"In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by His Spirit." Ephesians 2:21-22
The idea of spiritual formation has for too long been a very individual idea. Spiritual formation is, without a doubt, an individual endeavor......it is, however, not strictly an individual endeavor. There is a measure of spiritual formation that can happen privately, or individually. We pray. We read God's Word. We listen meditatively to what we read in God's Word. We read classic devotional literature. We may even engage in fasting from time to time. These are all necessary components of formation spiritually, but they are not all of our formation spiritually. There is something about the together aspect that can't be replaced in spiritual formation.
A quick look at the Bible gives us an idea on the nature of what God considers important in our together spiritual formation (thank you Bob Roberts for highlighting some of these):
1. Together in Christ ............Matthew 18:20
2. Together in the Spirit.........Acts 2:1
3. Together in the Church......Acts 2:46
4. Together in Service...........Ephesians 2:21-22
5. Together in Power............Ephesians 3:17-18
6. Together in Reward.........1 Thessalonians 4:17
I am sure for these six, you may be able to find many more as well. Why is it important to note? Because it can change the philosophy of how you do what you do and why, and even how Christian organizations do what they do and why. Let me explain.
For the individual, there is a realm of spiritual maturity that cannot be obtained outside of purposeful interaction with a community of people. With relationships come stresses, joys, heartaches, headaches, strength, dispute, conflict, forgiveness, etc., etc. It is only when these things can be processed and lived through spiritually that we grow. All of the praying and reading and fasting is meant to prepare and cultivate the soil of our hearts to be able to meaningfully engage real life.............not cocoon ourselves away from it. When squeezed by the pressures of life and people, we then see what we are made of spiritually and whether or not there has been soul growth instead of just theoretical knowledge growth. The difference is the together piece of spiritual formation.
The same holds true when thinking about the direction of a Christian church or organization. If the together portion of spiritual formation is meant only to create a unity in the local church or organization, then I think we have stopped far short of its intent. Unity in a local faith community is huge, as is unity in an organization, but unity (or the togetherness of growth) needs to extend to other local, like-minded communities of faith as well. This mindset gives us a theology that views ministry through a kingdom lens, and not just through our local church lens. Together, in the sense of the mission that Jesus gave His church, represents the opportunity to partner with like-minded churches or organizations in our region for the purpose of every man, woman and child having an opportunity to hear and see the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Spiritual formation is an individual, and a together, endeavor. To lose that is to lose much of the purpose of spiritual formation.