Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Spiritual Formation for Leaders

Direction Journal Spring 2005 · Vol. 34 No. 1 · 54-63

The Great Work to Be Born: Spiritual Formation for Leaders
Vange Willms Thiessen

[Vange Willms Thiessen received her Master of Arts degree in Marriage and Family Therapy in 1990 from Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary, Fresno, California, and is currently in the Doctor of Ministry program in Leadership and the Emerging Culture at George Fox University, Portland, Oregon. She is the Clinical Director of the Master of Counseling program at Associated Canadian Theological Schools, a consortium of six denominational seminaries located in Langley, British Columbia. She teaches courses in spiritual formation, supervises interns and graduate therapists, and maintains a private practice.]


Early last spring I attended a seminar with Bill O’Hanlon titled, Integrating Spirituality and Brief Therapy.
7 He described what he called the 3C’s of spirituality—connection, compassion, and contribution. I find his approach helpful in formulating a framework for understanding spiritual formation. Teilhard de Chardin’s assertion that “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience, but spiritual beings having a human experience,”8 is also significant. How would our concepts of spiritual formation expand if we viewed humans as spiritual beings capable of cocreating with God in these three distinct ways: connection, compassion, and contribution?

The Pathway of Connection
Connection speaks of attachment and relationship. Our Christian view of a trinitarian God presents a model for connection and relationship. Perichoresis is the Greek term used to describe the circle dance of the Trinity: God, Father and Holy Spirit. This image portrays a rela-tional, connected, ever-present, passionate Creator who is inviting us, as leaders, to join the divine dance. Connection is the basic step in the creative dance of spiritual formation...

The Pathway of Compassion
Buber’s angel strikes out in confidence but without true understanding and compassion. Likewise, if we only minister to each other out of our strengths, knowledge, and illusions of perfection, we base our spirituality upon a false understanding. Our language of victory is only a shallow pretense if our success stories suppress the realities of our pain and anguish. As leaders, our positions of power and authority may inhibit us from being honest, both in self-evaluation and in ministering to others. We need to ask, “Where, O God, have my power and judgment been lacking?”...

The Pathway of Contribution
Service has been elevated to sacramental levels in the Anabaptist tradition. It is not new to our understanding and practice of spirituality. Spiritual formation that emerges from a sense of connection and compassion will, I believe, express itself in contribution. Not only is there an existential reach for God within us, we also long for earthly justice and mercy. Booth described spirituality as an “inner attitude that emphasizes energy, creative choice, and a powerful force for living.”
17 Spiritual formation is concerned with a search for value, meaning, and purpose which includes actions of inclusion, care, and compassion toward all humankind....

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