Spiritual formation precedes mission

An axiom of our Trinitarian, incarnational faith is that God does what God is. Said another way, Scripture teaches us that there is no disjunction between God's doing and God's being. For example, God loves (does loving things) precisely because God is love (his being is that of a triune communion of love).

As we live into our union with Christ (our journey from union to communion with God), any disjunction between who we are in Christ and what we do in Christ is progressively healed.

I say "progressively healed" because it is a journey on which we continue to bear the marks (the "stain of sin") of residual disjunction between being and doing that results from our fallen nature. Like Paul in Romans 7, we decry the reality that though we desire to do good, our actual doing often reflects more our old nature (in Adam) than our new nature, which is our true being in Christ.

Because we want to do good, we often look for strategies and programs to assist us--ways for us to discipline ourselves so that we might get our doing more perfectly aligned with the way of Jesus. While this desire is praiseworthy, our efforts often fail when they focus on the "doing" side at the expense of the "being" side.

However, the Holy Spirit, who (thankfully) knows better than we, focuses on the being side--seeking to align our being with that of Christ's being. This alignment of being then quite naturally (actually supernaturally) leads to the fruit of sharing in the doing of Christ.

Another way to say all this is that spiritual formation precedes mission. Our being first must be grounded in Christ before we can effectively participate in the works/mission of Christ.

If you think of this as a discipleship pathway, it means that our journey with Jesus begins first with coming to know Jesus--being immersed by the Spirit in the faith, love and hope of Jesus. Only then, can a disciple be meaningfully equipped to be a worker with Jesus in his mission.

Having said that, I offer a word of caution--this progression is not linear. It's not that disciples sit idle as they are formed spiritually, and only then begin to enter actively into mission with Jesus. No, in large part, our formation in Christ occurs as we share in what he is doing (his mission).

It was that way for Jesus' original disciples. He took them "on the road" (see the pictures above and at right) and as they journeyed with him, he included them in his ministry. By experiencing in this way his doing (his life), they began more perfectly to understand and embrace his being (his love). By spending time in ministry with Jesus, our Lord "rubbed off on them" (the literal meaning of diatribo, translated "spent time with them" in John 3:22).

And so it is with us. As we walk (and minister) with Jesus, we not only take on his missional skill (his ministry competency); we also "catch" his missional heart (his very being).

So here's my recommendation--in our disciplemaking, let's be careful not to separate Jesus' being from his doing. Let's not emphasize missional work at the expense of spiritual formation. Conversely, let's not emphasize spiritual formation to the exclusion of missional work. In Christ, the two are inseparable--Jesus' being cannot be separated from his doing.


Phil Drysdale said…
This is a fantastic post Ted. Thanks so much for sharing it.

I just got introduced to your blog via a friend Gary Bird. I've added it to my RSS feed and look forward to reading more!

Thanks for all you are doing.
Ted Johnston said…
I'm glad you found this blog Phil. I hope it's a blessing to you.
Anonymous said…
Phil Ddysdale said...

>This is a fantastic post Ted. Thanks so much for sharing it.<

It might be helpful to others if can say whatare the key points that make the post fantastic?

Malone said…

Can you comment or flesh out what you mean by "And so it is with us. As we walk (and minister) with Jesus, we not only take on his missional skill (his ministry competency." What is missional skill / ministry competency to you?


Ted Johnston said…
Thanks for this excellent question. When I refer to Jesus' missional skill (which can also be thought of as his ministry competency), I mean the skills and capabilities which Jesus possesses in conducting his ongoing ministry in the world. Scripturally, we can equate these skills with the gifts that the Holy Spirit gives to the church for the ministry of the church--skills like hospitality, administration, leadership, preaching and the like. At their root, the skills/gifts are ones possessed by Jesus and the Spirit then shares the things of Jesus with us--thus his skill becomes our own. And so in our ministry with Christ in the world, we share in both his *being* (his character/heart) but also in his *doing* (his ability/skill/competency). If you'd like to read more about this issue of sharing in the ministry competencies of Christ, you might want to check out a website that I manage for GCI--go to http://mindev.gci.org/ and then click on the "competency" tab.
Mark McCulley said…
Ted, this is right along the lines of some work I'm doing in my own life -- learning to "become" before working -- and to explain to the congregation I serve. I'd like to take some of these ideas, if I can, and put them in more simple language for the average member. Any objection? For that matter, any suggestions?

And I love what you wrote about the gifts of the Spirit -- these are for the work of the whole body (Eph. 4:11-16) not to give us a thrill.
Ted Johnston said…
Hi Mark,

I'm glad this post is helpful to you in your ministry. Feel free to adapt it in whatever way seems helpful to you.

The key issue is that spiritual formation precedes mission and then leads into mission. And then on mission, our spiritual formation continues.

It's not an either/or situation; it's both/and (both spiritual formation and mission). The two go together in a dynamic, ongoing relationship. Without spiritual formation there is no effective mission. Without mission, there is no complete spiritual formation.

In the end, it's all about sharing in Jesus' being (his heart) and doing (his head and hands).
Boyd Merriman said…
Shared this with a couple of friends because we were just talking about God's love and being (nature).