Lately, I’ve been thinking about the relationship between adult learning theory, spiritual formation processes, and discipleship. By adult learning theory I simply mean how adults absorb, process, and retain knowledge during learning. By spiritual formation, I’ll follow Dallas Willard (2002) who states that “spiritual formation for the Christian basically refers to the Spirit-driven process of forming the inner world of the human self in such a way that it becomes like the inner being of Christ himself” (p. 19). The product of the spiritual formation process is a disciple, a learner of the faith.
Discipleship these days seem to focus not on what you know but who you are. It is about identity and who we are in Christ. When the church as a body knows not what she was designed to be, the people of the church are duly lost in regards to identity. In the midst of this identity crisis, the focus of spiritual formation has become information and behavior; expectations are often reduced to attending church-produced Bible classes and behaving in a “moral” fashion. I would suggest that effective discipleship takes place when we move beyond information download and behavior change to true transformation of who we are in Christ. Our identity is changed as God recreates us in Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:17) and we are continually transformed by the renewing of our mind (Romans 12:2)—the Holy Spirit is involved.
How might we connect the spiritual formation process to adult learning theory (especially transformative learning theory)? I think “identity” serves as a helpful hinge, where the emphasis is on the development of the entire person, rather than just the transmission of information. If spiritual formation efforts are going to be productive, the life of the individual learner must be considered alongside or in addition to content. “Transformation” is another bridging concept, both as a goal and result, in learning and discipleship. This shared goal and result between transformational learning and discipleship has led some to identify transformative learning as an ideal tool for the development of spiritual formation efforts.
Choosing Change: How to Motivate Churches to Face the Future by Peter Coutts
A major study of congregations discovered that three-quarters of pastors believe leadership is in part about motivation. At the same time three-quarters of all congregations are stuck. Choosing Change by Dr. Peter Coutts helps congregational leaders understand the psychology of motivation and how to apply it in leading congregational change in faith-filled ways. The book provides:
An introduction to today’s understanding and practices of motivation
Insights for engaging six different groups in your congregation who have different motivational needs
Approaches for understanding and influencing the attitudes of congregants
How to craft and share messages about congregational change
Helpful steps for dealing with dissent.