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In this third in the series about formation, I will explore the relationship between mission and formation. I made the point a few months ago that the traditional view of mission and unity is incomplete and the third element of spiritual direction needs to be included. In the following post, I started to explore something of the diversity of approaches to formation across the traditions.
Whatever we believe mission is, it must not be an activist pursuit. We need a praxis of mission that includes formation. However, ecumenists tend to focus on mission at the expense of formation.
A good evangelist will always be an excellent spiritual director. John Wesley is respected for his spiritual direction as much as for his evangelism. If you don't understand spirituality, how can you possibly be an evangelist? I suppose you can frighten people with lurid images of hellfire. But the reality is people are already exploring faith and they are looking for answers, not threats.
The forums where atheists debate with Christians can be frustrating. Anyone taking part must be seeking faith at some level. What do they find? People who have answers, mostly to the wrong questions. The person who will be most helpful is the one who listens and answers the questions being asked. But more than that, direction is to some degree a joint exploration. A seasoned explorer knows the terrain although not every particularity.
So, formation starts before conversion, it has something to do with the context within which mission take place. It is in conversations where believer and unbeleiver explore the terrain together. And continues throughout Christian life, informing the practice of everyone involved in mission. Mission is nothing without formation.
Mission requires many skills, drawing on analysis, organising, planning and implementation of programmes. But the effective stuff happens in the unplanned interstices, the places where the real conversations take place. Ultimately, mission aims to increase the chance of conversations taking place.
So, if churches are to do anything together they need to get formation right.