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10 Highlights from The Academy of Spiritual Formation

Posted on April 22nd, 2013

The following is from Rich Villodas, our associate lead pastor at New Life. Rich, along with Geri and two other staff, spent 5 days together at a spiritual formation academy last week. His reflections provide a unique perspective (that of an outstanding, 34 year old leader/pastor) on the application of EHS to a large growing church. academyimages Last week, Geri ScazzeroPhil Varghese and Rosy Kandathil and I, completed a 5-day intensive spiritual formation retreat.  The retreat was put together by the Academy for Spiritual Formation.  The retreat was in Wichita, Kansas (my first time in KS).  I wanted to capture some highlights and reflections as a way to remind myself of the deep work that God did in me this week, as well as to share some learnings/highlights to our New Life community.  So, here are my top 10 highlights from this past week: 1) The Faculty: Marjorie Thompson and Robert Mulholland know Jesus. I mean, really know Jesus.  They have integrated spiritual formation practices for decades and have lived with incredible integrity through the years.  I first heard of Robert Mulholland as a student at Nyack College.  His book, Invitation to a Journey was one of the first books on spiritual formation that I came across.  I first heard of Marjorie Thompson last year through Pete and Geri.  I read her book, Soul Feast, and was significantly impacted by the insights and fresh language she used to unpack spiritual formation.  When I registered for this retreat, I had high expectations that I would meet God through these two folks.  I was not disappointed!  Their presence, content and gentle spirits were refreshing to experience.  I’m looking forward to inviting them to New Life to share with our church. 2) Great content: The overall thrust of the content focused on rhythms, spiritual formation practices and uncovering the relationship between our “false selves” and “true selves in Christ.”  I took over 20 pages of notes.  I’ll be processing this for the foreseeable future. 3) I was out of my comfort zone: The Academy is not formally tied to a particular denomination, but the liturgy flowed out of the Methodist tradition.  When I joined the sixty or so folks for times of worship, I was clearly out of my element.  Many times I was lost in the liturgy.  This helped me to stretch and appreciate a different tradition, as well as help me to feel what many visitors feel when they come to New Life for the first time.  It’s easy for me to assume that our guests know what their doing.  Many do not.  My experience has helped me to think afresh of our own approach to corporate worship and the language we use. 4) My subtle ageism was exposed and overcome: I was the youngest person at this retreat.  The average age of the retreatants was 65 if I could take a guess.  Lots of white hair.  When I first arrived, I was a bit stunned by the age of these folks.  I quickly realized that ageism is something that I needed to overcome.  I presumed that they would be distant, cold, boring and lacking energy.  I couldn’t have been more wrong!  These folks had passion, they were funny, they laughed hard, shared honestly and modeled a life that was hungry for the transforming love of God.  The particular struggles that they carried (retiring, aging well, physical limitations, etc) were different from my place in life, but at the core, I realized something that I will take back to New Life:  They have the same struggles, fears and hopes that I do.  I might have been 30, 40 or even 50 years younger than these folks, but we were no different from each other. As we think about being a more intentional generationally diverse church, the conversations and experiences that I had with these amazing people will form my thinking and leadership. 5) This retreat was a much needed antidote to the leadership conferences I attend: I love leadership conferences.  I love the adrenaline and inspiration to lead better.  But, the work that was done here was not about methods and best practices.  It wasn’t even about receiving inspiration for me to “do ministry” better.  It was about cultivating loving union with God.  I wish all my friends who attend these “high powered” conferences made space to attend Spiritual Formation gatherings like the one we attended.  This conference at the core was about centering on the love of Christ, out of which we serve and lead.  As Dr. Mulholland taught, we should be “In God for the world, rather than in the world for God.” 6) My appreciation for New Life Fellowship, Pete and Geri: To put it simply, I love our church.  For 25 years, as a result of the leadership of Pete, Geri and many other solid folks, New Life has pioneered new approaches to formation and leadership.  As I listened to Marjorie Thompson and Robert Mulholland, I kept reflecting on the gift of our community.  We have been a church willing to “experiment” and live on the edge of how “church is done” if it meant we were moving towards loving union with Christ and others. 7) I didn’t feel the need to compare myself to others: Of all the conversations that I had over the 5 days, I only recall one time that someone asked how large our church was.  In most leadership conferences I attend, this is typically one of the first questions asked (and asked by me).  Comparing myself to others is a besetting sin I wrestle with.  This is part of my love/hate relationship with social media.  Throughout the week, the vast majority of the conversations I had were about my family, my current season in life, my hobbies and interests.  There was very little conversation about church numbers (attendance, budget, etc.).  This was amazingly refreshing. 8) Leading the electric slide: On Thursday night, we had an opportunity to take a break from the regular rhythm of the week, and had a party.  There was ice cream, square dancing and yes, the Electric Slide.  I had the pleasure of leading a bunch of 50, 60, 70 and 80 year olds in this class group dance.  I never thought that I’d be leading the Electric Slide at a spiritual formation retreat in Wichita!  Not many people can say they’ve done that!  =) 9) Hanging with Phil, Rosy and Geri (on my birthday): Phil, Rosy and Geri are amazing people.  I’m so grateful that I get to work with them everyday.  They made my birthday really special (as did the entire group), on a day that I was missing Rosie and Karis. 10) Centering prayer: Everyday I was able to spend at least 30 minutes in Centering Prayer.  Through this, I was able to enjoy God, learn about my self (especially my false self), and experience life-giving rhythm.  My hope is that I can continue to build in a regular rhythm of centering prayer every day. If you are looking for a conference that will touch on many of the topics I wrestled with last week, but can’t make it to the Academy of Spiritual Formation, you might want to consider the Emotionally Healthy Leadership conference, in a few weeks.  I can guarantee that you wi
ll walk away deepened, challenged and better equipped to follow Christ and bring strong leadership in your context.

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