Integrative Project Excerpt

In my capstone integrative project, I explored the theology and history of spiritual formation through scripture, church history, and specific historical figures and paradigms. Below is the final section of my project in which I explore some specific pastoral applications of my research.

Varied Experience

There are multiple ways to interpret the varied history of Christian spirituality and contrasting paradigms that we have reviewed. On the one hand, they could be a debate of how spirituality ought to happen—word or spirit; light or dark; active or passive. Indeed, these debates have raged in the questions and answers of the scholastics and the divisions of the reformers, each setting one approach over others. However, on the other hand, these could be a natural dynamic result of uncontainable Spirit and diverse humanity. Each paradigm should not be a control for spirituality but rather a contribution to spirituality. Rather than narrowing the scope of spiritual experience, each approach should expand it.

In their research, Sandra Hirsh and Jane Kise utilize Meyers-Briggs typology to help individuals understand their spiritual experiences.[1] Their findings show that each of the different personality types has a natural affinity with certain spiritual practices and environments (22-35). For example, an extraverted-sensing type might be drawn to the outward activity of Benedictine spirituality while an introverted-intuitive type might be drawn to the inward stillness of Dionysian spirituality. A thinking-judging type might be drawn to the certainty of “word” while a feeling-perceiving type might be drawn to the mystery of “spirit.” There is not a single “right” way to approach spiritual growth, but rather a variety of “natural paths” that different people gravitate to.

Hirsh and Kise note, “However, our natural path is just the starting place for a lifelong spiritual journey. It can only take us so far… the paths of other personality types add richness, freshness, and new significance to soulwork” (36). Throughout their book, Hirsh and Kise apply this to each type, showing that continued growth requires any given personality type to grow beyond their “natural path” to embrace a variety of practices. This means that growth will look different for different people.

In the gospel of Luke, John the Baptist is approached by crowds, tax collectors, and even soldiers in response to his fiery call to repentance. Each asks him, “What should we do?” and John gives each a different answer. (Luke 3:10-14) This is how spiritual growth occurs—dynamic, varied, and unique. The role of a pastor requires awareness, attention, and discernment for each person in his or her care. Like John the Baptist, the pastor must practice discernment in finding a proper spiritual approach for each person.

At times the work is helping someone discover and grow in their “natural path.” Other times the task will be challenging someone beyond their spiritual comfort zone toward new experiences. Someone at home in an active spirituality may need to be challenged toward slowing down and being still before God, whereas someone comfortable with contemplation may need to be challenged toward active service. Similarly, someone with a robustly intellectual spirituality may need to be encouraged to pause and take stock of their feelings, while someone with an affective spirituality may benefit from study and learning. The pastoral task is growing increasingly familiar with different approaches and helping others discern which approach is best for continued growth.

Diverse Participation

The pastor must not only discern the best way forward for individuals but should also work toward creating a communal culture that invites a diversity of spiritual expression and participation. In Lathrop’s discussion of liturgy, he describes the way that union with others is informed and enhanced by elements of cultural diversity which ultimately enlarge the participants’ experience of God.[2]

In a series of essays, Elizabeth Conde-Frazier, S. Kang, and Gary Parrett share their experiences of spiritual formation in multicultural settings. A dominant spiritual culture can unintentionally limit and keep those from other cultures out. The authors stress the importance of diversity in spiritual formation. “God’s elect are, as Christ’s community, to commune with the saints of the past and the present and for the saints of the future… This communion should not be limited to the elect’s geographical, homogenous, and preference-based surroundings… Kingdom citizens are called to live as local faith communities, constantly seeking to benefit other, dissimilar parts of Christ’s global church and growing in communion with saints, near and far, in an ever more interlocking manner.”[3] Inclusive and diverse liturgy not only makes way for people of minority cultures to practice their own liturgical expressions, but also makes way for people of the dominant culture to be shaped in new ways.

W. Moon identifies culture as a straightjacket responsible for spiritual stagnation and encourages intercultural approaches for spiritual growth.[4] This is in step with the above theory that the more widely and diversely Christianity was practices, the more integrated spiritual formation became whereas a homogenous Christianity led to spiritual fragmentation and stagnation. Exposure to the diversity of Christian expression leads to integration and life!

A pastor obviously cannot create a culture of diversity alone. The task here is not to lead people toward diversity, but rather to share leadership with a diversity of people. This is what Willie Jennings describes as “a new form of communion with the possibility of a new kind of cultural intimacy between peoples that might yield a new cultural politic.”[5] Jennings calls for a new kind of shared space that is vulnerable but transformative (272-274). In order to foster this kind of space, a pastor must relinquish control and invite the participation of other leaders. Sharing power can occur a myriad of ways whether by empowering people in the immediate community, partnering with other local churches, or connecting with churches across the globe.

Ruth Duck offers a number of other practical suggestions for diverse participation including increased awareness of local demographics and familiarity with those cultural customs and traditions, welcoming newcomers as they enter the community, maintaining accurate signage and website information, being mindful of the imagery included in the worship space, and even expanding the repertoire of congregational song.[6] Spiritual growth calls individuals to move beyond their natural paths and communities to move beyond their dominant culture.

Integrated Spirituality

Varied spiritual experience and diverse participation make way for an integrated and flourishing spirituality. This spirituality is a far cry from the progressivism of Oden’s colleagues and the primitivism of the church I grew up in. It is a spirituality that embraces the spiritual experiences of others, receiving them as an invitation for one’s own growth. This spirituality does not split between spirit and body but lives out spiritual formation on earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:10). It does not elevate word or spirit but worships in spirit and truth (John 4:24). It does not favor light or dark but knows God in both (Psalm 139:12). Its posture is not only active or passive but rather knows what it is to be with God and to be sent by God (Mark 3:14). It is a dynamic spirituality marked by all the diversity of humanity as it experiences the still and storming Spirit of God.

[1] Sandra Krebs Hirsh and Jane A. G. Kise, SoulTypes: Matching Your Personality and Spiritual Path (Minneapolis: Augsburg Books, 2006).

[2] Lathrop, Holy Things, 219-222.

[3] Elizabeth Conde-Frazier, S. Steve Kang, and Gary A. Parrett, A Many Colored Kingdom: Multicultural Dynamics for Spiritual Formation (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2004), 152-153.

[4] W. Jay Moon, Intercultural Discipleship: Learning from Global Approaches to Spiritual Formation, Encountering Mission (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2017), 3.

[5] Willie James Jennings, The Christian Imagination: Theology and the Origins of Race (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2010), 265.

[6] Ruth C. Duck, Worship for the Whole People of God: Vital Worship for the 21st Century, First edition (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2013), 51-53.