In the early 1990s, I organized a regional Renovare conference at my church. Renovare (pronounced ren-eh-vah-ray; Latin for “to renew”) is the small group movement that grew out of Richard Foster’s seminal work, “Celebration of Discipline.” The first time I read “Celebration of Discipline,” I was distressed. I had just read a profound work that required action on my part but I had no idea where to begin. Therefore, when I was invited to join Renovare in its early stages, I jumped at the chance. Renovare gave me specific, measurable steps coupled with accountability to tackle my persistent sins and bad habits. My life has not been the same since.
For example, I found myself organizing a conference for 600 people. Out of that conference, we spun off 28 Renovare small groups, all using the original Spiritual Formation Workbook. That workbook offered an eight-week introduction followed by a suggested order of meeting that one could follow forever. (The latest version of that book is still available from www.renovare.org.) As part of the follow-up to the conference, I also wrote a monthly newsletter for everyone involved in the groups and made myself available as a resource to each group. One group continues to meet in modified form, twenty years later! My Renovare group met for eight years before life circumstances took us in different directions.
One group came to the end of the introduction in the workbook and quit. Their response to me was basically “been there, done that.” I tried to explain to them that the workbook had an “Order of Meeting” that would help them continue working with the spiritual disciplines to grow deeper in their walk with Christ, but no, they had read the book and were ready for something “new.”
New?! Isn’t learning to be a better disciple of Jesus Christ a fresh challenge for every day? We as a people do not understand very well the “long obedience in the same direction” that is required to become more Christ-like. We flit from program to latest spiritual fad and wonder why we feel exhausted and God feels “distant” to us.
Spiritual formation, the forming of our souls, is happening to all of us, for good or for ill. The question we need to ask ourselves regularly is whether we are participating in an intentional system that leads us closer to Christ-likeness or further away from it.
Spiritual formation is not the “newest and latest” fad in Christian circles. It is the call to intentional discipleship we each received in the waters of our Baptism:
“Do you intend to continue in the covenant God made with you in holy baptism:
to live among God’s faithful people,
to hear the word of God and share in the Lord’s supper,
to proclaim the good news of God in Christ through word and deed,
to serve all people, following the example of Jesus,
and to strive for justice and peace in all the earth?”
I know people who walk intentionally along a path that leads them deeper into the covenant promises above. Some of them have followed the path Renovare has pioneered; some have used other systems. In every case, there is a specific, measurable plan in their lives to become better disciples of Jesus Christ.
Spiritual formation is happening in all of us. Let us do all we can to assure it is taking us where we want to end up.
Join The Conversation
How have you been introduced to the topic of spiritual formation?
Are you participating in an intentional system (spiritual formation) that leads you closer to Christ-likeness or further away from it?
Valerie Hess is an author, instructor in the Spring Arbor University’s Master of Arts in Spiritual Formation and Leadership (MSFL) program, retreat speaker, musician, mother and pastor’s wife. She does a weekly blog for the MSFL program and has written numerous articles, mostly on the themes of spiritual formation through the spiritual disciplines and church music. She has written three books: Habits of a Child’s Heart: Raising Your Kids with the Spiritual Disciplines (co-authored with Dr. Marti Watson Garlett), Spiritual Disciplines Devotional: A Year of Readings and The Life of the Body: Physical Well-Being and Spiritual Formation" (co-authored with Lane M. Arnold). Her husband is an Associate Pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Boulder, CO. She has two daughters.