It is so strange that what is clearly the heart of Christianity, the transformation of our character, is not the heart of the 21st century church's program. I call this process discipleship. Dallas Willard and Richard Foster call this process spiritual formation. Here are a couple quotes from Dallas Willard and Richard Foster interview in Christianity Today:
In this quote, Willard points spiritual formation directly to the Sermon on the Mount and the radical proposition of learning to love our enemies in the various contexts in which we live and how such basic teaching is often lacking in the church.
How does Jesus address spiritual formation?
Willard: Jesus teaches it, but often his teaching gets identified with general moralisms, like turning the other cheek and so on. You don't actually find much instruction on how to do that. So we've come to a place where we just assume we're not actually going to do it. Some time ago, I was in Belfast, a place where your enemy may have lived across the street and may have killed your child. I was talking to ministers and church leaders about Jesus' teachings on loving our enemies. A gracious man stood up and said, "When we talk about loving your enemy here, it means something. And we're not sure that you can do that."
I asked, "Are any of your churches teaching people how to love your enemy?" There was a moment of silence. No one was.
That's a question we all should ask ourselves: Do you know of a church where they actually teach you how to love your enemies, how to bless those who curse you? This is extremely radical material because it goes to the sources of behavior.
In this quote, Richard Foster is discussing how churches and Christian training institutions fail to address the true heart of character transformation
Foster: … many Christian institutions have a system by which you find out whether you're in or out. Sometimes it's rules; sometimes it's a certain belief system.
You just look sometimes at what they produce in terms of solid families and marriages. Do they really love their enemies? If that's the case, great. If it's about the number of verses you can memorize or the answers you give to a certain set of questions, while you're full of bitterness or pride—that's not spiritual formation.
Pride is one of the socially acceptable sins in some corners of the evangelical culture. It's just straight-out ego gratification—how important I am; whether my name gets on the building or on the tv program or in the magazine article.
These men have been involved in discipleship for many years and are attempting to grow a process of small groups to give a place for people to have their lives transformed.
In our church, we are making these relationships THE program of the church. Such a process is not likely to grow big name churches but is an attempt to set the DNA of the church back on the foundation of the teachings of Jesus Christ.