Individual Impact

Most books, even those that make a big splash at the time of publication, eventually fade away like the ripples on a pond. Only a relative few take on lives of their own so that they are generating new ripples even a generation later. Far more rare is a book whose life story tells not only of survival into future generations but even of growing vitality.

Celebration of Discipline ranks as one of the great spiritual books of our time” if for no other reason than the phenomenon of its continuing life. When, in December of 1979, Harper & Row listed Celebration of Discipline among their top three bestselling books, a journalist from The Wichita Eagle asked Richard Foster why he thought the book was selling so well. Richard replied that practice of the classical, spiritual Disciplines — meditation, prayer, fasting, study, simplicity, solitude, submission, service, confession, worship, guidance, and celebration — were helping individuals to break free of superficial habits separating them from God and enabling them to achieve depth in their lives.1 Our world cries out for a theology of spiritual growth that has been proven to work in the midst of the harsh realities of daily life.”2

I See a People”

When Richard Foster published Celebration of Discipline and readers began reporting stories of significant personal change, it was assumed by many that that individual transformation into Christlikeness would comprise the book’s primary contribution. But by the close of the twentieth century, it was apparent that this was not the case. As disciplined followers of Jesus gathered in worship, entire communities of believers were being transformed and carrying that effect out beyond the walls of the church into the world.

Looking on, Richard recognized this as the true legacy of Celebration of Discipline. He put what he was shown into words: 

God is gathering his people once again, creating of them an all-inclusive community of loving persons with Jesus Christ as the community’s prime sustainer and most glorious inhabitant.

This community is breaking forth in multiplied ways and varied forms. 

I see it happening, this great new gathering of the people of God.3

It Begins with the Individual

Christoph Friedrich Blumhardt was among those who investigated the movement. It is important to notice, he said, the order of transmission. It is simply not possible to gather hundreds of people into common fellowship before the members themselves are ready for this. This is especially so if you draw in people who are materialistic, envious, unfree, and unwilling to go the whole way.”4 

Charles E. Moore agreed. If we are honest, we’ll recognize that we have been groomed to believe that our lives are ours to do with as we please and that our independence is more important than our involvement in whatever groups we happen to participate in, including the church. We will have to form new lifestyle habits and dispense with old patterns of living and thinking. It will take work. Such a life demands that we engage individually and corporately in very concrete spiritual practices.”5

James Bryan Smith added a further condition. For it to be contagious, a commitment to spiritual formation must be the lived experience of the pastor. Very little can happen in a church without this. When a pastor practices the Disciplines, he or she is changed in a way that naturally passes along to the members of his or her congregation.”6

Tongues of Fire

When I became senior pastor of a church in Golden, Colorado, I was eager to make spiritual formation in Christ our shared purpose. To this end, I enthusiastically shared my experience of the transformative power of the Disciplines in fostering our life with God. I preached through the chapters in Celebration of Discipline. We designed congregation-wide experiments for people to try on” the Disciplines. We offered opportunities for people to gather in small groups to share their experience. My expectation was that this combination of teaching, practice, and sharing would have an immediate metamorphic effect. My optimism was premature.

As Celebration of Discipline began to shape our shared vocabulary, not everyone was pleased. Some stoutly resisted our congregation-wide focus on spiritual formation, but many more engaged, initiating a subtle shift in our church culture. A compassionate concern for people suffering from gun violence, hunger, poverty, and homelessness began to emerge. Prayer groups sprang up spontaneously as people researched what was being done and sought direction from the Lord. We partnered with other churches and organizations to pool resources and offer compassionate service. The executive of Denver Presbytery was overheard to say, the Golden church may be small in size, but their giving and service rivals that of our largest congregations.”

Slowly but surely, the principles and practices in Celebration of Discipline were taking hold, changing us from the inside out.

In time, even some of our more reticent members chose to engage. Celebration of Discipline anticipated this, When the people of God meet together, there often comes a sense of being gathered’ into one mind, becoming of one accord (Philippians 3:15).”7 As people felt safe enough to be vulnerable, our gatherings were punctuated by spontaneous breathings of laughter and praise.8

Trusting Jesus to be present in worship to teach and touch us with his power, the very air felt charged with holy expectancy. Even the way we conducted business changed. Trusting Jesus to guide our decisions, we substituted a deliberate process of corporate discernment for majority rule. My dream that we would become an all-inclusive community of loving persons with Jesus Christ as our prime sustainer and most glorious inhabitant” was coming to life. It was everything I had hoped for and more.

Scripture assures us that koinonia, transformative community, has been God’s intent all along. The Bible as a whole provides the source and context, describing not only what has happened in the past but conveying God’s prescription for how we can and may live today in the Kingdom of God’s rule.9

Celebration of Discipline carried the long tradition of Christian spiritual formation like a burning torch into our contemporary setting and set our church on fire.

  1. Bob Latta, Religion Today” staff writer The Wichita Eagle, December 101979. ↩︎
  2. Richard Foster, Casting a Vision: The Past and Future of Spiritual Formation,” George Fox Renovaré Pastor’s Conference, June 2018, pp. 12. ↩︎
  3. Richard J. Foster, Streams of Living Water: Celebrating the Great Traditions of Christian Faith (HarperSanFrancisco, 1998). pp. 273 – 274. ↩︎
  4. Charles Moore, Called to Community, p. 15. ↩︎
  5. Called to Community, pp. 88 – 90. ↩︎
  6. James Bryan Smith, The Good and Beautiful Community, (Intervarsity Press, 2010), p. 85. ↩︎
  7. Foster, Celebration, p. 164. ↩︎
  8. Foster, Celebration, pp. 131132. ↩︎
  9. Averbeck, R.E. (2008) Spirit, community, and mission: A biblical theology for spiritual formation. Journal of Spiritual Formation and Soul Care, 1 (1), 27 – 53. ↩︎

Worth Celebrating, Miriam Dixon, 2024. Used by permission of Barclay Press. All rights reserved worldwide.

Photo by Evie S. on Unsplash

Text First Published May 2024 · Last Featured on June 2024