Spiritual Formation as if the Church Mattered: A review (part 3)

Posted: May 27, 2013 in Book Review, Discipleship, Spiritual Formation, Spiritual Growth
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James C. Wilhoit, Spiritual Formation as if the Church Mattered: Growing in Christ Through Community, Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008, 240 pages.

Wheaton professor Dr. James Wilhoit focuses on how the church can and should encourage spiritual growth, in community. He points to 4 areas of spiritual growth: receiving, remembering, responding and relating, and address how churches can foster growth in each of these areas. Page numbers refer to pages from 2008 (first) edition

Spiritual Formation as if the Church Mattered: a review (part 1)

Spiritual Formation as if the Church Mattered: a review (part 2)

In the final four chapters, Dr. Wilhoit focused on the last 2 “R”s, Responding and Relating

Chapters 7-8:  Responding – Foundations & Fostering

Responding refers to loving and serving others as a reaction to what we receive from God. Corporately, it seems easiest to focus on the “one another” passages as examples of how we can respond, within community. However, our response needs to be beyond the community of faith, into the whole world. One difficulty will always be our struggles with hospitality, in the sense of welcoming and serving those who are different from us. At one time, this was most evident with racial differences. Today, I think it is evident with political or lifestyle differences. Corporately, many American evangelicals struggle to welcome Democrats, Muslims, gays and others. We aren’t hospitable, and sometimes it seems we wouldn’t dream of serving such people – although now almost no white Christian (hopefully) would dream of refusing to serve a black person. Our Polish churches would be similar, with some lingering racial prejudice, not so much toward Africans, but certainly toward Jews.

I was never a particularly compassionate person, and really struggled with how to respond to poor people, especially those that I thought were poor as a result of their own bad choices. I still don’t know what to do many times. However, in the past 2 years, we have been closely involved in the life of a Liberian woman who was regularly beaten and abused by her Polish husband. As we have helped her leave her husband, find freedom, and begin to live on her own, I have sometimes been amazed at the huge mountain she must climb in order to live normally. Of course, much of this relates to her emotional and psychological reactions to a life of freedom, but a lot relates to the almost insurmountable difficulties for an immigrant, with few language and job skills, and no experience with banks, paying bills, insurance, etc. This experience has certainly helped me grow in the area of “responding”, loving and serving others as a reaction to what we receive from God.

Chapters 9-10:  Relating – Foundations & Fostering

Relating refers to forming community. I think, in the way church usually looks, truly biblical fellowship is rare – and perhaps even impossible. If church means going to a service on Sunday, and nothing more – that isn’t community. If it is a smaller congregation, and they spend some time engaging one another in conversation, it’s a little closer, but still far from the ideal. If they spend a fair amount of time together during the week, know one another’s struggles and victories, pray for one another, then maybe we can start talking about community. Of course, at the other end of the spectrum are Christian “kibbutzes,” which are outstanding ideas – as long as service for others (Responding) remains a very high priority. Those little Christian fortresses can frequently become hostile to the world around them, instead of seeking to serve it.

Nearly all of my experiences in community, where we have helped one another, have been in small groups. We have been involved in many different kinds of groups, and I’m not really sure if the format or type matters. I think what matters more than anything is the size. More than 12 or so, and I’m not capable of really being involved in their lives. Of course, we can and should remember to focus on the Word, be involved in service, and minister to one another. I’m glad for the recent rise in the “missional community” terminology, although I know that the concept and practice has been around for centuries. Still, though, I think size matters – and smaller is better.


  1. Wow, even thought I didn’t catch your first few parts of this review, this looks like a book I should read…thanks for sharing!

  2. I really enjoy reading your post and this one also. click here the family international. Thanks for sharing it.

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