If you’re following what’s happening in small group ministry, you know that one of the current grouplife trends is the integration of spiritual formation practices into small group curriculum. I’m seeing it as such a big influence that I asked Mindy Caliguire, a leading expert in spiritual formation, to give us some of her insight on this trend. Here’s how the conversation went:
Mark: Mindy, you launched SoulCare almost 13 years ago, so you’re really a spiritual formation veteran. What prompted you to invest your time and energies into this ministry?
Mindy Caliguire: At first, I simply wanted to create intelligent, compelling, and beautiful resources that would help people care for their souls… something I so desperately needed, but never discovered until my lack of soul health brought a devastating implosion in my own life and ministry. Eventually, I began to experience increased health and life… and I wanted to create resources that would inspire others towards forging or deepening an authentic connection with God. Over the years, though, I have been more and more interested in serving churches that are orienting themselves more explicitly around the priority of transformation and discipleship. Spiritual practices are an important part of that, but not the only factor… there is a bigger picture.
Mark: What are you seeing now in your work with churches that might be different than it was when you first began?
Mindy: Oh! Great question… at first, Spiritual Formation was a foreign concept, occasionally held in deep suspect. This always bewildered me, to be honest. But that was true… and thankfully seems rarely to be an issue any longer. More and more in evangelical settings we are admitting that our effectiveness in creating disciples hasn’t been as strong as it could and should be—and formation speaks to the developing interior life of a disciple. As a result of this widened interest and urgency around transformation, two primary areas have shifted for me in my work:
- While I care about the “soul health” and spiritual formation for everyone, more often these days I am particularly focused on the soul health of leaders. Some of the deepest change needed in the church in our day centers around the spiritual vitality of our leaders. This, of course, impacts small group structures and leadership communities as well.
- More and more communities are focused on helping the people in their congregation grasp the concept of a spiritual journey (beyond “cross the line” salvation) and learn ways to take next steps on that journey. I am encouraged by these conversations, and am optimistic about what can happen in the Body of Christ as more focus is given to this important concept.
Mark: I’m finding the integration of spiritual formation practices into small group curriculum, along with the inclusion of small group discussion into books on formation topics (i.e., The Good and Beautiful God, etc.) to be one of the most important trends in small group ministry. Are you seeing this? Why do you think this is happening?
Mindy: Yes, I do see this trend. Why is it there?!? Well, as you know, transformation won’t happen from simply reading a book or listening to a sermon—as important as those two kinds of inputs may be! The self-disclosure and connecting that happen in small groups are also key components of transformation. Also, “discipleship” was often delegated to a small group ministry/vision, so it’s logical that transformation-related topics would appear in curriculum designed for that environment. As a related topic, it seems there are many strong Christians for whom the next groups-based-Bible-study is a version of “laying again the foundation” referred to in Hebrews. It is entirely possible to keep acquiring more and more information about the Bible but be less and less transformed by that knowledge. We need to move on to maturity. We need a new kind of challenge—one that builds on a strong biblical foundation, but takes us to the deeper places of interior brokenness and longing for God. These new kinds of curriculum really help us bring THAT journey, not just our knowledge, into community. I celebrate any books that do this!!!