This the latest in a series of articles sharing insights from a joint curricular development initiative of the ON, the Theology of Work Project and three ON schools (Asbury, Assemblies of God and Western).
Conversations with seminary faculty about formation courses emphasised three different dimensions.
It is only in the last two or three decades that many evangelical seminaries have started to enthusiastically promote courses on spiritual formation. It used to be viewed mainly as a Roman Catholic concern. The influence of people like James Houston, Richard Foster, Dallas Willard and Eugene Petersen changed this for many evangelicals.
But what did faculty mean by spiritual formation? Most proponents seem happy with something like Robert Mulholland’s definition (in An Invitation to a Journey): “Spiritual formation is a process of being conformed to the image of Christ for the sake of others.” Some faculty would like to add “by the power of the Holy Spirit,” or “in the faith community,” or by a “biblically guided process.” Each of these is an important element.
However, in our workshops the most important discussion point was: Does “for the sake of others” explore specifically how these elements can be used to shape and support Christians to love and serve God and others through their daily work in the world? Resources connecting spirituality to every day work are rare in the libraries of spiritual formation material, except perhaps in the Benedictine tradition. Most of our spiritual formation models are built around retreating practices rather than promoting a more active everyday spirituality.
Many of the resources we pointed faculty towards in our workshops have been written up in previous ON newsletters:
- A number of useful resources are identified in Teaching Prayer in the Fast Lane
- Dallas Willard talks about Finding God in Business in a 7 minute video clip and also about Taking Theology and Spiritual Disciplines into the Marketplace in an hour-long video, both from Biola University presentations. Greg Forster unpacks Dallas Willard’s focus on work in The Divine Conspiracy in this series of posts at The Green Room blog.
- Jennifer Woodruff Tait suggests this assignment:
Ask students to write a spiritual narrative of their journey with Christ – focusing on their work. Such narrative-based assignments are common in spiritual formation classes, so you may simply want to add this as an additional focal point to a narrative you already assign. Where have your students seen God in their callings to work, both paid and unpaid? How have they served God in their work up to this point? How do they see their callings within the larger context of the body of Christ in ministry?
- Lois Bellingham provides some interesting observations about Integrating the Active and Contemplative in the Marketplace: a glimpse of weaving a seamless garment.
- The Curricular Integration section of the Oikonomia Network website includes a section of resources on spiritual formation, including several video talks such as Celeste Cranston’s meditation on work in the Parable of the Two Sons.
Formation for Mission
Our conversations with faculty who were teaching formation-for-mission courses started by looking at theologies of mission that include the everyday work of all the people of God. Two courses were using Chris Wright’s The Mission of God’s People (2010) as their primary text for laying biblical foundations. The attraction of this book is that it promotes a vision of all the people of God participating in the Missio Dei, for the sake of the whole world, through every aspect of life and particularly through our daily work.
A second point for discussion was: How do we move from an academic understanding to practical formation that both shapes and supports Christians for their everyday engagement with God in the marketplace? We looked at a number of possible resources:
- Learning from personal stories:
A young woman moves to New York to work in the fashion industry. God Couture is a video in which she talks about how she has come to see her work as part of the mission of God.
- A journey with others through mentoring and small groups:
Mark Roberts talks about how the De Pree Center at Fuller Seminary is developing formation groups for young marketplace leaders
- Roles that churches can play:
Jennifer Woodruff Tait proposes an appropriate assignment focused on a quote from Lesslie Newbigin:
Newbigin says: “The congregation has to be a place where its members are trained, supported and nourished in the exercise of their parts of the priestly ministry in the world. The preaching and teaching of the local church has to be such that it enables its members to think out the problems that face them in their secular work in the light of their Christian faith.” Explain how you respond to this statement from Newbigin. Describe a number of specific strategies that might help to facilitate “the congregation as hermeneutic of the gospel” in your local church setting. How could you communicate both this challenge and your practical suggestions to your church leadership team?
The Equipping Church is a paper that might be a useful resource for this exercise.
- The Great Commission is about formation for mission:
Deborah Gill (Assemblies of God Theological Seminary) provides a video exploration of how the Great Commission emphasizes the formation of all the people of God for their everyday mission in the world. Gill talks about the difference between teaching content versus total transformation and the dangers of “being educated beyond our obedience.”
This video is among the videos and resources available on the missiology resources page in the Curricular Integration section of the Oikonomia Network website.
- From traditional to missional:
This article highlights 10 Keys for Transitioning from Traditional to Missional. It begins by emphasising the importance of “Starting with Spiritual Formation” and ends with “Equip people to be missional in and through their vocations.”
- Marketplace missiology
This article tells the story of how Christeen Rico came to see that for her the development of a company mindset that stresses enriching customers’ lives through technology has become a missiological venture.
Formed by our Work, or Formed for our Work?
In our conversations with faculty we discussed how formation in the workplace pushes two ways. Workplaces are where we spend most of our waking hours and where the pressures from the world around us are often felt most keenly, and consequently often have a powerful shaping effect. This can work for good and for bad.
Eugene Peterson said the marketplace is the most significant arena of spiritual formation: “I’m prepared to contend that the primary location for spiritual formation is the workplace.” In “Evangelicals and the Marketplace,” published in the book Evangelicals around the World,Paul Stevens responds:
Really? Is not the marketplace where all the seven deadly sins – pride, greed, envy, gluttony, lust, wrath, and sloth – find expression? Yes, they do. It is in the workplace that we are found out for who we are. Our inner life is revealed by our outer work, and areas of need become a cry for what the Bible calls the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5: 22–23)….The primary location for spiritual growth is not church services, retreats, or even quiet times, as important as these are, but the warp and woof of everyday work in our places of employment, where we live for most of the week. So alongside the initial affirmation that the marketplace is both a mission field and the mission of God, is the affirmation that the marketplace is a school for the Christian life and spiritual formation.
- In their book Taking Your Soul To Work: Overcoming the Nine Deadly Sins of the Workplace, Stevens and Alvin Ung identify nine Soul-Sapping Struggles in the Workplace, nine Life-Giving Resources for Workplace Spirituality and nine Fruits of Workplace Spirituality.
- Another book that charts marketplace challenges for Christians in a different way is Believers in Business by Laura Nash. Nash identifies seven Creative Tensions that Christians in business regularly wrestle with (a brief summary is offered here). Just Decisions: Christian Ethics go to Work is a popular treatment which also uses Laura Nash’s categories and can be downloaded free online.
- The article Competition as Cooperation Requires Formation explores how competition can either spur us to act in a damaging way towards others or encourage us to deliver better value to those we serve.
- Tracy Morgan has done a research project on Busy Working Women and Spiritual Direction: How Spiritual Direction can help women in the work force live towards a healthier work-life balance.