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.