Note: This article was excerpted from Missional Spirituality.
What does it mean for me to spiritually enjoy and nourish myself doing the Father's will and work to the same degree I enjoy and nourish myself on Boston Pizza? This is missional spirituality in its essence. The extent to which we are transformed is the extent to which we can bring transformation. A missional spirituality moves from the inside out. Private piety must flow toward mission. N. T. Wright teaches:
There is ultimately no justification for a private piety that doesn't work out in actual mission, just as there is ultimately no justification for people who use their activism in the social, cultural, or political sphere as a screen to prevent them from facing the same challenges in their own lives—the challenge, that is, of God's kingdom, of Jesus' lordship, and of the Spirit's empowering. If the gospel isn't transforming you, how do you know it will transform anything else?
Without a missional spirituality, we run the risk of becoming mere activists who simply engage in community service, justice-making, or overseas missions projects. Reggie McNeal remarks, "Missional is a way of living, not an affiliation or activity… . To think and live missionally means seeing all of life as a way to be engaged with the mission of God in the world." On the Missional Church Network website, Brad Brisco describes what it will take for the church to foster a missional posture. The first element is "start with spiritual formation":
God calls the church to be a sent community of people who no longer live for themselves but instead live to participate with him in his redemptive purposes. However, people will have neither the passion nor the strength to live as a countercultural society for the sake of others if they are not transformed by the way of Jesus. If the church is to "go and be" then we must make certain that we are a Spirit-formed community that has the spiritual capacity to impact the lives of others.
We can't give what we don't have, and what we have to give is who we are. Christians must be real-life models of Christ's words and works. A missional spirituality is fundamental to discipleship, as Christ-followers must become more like their Master, the founder and head of the church, the new humanity (Ephesians 2), and enlist in the movement of the Way. As apprentices and adherents of Jesus Christ, disciples engage in practices that help cultivate spiritual formation to assist them in the goal of becoming like him (Luke 6:40) to embody and propagate his kingdom message. We become everyday people on everyday mission right here and right now. To be a disciple is to follow Jesus on mission, for he said, "Come follow me, … and I will send you out to fish for people" (Mark 1:17).
Missional spirituality is not primarily about self-improvement, spiritual disciplines, personal devotional life, or even spiritual formation for its own sake. Spiritual formation, as Jeffrey Greenman defines it, "is our continuing response to the reality of God's grace shaping us into the likeness of Jesus Christ, through the work of the Holy Spirit, in the community of faith, for the sake of the world." Christian spiritual formation happens when the human spirit is formed into Christlikeness. Paul referred to this: "My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you" (Galatians 4:19). The word formed comes from morphe, which means "to shape." When combined with Greek prepositions, it is rendered "conformed" in Romans 8:29 and "transformed" in Romans 12:2.
However, according to Eugene Peterson, "Somewhere along the way, most of us pick up bad habits of extracting from the Bible what we pretentiously call 'spiritual principles' or 'moral guidelines' or 'theological truths,' and then corseting ourselves in them in order to force a godly shape on our lives" so we can live "Christianly." Missional means to participate in God's mission as he and we work out his will in the world. Spirituality means to live in and by the Holy Spirit. To be genuinely spiritual is not institutional. We are spiritual to the extent that the Spirit's presence permeates our lives and our churches in ways that can only be explained as his work. So, the goal of Christian spirituality is to be enlivened by God's Spirit.
A missional spirituality is a spirituality that forms and feeds mission. Spiritual disciplines will form us, and doing the Father's work in community will feed us. We need disciplines of both abstinence and engagement, and we need the shared practices of communal life.
—Roger Helland and Leonard Hjalmarson. This article is excerpted from Missional Spirituality; used with permission of InterVarsity Press.
For more on missional living, read our digital magazine, The Meaning of Missional.
- How do you see spiritual formation? Are you being transformed for the sake of transformation or for something else?
- How do you speak about spiritual formation with your group members? Does it reflect an understanding of missional spirituality?
- If missional spirituality is fundamental to discipleship, how can you help your group members gain a clear understanding of transformation and its purpose?