer. (Faith Alive Christian Resource, 1997).

External links[edit]