Spiritual Transformation vs. Discipleship: What’s the Difference?

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by Martin Schlomer

Over the past 40 years, the evangelical church has invested a lot of effort in leading people toward spiritual maturity. The pathway consisted of attending church, serving in various ministries, praying for others, sharing your faith, reading/memorizing/mastering Scripture, and attending a small group Bible study. If you followed these disciplines, then you were told that you would mature. The church has called this pathway “discipleship.”

Starting in the late 1980s and to the present day, more and more people began asking the question: “Is this all there is to spiritual maturity? It feels like we’re missing something very important. As important as these disciplines are, this path feels like it’s little more than dos and don’ts. Where is the real change of heart, not just the change of behavior?” As far back as 1978, Richard Foster wrote, “The desperate need today is not for more intelligent people nor gifted people, but for deep people.” What was/is missing? Thomas Ashbrook said it best when he wrote:

Discipleship was aimed at equipping the believer for ministry. Character development worked at Christian integrity and behavior. Ongoing spiritual formation targets much more: lifelong transformation of the whole person into the image of Christ, in the context of a deep relationship with God.” (Mansions of the Heart, 11)

This “lifelong transformation of the whole person into the image of Christ, in the context of a deep relationship with God” is what the Elders want to lead Elim into. But what does this look like? Is there a pathway we can follow that will lead us further into this kind of transformational change? Absolutely!

In December 2010, the Elders adopted as one of our five strategic objectives the commitment to develop an intentional process/pathway of spiritual transformation whereby those who attend Elim are being conformed to the image of Christ by the work of the Holy Spirit and in the context of community. As a result, in January I began working with a team of people who are prayerfully studying the Scriptures as well as some writings from church history to come up with an intentional pathway that we will recommend to the Elders. The goal is to have everyone experience an ongoing process of genuine change that is formed by the Scriptures, informed by the wisdom from church history and empowered by the Spirit.

What will this process look like for Elim? We know that it will include moving people into a deeper understanding and experience of the following areas:

·         Experiencing God’s grace and forgiveness.

·         Embracing our identity in Christ and enjoying God as our Father.

·         Dealing with spiritual warfare.

·         Serving Christ out of a heart of love, not out of a heart of guilt and condemnation.

·         Connecting in and experiencing community.

·         Engaging in a deepening abiding relationship with God through the Holy Spirit.

As you can tell, there is a lot of work and prayer needed. Please pray for this process. We need to be discerning and led by the Holy Spirit as we go through it. We are at the beginning of what promises to be an exciting journey!

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