Overcoming the Obstacle of Formation vs. Mission

Photo Credit: navonod via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: navonod via Compfight cc

It seems a bit strange to say that spiritual formation would be an obstacle to living out our mission as followers of Jesus, but there are two extreme ways that it can hurt the life of mission to which we have been called.

One extreme is to neglect formation for the sake of mission. Living for God and living out his commands are extremely important, but sometimes we make mission more important than everything else. We emphasize living on God’s mission that we fail to spend time with the one for whom we are living. Neglecting formation for the sake of mission can lead to two dangerous things. First, we can burn ourselves out for the sake of Christ. We try to so hard to follow Him, that we take little time to be with Him, to rest, and to take care of ourselves. Our ability to live as followers of Jesus means that we spend time with Jesus. This helps us to grow and to stay focused on Him. Second, this can lead to losing focus on Jesus. Either the mission will become so important that it becomes more important than Christ, or our mission will become self-guide or even self-serving because we don’t know the one calls us to follow Him. We begin to follow our own mission and not the one that Jesus calls us too. This is tragic because we get caught up so much in the mission that we neglect Jesus. Jesus paints a scary picture of what this looks like in Matthew 7:22-23 when he says, “Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’” 1 Our life on mission needs to be under girded by spiritual formation.

The other is extreme is the neglect of mission for the sake of formation. Devoting time to spiritual formation is extremely important, as we just saw, but we cannot devote all of our time to the study of scripture and the practice of disciplines. Just as many fall into the trap of only focusing on the mission, many fall into the trap of focusing only on their growth as a follower of Christ. Sometimes devoting lengthy times to formation is important, but typically these times are seasonal. Sometimes we need a sabbatical to seek God, sometimes we recognize that we are lacking in a certain area of growth, or sometimes we simply have a great desire to worship and know Jesus more. This is good, but our growth should lead to the production of fruit. When we spend all our time tending to ourselves, however, we can become self-centered and our growth becomes more important than the one we are trying to be like. It seems weird to say that we spend so much time trying to be like Jesus that we fail to be like Jesus, but it’s possible. James warns his readers to not simply be hearers of the word but to do what it says.

It is important to recognize how we are wired and what way we will tend to fall. I like to spend time learning new things, but learning needs to lead to practice. On the other hand, I know many people who like to go straight to doing, but it is important for them to slow down from time to time and focus on formation. We all need to learn to live our life in balance between action and formation. Sometimes we will go more towards one than the other, but it’s important to see that they are both important to living out the mission that God has given us.

Kim Hammond and Darren Cronshaw call this Shalom Spirituality in their book Sentness. They write that shalom spirituality, “is expressed in seeking shalom for ourselves but also for the world around us.” This means that we must, “…hold mission and spirituality together. They belong together. To be fruitful and sustainable in mission, we need spiritual foundations. But to exercise authentic spirituality, we need to have a missional outlet and be active with our faith.” 2

This week take some time and figure out which way you tend to lean, toward formation or toward mission. Once you recognize, figure out some ways that you can bring more balance to your life and live out “shalom spirituality.”

1 The New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), Matthew 7:22-23.
 2 Hammond, Kim, and Darren Cronshaw. Sentness: Six Postures of Missional Christians (Westmont, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2014), 93, 102-103.

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