Spiritual formation: giving, not getting

It’s time for a moment of brutal honesty. I haven’t been part of a small group or Sunday School class for the better part of a year. Now, to most of you, that’s probably less than scandalous. You’re probably thinking, “So what? Lots of people don’t go to small groups.”

For me, however, it is kind of a big deal. I was a Christian education major in college, and small groups are kind of our “thing.” For the first 23 years of my life, I seldom went a week without being a part of some Christian education group: Sunday School, a small group, or an age-specific group of some kind.

The reason I stopped going? Sleep. I started attending a new church about a year ago ((Countryside Wesleyan Church, pastored by my wonderful friend Tim Witte.)), and small groups at my church happen Sunday mornings at 9:30. I don’t often get to sleep in, and Sunday was one of my only chances to do it. An extra hour of sleep felt more important than a small group. (I told you I was going to be brutally honest.)

Yesterday, I felt very strongly that I needed to go to small group this morning. Despite my initial protestation, I set my alarm for 8 a.m. (The horror.) This morning, I attended the intergenerational small group at my church.

And, as if some kind of supernatural “I told you so” from God, the topic of our small group today was the importance of spiritual formation ((For those of you who don’t know, spiritual formation is the name The Wesleyan Church uses for Christian education.)), as well as the basics of what it is.

We walked through some of the foundations of spiritual formation, namely worship ((Romans 12:1-2)), connection ((Acts 2:24-47)), service ((Ephesians 4:14-16 and 1 Peter 4:10-11)), generosity ((2 Corinthians 8:9)), and invitation ((Matthew 28:18-20)). As we continued talking, I realized one thing:
Spiritual formation is not something we get.

Often, we treat spiritual formation as something that the Church needs to give to us through its programs and classes. The Church has gotten really good at trying to help people “get” spiritually formed.

But spiritual formation is not something we get.
Spiritual formation is, at its core, about giving.

Worship is about giving our praise to God. Connection is about giving up our seat at the table to put others first. Service is about giving the gifts God has given us back to the Church. Generosity is about giving to others, despite the cost to ourselves. Invitation is about giving up our prejudices to bring all into the family of God.

In my year of not attending any kind of formation community, I kept hoping that I would get spiritually formed by a sermon, a book, or a moment in prayer. I kept not getting it, because it’s not something I could get. I needed to be giving.

While the sacrifice of an hour of sleep is small, it’s a start. It’s a step towards remembering that spiritual formation is about giving, not getting.