by Ranjit DeSilva
Dyanmic reflection will not happen unless we plan for it.
Theological school graduates often feel ill-prepared when they wade into the deep waters of actual ministry. They commonly complain that they were not sufficiently trained in the practical aspects of ministry—how to evangelize, how to nurture converts, how to start new churches. However, I would like to examine an entirely different aspect of the training process—spiritual formation.
How do we define this elusive term? Spiritual formation is the development of the inner life, so that a person experiences Christ as the source of life, reflects more Christlike characteristics, and increasingly knows the power and presence of Christ in ministry.1
Spiritual formation happens in dynamic relationships between the trainer and the trainee through an effective training process. This kind of training is indispensable for developing effective ministry leaders. Though spiritual formation can be achieved in a variety of ways, it demands a one-on-one relationship between trainer and trainee.
Leadership development involves three components: cognitive input, spiritual reflection, and practical experience. Attention is often focused on “know-how” and “on-the-job” experience—and these are important. But trainers often expect spiritual reflection to happen spontaneously. When reflection is not deliberately included in training, students often don’t develop spiritually. Input and training by themselves are incomplete. Between “knowing” and “doing,” “being” is crucial. This is what spiritual formation is all about.
MODELS OF TRAINING
Several effective training models have been developed which make full use of the trainer, the trainee, their relationship, and the training process. These models of leadership training have deliberately included planned reflection as part of spiritual formation.
Ted Ward, of Trinity International University, has a model illustrated by a fence (see Figure 1 below). It is represented by a two-rail fence supported by evenly spaced fence posts. The upper rail represents cognitive input, the lower rail represents ongoing field experience, and fence posts represent a sequence of planned seminars. These seminars provide “the linkages between cognitive experience and field experience.”2 This means that reflection is structured to dominate in the seminars. Over time the trainee develops a habit of reflection through the counsel of the trainer and the Holy Spirit’s quickening. There begins an ongoing process called spiritual formation.
Fred Holland developed successful education-by-extension programs in Africa. His model is represented by a railway track (see Figure 2, p. 52) and has four basic components: cognitive input, in-service training, reflection seminars, and spiritual formation. “The whole academic process rests securely on a foundation of spiritual formation as the train track rests in the ballast of the railway roadbed.”3 Note in his diagram that the process aims at continuous achievement and movement toward maturity.
Michael Sen-yimba represents spiritual formation as a cooking pot resting on three stones. The stones represent cognitive input, spiritual reflection, and practical experience. Spiritual formation happens as the contents of the pot boil, resulting in empowerment for leadership.4
All three models represent spiritual formation as an essential part of leadership development. They support the thesis that unless one makes room for spiritual formation in the training process, effective ministry probably will not happen.
All three models theoretically include reflection as essential to leadership development. However, in practice we often don’t plan reflection, expecting it will happen along the way. It rarely does. Therefore, it is crucial for those training church leaders to deliberately plan for spiritual formation. They must keep certain goals constantly in mind and implement a plan for reaching these goals. Lanka Bible College in Sri Lanka provides a good example.
LANKA BIBLE COLLEGE
The religion of 95 percent of SriLankans is what might be called eclectic. Their popular religion combines elements of Buddhism, Hinduism, and Islam, and mixes in witchcraft, planetary deities, and astrology. They fear the unseen malevolent spirit world, and try in every way to ward off its destructive impact on their lives. They do not know that Jesus came to destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:9) and to deliver people from all their fears.
Lanka Bible College is an interdenominational evangelical school committed to leadership development. It serves 16 denominations in Sri Lanka through campus and extension training programs. The student body includes traditional Protestants, evangelicals, charismatics, and Pentecostals. Founded in 1971, it is accredited with the Asia Theological Association.
Lanka Bible College’s spiritual formation program has six goals: (1) a lifestyle of godliness; (2) growth in praise and worship; (3) learning to pray with power; (4) studying God’s word and the empowering of faith; (5) development of spiritual gifts; and (6) compassion for the poor.
The program involves the student, the college community, and the student’s pastor and faculty members. Together they are responsible for the student’s spiritual formation, because it is in this context of relationships that formation happens. The student’s relationship with Christ penetrates all other relationships.
1. Relationship with the Lord. The student’s relationship with the Lord is of fundamental importance. If the student has made no commitment to Jesus as Lord, there can be no spiritual formation. A cultural concept, called bhakti, can help students understand their need to be committed to Christ.
Stated simply, bhakti is the love and devotion one has for one’s personal God. Bhakti comes from the Sanskrit root bhaj and has a number of meanings: “to enjoy, possess, embrace; to favor, prefer, choose, elect; to honor, worship, adore, revere, esteem; to be attached to, to court; to be devoted to, loyal.”5
Each of these meanings implies a mutual relationship of love between two persons. A devotee expresses love through loyalty, services, reverence, and submission to God. In return God conveys his love through benevolence, grace, and compassion.
Bhakti is a popular concept throughout South Asia. In a Christian context, bhakti refers to devotion and surrender to the Lord Jesus Christ. The Psalms provide a rich teaching source for this concept. So does Jesus himself—for example when he said,”If anyone wants to follow me, he must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me” (Luke 9:23). Christian bhakti must focus on devotion to Christ.
Song and worship are integral to Christian bhakti. Students learn to worship God joyfully. Daily worship deepens their sense of fulfillment, inspiration, and strength.
This is the heart of spiritual formation: Our students learn to give themselves in love and devotion to God their creator (Rev. 4:8-11), Christ their redeemer (Rev. 5:3-10), and the Holy Spirit their empowerer (Acts 1:8). In this pattern of deliberately expressing love, devotion, and surrender to the Lord, all vital spiritual formation takes place. All other formative relationships are secondary.
2. Faculty-student relationship. Each student is assigned to a faculty member for one year in a one-on-one discipling relationship. The faculty member meets with the student weekly for half an hour. Brief notes are kept of the sessions in order to trace the student’s spiritual growth. This develops into a mentoring relationship.
In addition, six to 10 students are assigned yearly to each faculty member to meet weekly for an hour of Bible study and prayer. The purpose is for the group to experience the corporate dimensions of spiritual formation. No person has all the wisdom to help another in discipleship training. The more open the students are with each other here, the more comprehensive the group’s contribution becomes to each and every member.
At the end of each year, students are assigned to new faculty members. This gives themone-on-one exposure to different faculty members and allows them to encounter variations in spiritual expression. It fosters a spirit of submission within the Bible college and creates a positive atmosphere for learning and guidance. Faculty members in turn grow more mature and effective in mentoring and discipleship.
3. Pastor-student relationship. Students are encouraged to visit their home church each month and spend time with their pastors, so that their pastors are able to note their academic and spiritual growth. Since most churches send students to college expecting them to return to the church for ministry after graduation, this pastor-student relationship is crucial. We have found that unless he takes deliberate steps to develop this relationship, a student’s linkage with his home church may weaken during these college years. We have also found that a dynamic personal relationship between pastor and student promotes spiritual formation during this period. It also helps sustain and deepen the student’s loyalty to both pastor and local church.
4. Bible college-pastor relationship. At the end of each quarter the college prepares a report on each student’s growth and shares it with the pastor. Relevant aspects of the students’ growth are drawn from the notes of their faculty mentors. These reports help pastors gain insight into their students’ growth, and to interact constructively with them about spiritual matters and ministry plans after graduation.
Every two years, the college meets with the pastors of sending churches, so that these pastors can interact with faculty and the board of governors. They are encouraged to share their impressions of Lanka Bible College, which helps the administration determine which aspects of the school need improvement.
5. Student-college community relationship. On Wednesday evenings the college community meets for three hours of worship, fasting, and prayer, to prepare the students for weekend ministry. Three weekends each month faculty and students go together into neighboring villages and cities to engage in various ministries.
These meetings also teach our students to intercede for those to whom they will minister. Their burden grows for those without Christ. They learn that their victories must be won on their knees. The vision for ministry is embraced and enlarged by the intensity of prayer. Indeed, every great work of God can be traced in part to the prayers of his people.
Students are also encouraged to seek spiritual empowerment to preach the gospel and to resist the devil through Christ’s victory (1 Peter 5:9). They learn that Christ has overcome the power of the enemy (Col. 2:15), and to respond by wrestling against his efforts to thwart their ministry (Eph. 6:10-12). In the Sri Lankan context, replete with witchcraft, sorcery, and idolatry, a triumphant power encounter invariably precedes the establishment of the kingdom in people’s hearts. The Holy Spirit equips the students for spiritual battle and leads them in their fight against the enemy.
Corporate prayer prepares students for spiritual warfare during their weekend ministries. When effectively engaged, God often opens entire communities to the gospel. Students have planted scores of new rural churches among Sinhala Buddhists. The school’s missions program planted more than 300 churches in rural Sri Lanka from 1984 to 1987.6
Students also develop meditation as part of the reflection process. We encourage them to study and meditate on portions of Scripture for themselves (Psalm 1:2). This leads to worship and intercession, empowering the student for weekend ministry. We understand meditation to involve selection, concentration, and incorporation. That is, they select a relevant portion of Scripture, concentrate on the verses regularly, and then incorporate the essence of the Scripture into their daily lives. Such meditation often quickens one’s faith and empowers one’s ministry. Meditation on God’s faithfulness to the promises in his Word increases faith. Stronger faithprepares the student for the challenges of ministry.
6. Discovery of spiritual gifts. The spiritual formation process should also help students to find their spiritual gifts, and then develop and exercise them in actual ministry. Part of leadership training encourages students to thank God for these gifts for ministry.
The New Testament is clear that all the various ministerial functions by which the life of the church is maintained and extended are “gifts” (in Greek charismata = grace gifts) of Christ to the church through the presence and operation of the Holy Spirit.7
Students’ faculty advisors mentor them in the discovery and development of their spiritual gifts while at school. As students grow strong and confident in the exercise of their spiritual gifts, we watch them winning souls to Christ, nurturing young Christians, and healing the sick and demonized. They encourage the weary and anxious, and plant churches among non-Christians. Students should have many opportunities to exercise their spiritual gifts and to demonstrate proven ministry abilities during their time at school. Then, at graduation, students do not need to hunt for ministry experience. They already have had a good measure of ministry from school.
As the spiritual formation program progresses and students mature in their spirituality, they increasingly exercise their faith and spiritual gifts. They engage in intercession, and become anointed with spiritual power, growing more ready for ministry enlargement. They grow in completeness and confidence, able to battle the enemy and boldly declare the gospel.
Spiritual formation is crucial to the development of ministry leaders today. Only by careful planning and prioritizing of the student’s activities can we be sure that effective formation will happen.
ADVANTAGES OF PLANNED REFLECTION
Planned reflection: (a) ensures that Bible colleges will produce graduates who are secure and confident in the ministry; (b) ensures that Bible colleges will produce graduates adequately prepared to serve in local churches; (c) sharply reduces the ministry drop-out rate among Bible college graduates; (d) places responsibility for spiritual formation of students on the pastor and the college; (e) encourages students to set, pursue, and reach spiritual goals as part of their educational experience; (f) produces graduates who are spiritually mature; (g) ensures that spiritual formation occurs in the context of relationships.
1. Robert J. Clinton, The Making of A Leader (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 1988), p. 255.
2. Ted Ward and Samuel F. Rowen, “The Significance of the Extension Seminary,” Evangelical Missions Quarterly, Vol. 9, No.1, Fall, 1972, p. 24.
3. Frederic L. Holland, Theological Education in Context and Change (Pasadena: Fuller Theological Seminary School of World Mission, 1978), p. 281.
4. Michael Senyimba, An Appropriate Curriculum for Developing Types I and II Spiritual Leaders in Namirembe Diocese, Uganda. (Pasadena, Calif.: Fuller Theological Seminary School of World Mission, 1987).
5. Mariasusai Dhavamony, Love of God According to Saiva Siddhanta (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1971), p. 13.
6. Ranjit DeSilva, “House church movement catches on among Sri Lanka’s urban and rural poor,” Evangelical Missions Quarterly, July, 1991, pp. 274-278.
7. H. J. Carpenter, “Ministry,” in A. Richardson, ed. A Theological Wordbook of the Bible (London: Student Christian Movement, 1950), p. 147.
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