What is the Goal of Spiritual Formation?

In the introduction, I asserted that the greatest discovery of my 42 years of pastoring a church was that of how to help the people of our church become mature and equipped followers of Christ.

After pastoring my first 7 or 8 years, I found myself locked away at a friend’s mountain cabin wrestling with the issues of spiritual formation. I was confused. Our church was being applauded for our rapid growth, numerous conversions, commitment to depth in theological teaching, as well as gospel centeredness, but I knew deep in my spirit that something was missing.

It was one evening in that cabin, sitting for hour after hour asking God what that missing element was, that it hit me – I pictured an archer turning his head away from a targeted wall, wildly shooting the arrow, and then running to the wall with a marker and drawing a circle with the arrow perfectly placed in the center of the circle – and then celebrating his ability to hit a bull’s eye.

How ridiculous! In fact, it is as ridiculous as leading a church without the target of ministry being identified. We were being celebrated, not for how well we were hitting the target, but for how far we could shoot the arrow – which was meaningless.

It was at that point that I began asking myself the question, “What is the goal of spiritual formation?”

At first my answer was, “seeing our people come to Christ and then grow in their commitment to Jesus and knowledge of the Word of God.” As satisfying as this sounded initially, the longer I pondered this, the more uncomfortable I became. Then it hit me.

I thought, “No, that’s not good enough. After coming to faith in Christ, our people need to become mature and equipped.”

I reasoned as follows. If a believer grows in commitment to Jesus and in their knowledge of the Word of God, it does not necessarily guarantee that he or she will become mature, and certainly not equipped. But on the other hand, if someone was truly mature and equipped as a believer, they would by necessity be growing in their commitment to Jesus and knowledge of God’s Word. With that, I had now identified our target.

If Christians need to become mature and equipped, it raises the next important question, “What is an adequate description of a mature and equipped follower of Christ?”

Once we can describe the target, we can think about our plan for hitting that target.