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Cultivating Sent Communities: Missional Spiritual Formation

by Dwight J. Zscheile, editor

William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2140 Oak Industrial Dr. NE, Grand Rapids, MI 49505, 216 pages, 2012, $30.00.

Reviewed by Lee Beach, assistant professor of Christian Ministry, McMaster Divinity College, Hamilton, Ontario.

There can be a potential tension in Christian spirituality between the ideas of “being” and “doing”. On one hand, Christian spirituality has deep roots in a contemplative tradition that emphasizes prayer, retreat, solitude, and scripture meditation. On the other hand, Christian spirituality is an activist spirituality that places prominence on “going” and doing the work of ministry and serving others.

The “missional” movement would seem to place an emphasis on the later, as it stresses the need to get out of the cloistered church community and intentionally engage the world in active ministry. However, as the movement matures, it is also asking the question, “What does it mean to form faithful disciples of Jesus Christ in the missional church?” Cultivating Sent Communities: Missional Spiritual Formation is written to address that question. It explores the relationship between the “doing” of mission and how that can contribute to the spiritual formation of individuals and churches.

The book comes out of the sixth annual Missional Church consultation conference at Luther Seminary in 2010. Edited by Dwight Zscheile, assistant professor of congregational mission and leadership at Luther Seminary, Cultivating Sent Communities features a range of topics such as spiritual formation through short-term missions, the role of scripture in missional spiritual formation, mission in the spiritual formation of youth and children, and the practice of discernment.
Zscheile also includes an introductory chapter that helpfully orients the reader to the ongoing “missional conversation” as well as the place of spiritual formation within it. He notes how Christian spirituality is often equated with withdrawal from the world and that the end of Christendom in the West and the advent of a missional movement invites new considerations of the role mission plays in the development of one’s relationship with God.

Of further note is Allen Hilton’s chapter, which offers an alternative reading of familiar “missional texts” along with some profound practical application. This particularly engaging section of the book will inspire fresh thinking and practice from many who take time to reflect on Hilton’s insights.

Beyond these chapters, the book runs into another traditional tension—that of academic rigor and practical application. For a book that is ultimately about a very “practical” topic (spiritual formation), it is not very accessible to the average practitioner. While it expertly explores theories of spiritual formation in a number of important categories, it rarely touches down in ways that would lead the reader into concrete ideas of how to actually apply them.

The book is a good piece of academic research and writing, but lacks the kind of clear guidance that would be of immediate help to a working pastor or church leader. This is not a criticism per se, but it is necessary to acknowledge.

Mission is intrinsic to spiritual formation; it is essential the church understands this dynamic link. This volume contributes to this journey, but it will have to be left to subsequent entries to make the ideas presented here more tangible to those seeking to “cultivate a sent community.”   

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EMQ, Vol. 49, No. 1, pp. 118-120. Copyright  © 2013 Evangelism and Missions Information Service (EMIS).  All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMIS.

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