Hello, colleagues. Ray Easley here with a brief presentation on what we have begun at Wesley Biblical Seminary regarding personal formation. With the adoption of a new curriculum in early 2008, we introduced a required formation element to our MDiv program. We call this element the "Cumulative Formation Practices" (CFPs). The CFP requirement is three (3) semester hours which can be earned at the rate of one-half hour per semester. In other words, our MDiv students take six semester of CFP.
So, what is CFPs at Wesley? Click on the PowerPoint slideshow link below, "Formation at WBS.pps," for a quick overview--about fifteen slides. I will be standing by to answer any questions you may have. I will also invite Chris Stratton and Bryan Easley to weight in with their own comments--they have given significant effort and insight in the development and implementation of this new initiative at Wesley.
We actually have a spiritual formation course that is required in the first semester: "Personal Discipleship and Formation." This course outlines some key principles of personal formation that connect to the "cumulative formation practices" which, hopefully, will carry the ideas learned in the first semester throughout the entire program. We'll see in about three years how effective this plan is.
I remember talking about this from the very enjoyable visit I paid on behalf of the ATS to your institution. It was a great learning experience for me. Especially since we too now have gone through the process of petitioning and receiving preliminary approval for 'comprehensive program of distance education."
Three elements stand out in your CFP that I believe are crucial: Conferencing, Ministry Involvement, and Mentoring. For me, these are important because they recognize that formation does not take place in a vacuum, individualistically. Those points, especially, recognize the social nature of formation.
My own Ph.D. dissertation focuses on what Luther called "tentatio" (temptation, testing, suffering) in theological formation. I'm wondering if you have any discussion of that topic in your program of spiritual formation? For Luther, it was actually the touchstone to formation, for it is in the realm of those experiences where there truths of the gospel are put to the test.
Of course we cannot intentionally generate tentatio. That was, in a sense, what the monks were trying to do through self-castigation. For Luther, that is not true tentatio. But how do we handle those experiences in our lives and ministries as Christians everything we believe to be true is contradicted by our experience? So I'm just wondering if that kind of thing is at all covered in your work?
I'm happy to know that your school has "joined the fray" with the comprehensive distance ed enterprise. I am curious to know how your program gets at the spiritual formation of the DE students. When you engage in the "temptation, testing, and suffering" aspects of student's lives, you are dealing with some deep, deep issues. I wonder how you are touching base with those themes/concerns among your students. As you do that, I believe you are doing the students and the church a GREAT service in preparing people for Christian leadership.
This is a very intriguing line of conversation and I am particularly taken with the notion of "tentatio" because it raises some issues we are working with in the development of our formation series at the Institute of Lutheran Theology. As an emerging institution facing our first academic year this fall, much of what we are doing is still very fluid, so I am avidly reading other people's Ideas about this subject. (and am very thankful for this conference)
Early on, as we have begun to develop curriculum, we recognized the significance of formation as a crucial point of integration. So like Ray with the CFP program we have set apart credit hours in the curriculum for courses that will occur each term. I think this is a significant and crucial move that provides an ongoing conversation that will enable other studies to be integrated inside the work of formation.
What I'm wondering is if "Spiritual Formation" is somehow distinctive from "Pastoral Formation." Granted, a pastor must be a Christian and thereby spiritually conformed to our Lord Jesus. But in the context of seminary education I'm wondering if that formation doesn't need a strong element of the peculiar calling to serve Christ's Church. By this I mean, not only does the church need "Christ-shaped" believers, but in addition it needs "Congregation-shaped" pastors.
For this reason we have begun to play with the idea of grounding the formation program in a different notion of Luther's called "Vocation." It is common to talk about "the call" to ministry or pastoral vocation. This is not what is going on in Luther's treatment of "Vocation." Rather, God's way of delivering the "goods" for every day life is through the vocations of all people. These vocations are 1. the family, 2. work, and 3. public life (this includes congregational life). To be shaped as God wills, spiritual formation must address not only what God calls us to be, but also what God calls us to do, meaning vocation. This integrates on a profound level with Pastoral vocation because to become "Congregation-shaped" a pastor must not only understand his/her vocation, but also the individual and cumulative vocations of the parish. We want to develop a program that instills the skills required to deeply understand the vocations of parishioners in a way that enables the shaping of pastoral vocation to become "congregation shaped." Suggestions are welcome...
You have touched on a very important distinction: spiritual formation as it relates to pastoral formation. You comments brought to mind that intriguing phrase discussed by Craig Dykstra, "pastoral imagination."
As we started unfolding the CFPs last year within the context of the "formational conferencing" meetings, some of the faculty raised the question: "Are we to be about personal spiritual formation or are we to be discussing professional/pastoral matters?" As you would expect, different members of the faculty had different levels of either comfort or competence in dealing with the pastoral formation matters.
However, we have to be about both. These are distinct categories of formation. Yet, they are interwoven to the extent that good leadership development programs will insist that both personal formation and pastoral formation be integrated. I believe that the critical reflection called for in our Reflective Journal in concert with conversation with members of the formation conference will HELP nudge the students in the desired direction.
Best wishes as you deploy your seminary program. Nothing as challenging as launching a new academic program!
Great to hear from you in this context. I enjoyed your visit down here with the team. It was a real encouragment to us.
You've raised a valuable point about tentatio in spiritual formation. We don't address that topic this specifically within our CFP framework, but this kind of self-reflective evaluation is a core part of the student's CFP journaling. The Journaling component of CFP, in turn, is a central formational practice. We incorporate a critical reflection approach to our journaling requirement in which the students are asked to engage 4 specific frames of reference as a lens for reflecting on their learning, life, leadership, and ministry during each journaling period (about 1 month in length). We provide some specific guidelines and examples for the students to use in their journaling that push them to identify new learning, unanswered questions, obstacles, challenges, points of frustration or enlightenment they've experienced. One frame, for example, calls for them to reflect on their cultural context and ministry setting, and the specific issues they are confronting, in light of their learning and ongoing formation. We also work with our mentors to help the students continue to sharpen their reflective engagement in these different areas as the mentors provide grading and feedback through the journal submissions.
However, I can already see some places where your particular focus on temptation and testing could provide some sharpening and greater focus in our guiding questions for both the journaling and mentoring process.
Thanks for the reply to my comments. On Wednesday I will be preaching in our chapel on Rev. 1:9-18. The first verse of my passage says: "I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, . . ." It is amazing to me how much this comes up in Scripture, including the warnings of Christ to his followers, as well as in Paul, especially in 2 Cor. 1. It might be something to at least be aware of so that your students can perhaps see a "redemptive" quality to it when it comes. Good work, though! You have done a fine job of putting together a holistic approach to ministerial training. Doug