On formation.

Dear Jill.

When I mentioned that I was teaching a course in Spiritual Formation, you said that you’d like to take that course. And it’s possible that you know some other people who might be interested, too.

But I’m curious about why you are interested. I know what I teach, or better, how I lead the class. But I’m aware that different people have different understandings of what such a class may include.

I can tell you what we do, which may help you tell me what you are looking for.

At the beginning of the first class, I start by giving people 5 minutes to think about what kind of person they want to be in five years. I say, “In five years, if you and I were together and we met someone new, how would you like to be introduced?”

And I give them the example of Tychicus, who was introduced as “a dear brother, a faithful minister, and a fellow servant in the Lord.” (Colossians 4:7). I know that question isn’t expressly “spiritual”. But It takes us to character, to the outward view of an inward way of being. And the course is being taught as part of a Master of Ministry grad program. So I work from the assumption that the answer will, in some way, relate to us having part of us that desires to connect to God.

I give them 5 minutes because it takes some people time to think, to be willing to be personal. Because I then have them introduce each other to a group of 2-3 other people.  And then they introduce one of those people to the rest of the class.

And then we begin to talk about the process of moving from here to there, about being formed in faithfulness, or love, or compassion. We talk about how we might, as Dallas Willard says, “learn from Jesus how he would live my life if he were I.”

We experience things that I think help us grow in our awareness of God, our selves, and each other. We read or listen to long passages of the Bible, like the whole Sermon on the Mount, and as questions like “What do you like best about that passage?” And “What do you like least?” Because they invite us to engage with the words in ways we usually don’t. And because I assume that engaging that way is formative, shapes us.

It’s not for everyone, I suppose. The course that is. But I’m pretty sure that the process of understanding from Jesus how to live my life is for everyone who follows him.

That’s a taste. Let me know if you are interested in more information. Or let me know how it might be helpful for you to explore this process.




3 thoughts on “On formation.

  1. Jill burton

    Dear Jon, thanks for the info. I’m sorry I didn’t get back to you last week, it’s been a doozy of a whirlwind week.

    Your course definitely sounds interesting and informative! When I took Spiritual Formation about 13 years ago it was at a really dark and transitional time for me. I remember being challenged to think about my formation and finding it difficult to see beyond my current circumstances. I think that may be why it sounds interesting to me now.

    I love the fact that with Jesus nothing is wasted, the good, the bad, the pain and the joy all inform my spiritual life. Even the “dark night of the soul” I walked through has brought me to grow deeper in my faith in God. I remember the writings by St. John of the Cross being so helpful in my journey. I love that God’s wisdom led me to my coursework to have an outside source directing me to be in the Word and actually combatting the lies I was hearing with so much Truth.

    Even though I didn’t write back in a timely fashion, I was praying for you, and your class, to listen to the the Holy Spirit as He worked this week.

    Praying for you as you continue to minister to many in your walk.



    1. Jon Swanson

      Thanks for your prayer and for your comment. And I sort of apologize for taking your question here, but it was a good question. And in the middle of teaching I needed a writing prompt.

      Your comment about the value of someone outside us helping us. One of the things I try to help learners do is to step back from our experience and think about how we were shaped. I think I’ll have to write about that more. Because we share some of the same shaping, I know that we have all struggled with permission to think about it, to talk about it, to find was to value parts and to step away from other parts. Sorting through what is Gospel and what is convenient or tradition can be made to seem like rejection or heresy. But isn’t.

      Can you tell I’ve spent three days talking about these things? When I’ve had a chance to breathe, I’ll write more here.

      And praying for your surgery.



  2. Pingback: Five minutes. Five years. | 300 words a day

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