Editor's note:

I think I’m get­ting a vision for inten­tion­al spir­i­tu­al for­ma­tion, but I don’t know where to begin.”

Even in the short while I’ve been work­ing with Ren­o­varé, I’ve heard that par­tic­u­lar cry of the heart more times than I can count. The answer I often feel led to offer is this, Con­sid­er start­ing a spir­i­tu­al for­ma­tion group.”

The sug­ges­tion seems so undra­mat­ic and unas­sum­ing that I would feel sheep­ish mak­ing it, except that I’ve been in a spir­i­tu­al for­ma­tion group myself. I know what a pow­er­ful means of grace one can be. 

James Bryan Smith is one of the authors who gave us The Spir­i­tu­al For­ma­tion Work­book – Renovaré’s prac­ti­cal guide for start­ing and sus­tain­ing a group focused on cul­ti­vat­ing the with-God life amongst its mem­bers. I know you’ll enjoy read­ing his insights into the bless­ings and chal­lenges of these unique micro-com­mu­ni­ties. Be sure to check out our Spir­i­tu­al For­ma­tion Groups page for more infor­ma­tion and a down­load­able starter chapter.

—Carolyn Arends
Director of Education, Renovaré

In our world today peo­ple hunger great­ly for two things: spir­i­tu­al­i­ty and com­mu­ni­ty. We long to be close to God and to one anoth­er. We long for a place where we can know and be known at the deep­est levels.

For the most part, the real­i­ty of God and the spir­i­tu­al realm have been ban­ished from mod­ern cul­ture. In spite of the sec­u­lar­iz­ing influ­ences that sur­round us, we cry out from our alien­ation, long­ing for a deep­er rela­tion­ship with the One who cre­at­ed us.

We also expe­ri­ence the dehu­man­iz­ing, deper­son­al­iza­tion of every­one liv­ing on the face of the earth. As only a face in a crowd or a num­ber on a com­put­er screen, we belong to fam­i­lies, neigh­bor­hoods, and church­es that no longer pro­vide us with a sense of community.

The answer to these two needs can be found in Chris­t­ian com­mu­ni­ty. The inter­est in small groups in recent years is a sign that God is meet­ing these needs in the life of the Church. God is call­ing Chris­t­ian men and women into small, face-to-face com­mu­ni­ties whose sole aim is to encour­age one anoth­er in their spir­i­tu­al lives.

Gareth Icenogle is right when he says, Growth is the process and prod­uct of the com­mu­ni­ty, not the iso­lat­ed indi­vid­ual. Per­sons grow when they are in rela­tion­ship with God and with one anoth­er. Per­sons remain in spir­i­tu­al infan­cy when they refuse to par­tic­i­pate in com­mu­ni­ty (koinon­ia). Chris­tians who can­not relate to one anoth­er in face-to-face sit­u­a­tions are miss­ing the real­i­ty, hope, and growth of sanc­to­rum com­mu­nio, the com­mu­nion of the saints. To be togeth­er with oth­er Chris­tians in a small group is to open one­self to being formed in Christ.”

Effec­tive Groups 

For many years I have been priv­i­leged to help form and nur­ture spir­i­tu­al for­ma­tion groups where peo­ple gath­er to dis­cuss their spir­i­tu­al lives, encour­age one anoth­er, and make spe­cif­ic plans to grow in their faith, to become dis­ci­ples of Christ. And through let­ters and tele­phone calls I have the oppor­tu­ni­ty to share in the com­mon joys and strug­gles that many groups expe­ri­ence. From them I have learned that effec­tive groups have sev­er­al things in common:

  • Liv­ing in depen­dence upon Christ;
  • Seek­ing renew­al continually;
  • Focus­ing on Christ together;
  • Watch­ing over one anoth­er in love;
  • Work­ing toward a com­mon goal;
  • Cul­ti­vat­ing stronger relationships;
  • Feel­ing greater security;
  • Deep­en­ing their lev­el of trust;
  • Grow­ing clos­er through prayer.

While this list is not exhaus­tive, it offers some of the impor­tant ingre­di­ents of an effec­tive spir­i­tu­al for­ma­tion group. Often I hear mem­bers tell how one or more of these dimen­sions is expe­ri­enced in their group and how mean­ing­ful it is.

I also hear the oppo­site. Peo­ple com­plain, for exam­ple, that their group lacks an atmos­phere of trust or can­not seem to stay on any kind of agen­da or has a mem­ber who dom­i­nates the time. Whether com­ing from the pos­i­tive or neg­a­tive— the joys or the prob­lems — these ingre­di­ents are impor­tant for all spir­i­tu­al for­ma­tion groups to under­stand and develop.

Healthy Growth

From my expe­ri­ence, I have learned that one or more of these dimen­sions has been lack­ing in every sin­gle group of which I have been a mem­ber. I have been in groups that were high­ly task ori­ent­ed and suc­cess­ful at accom­plish­ing goals but lacked rela­tion­al har­mo­ny. Oth­er groups had har­mo­ny in rela­tion­ships but had trou­ble keep­ing Christ at the cen­ter. You, too, can prob­a­bly point to expe­ri­ences in your spir­i­tu­al life and past or present groups which reflect strength in one area and weak­ness in another.

Let me encour­age you to use the above list, turn­ing the state­ments into ques­tions: Am I/​we depen­dent upon Christ? Am I/ we seek­ing renew­al con­tin­u­al­ly?” and so on. If you think of oth­er dimen­sions that are impor­tant, add them. Use them in your small group. Most of all, I encour­age you to keep striv­ing and inspir­ing each oth­er to be all that you can be” as dis­ci­ples of Jesus Christ.

Join the 2020-21 Renovaré Book Club

An inten­tion­al way to read for trans­for­ma­tion. Cur­rent­ly under­way and runs through May 2021.

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