Spiritual formation. That’s a phrase you may be hearing at church these days. But what does it mean? Well, that sort of depends on who is saying it.

And that’s why we’d like to share with you what KidZ at Heart means when we talk about spiritual formation.

For some, “spiritual formation” is a synonym for Christian education. For others, it means the same thing as discipleship. Most see it as a repackaging of what we’ve always called spiritual growth.

But Dallas Willard explains these words are simply “worn out:”

What is spiritual formation? Where did we get this language? It is actually very old language and has become new language, because the language we have been using, like Christian education and discipleship and spiritual growth, wore out. I think that happened because we lost touch with the center of spiritual life, which is our constant walk with the Lord (emphasis mine).

Too often, we approach children’s ministry from either a purely cognitive or purely behavioral design or some combination of the two. Let’s face it. Traditional children’s Sunday school focuses on the facts of the stories and the expected life application to follow. Jesus ran into a few people in his day who knew all the right things and did all the right things. They were called Pharisees.

And while we certainly want children to know the truth of God’s Word and to behave in a Christlike manner, Jesus gave us a much higher goal. When asked which was the greatest commandment, Jesus clearly stated this desired outcome:

“Love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind.” And, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

We all want kids to know the Bible; that’s cognitive. But is knowing facts about God the same as loving God with all your mind?

We all want kids to act in certain ways; that’s behavioral. But can a child do the right thing, with the wrong motives? Is that loving the Lord with all your might?

And what about the heart and soul?

Shouldn’t our goal be to somehow nurture children in ways that they will grow to love God with their entire being?

Jesus made it clear that the Christian life is all about right relationship. Spiritual formation is the process of allowing the Holy Spirit to shape the inner person into one who loves God, self, and others.

You see, when we open ourselves to the love of God, the Spirit of the One True God changes us from the inside out. It’s a process. It’s divine work. And it is far more effective than merely trying hard to live the right way. When we allow the Holy Spirit to transform us, the words and deeds of Christ flow naturally out of us and the result is love for God, love for ourselves, and love for others.

And why will you be hearing more and more from KidZ at Heart about spiritual formation and children? It’s because it is so important. Dallas Willard asks the ultimate question: “We need to think, ‘What are we really intending in our ministry? Is it this (spiritual transformation), and if it’s not this, why not?’”