Discipleship Reflections: Interview with Dr. Steve Booth

This series of blogs, Discipleship Reflections, are a part of an independent study for my Doctor of Ministry studies. Read, enjoy, comment. Thanks for reading.

On the afternoon of Tuesday, January 29, I had the opportunity to interview Dr. Steve Booth, Associate Pastor for Christian Formation at the First Baptist Church of Richmond, Virginia. Dr. Booth was educated at Campbell University, Southern Seminary, and Andover Newton Theological School. He has spent much of his ministry in the area of education and spiritual formation. I was anxious to hear what he had to share after hearing his Senior Pastor, Dr. Jim Somerville, talk so passionately about First Baptist’s ministry of making disciples.

I was very curious to hear about how First Baptist defined spiritual formation and discipleship, and in what ways were they living out of those definitions. Dr. Booth defined spiritual formation in this way: “being formed in the image of Christ for the sake of the world” and he was careful to acknowledge that “God does the forming.” A disciple, Booth said, is “someone who clearly says I understand God though the person of Jesus Christ” and one who seeks to “faithfully follow Jesus Christ.”

Focusing on spiritual formation and disciple making has been a decided shift for the church, and I was curious how they have navigated this shift. One of the biggest shifts was from separating age groups and moving toward more intergenerational ministries. This shift has also involved much more involvement and leadership from laity, and the staff has focused on equipping the laity rather than leading everything. The shift from staff dependency to lay equipping has been “very painful at times,” but the benefits of this shift are beginning to show.

It seems they are making this transition well. When asked what has been most successful, Dr. Booth was particularly excited about ministries that encouraged a contemplative spirituality, which according to him has been “ignored in evangelical, Baptist life.” Other areas that have helped in spiritual formation have been intentionally small groups, a focus on men’s spirituality, and a variety of ministries that paired disciples with spiritual friends or mentors.

As I listened to Dr. Booth, I heard a lot of the same hopes and ideas that hear from fellow members of my Doctor of Ministry cohort, particularly in the areas of contemplative spirituality and intergenerational ministries. I also heard echoed, some of my hopes for encouraging an ecosystem that will develop missional leaders within Madison Heights Baptist Church. The good news is it can be done, and perhaps we are on the right track.

The First Baptist Church of Richmond is a rather large congregation in members, facility, and resources when compared to many of our churches, and they are involved in a lot of ministries that offer many options. We should not be daunted though if one church may offer more than another church may be able to offer. The principles of their transition are transferable to a variety of settings. Regardless of size, all of our congregations have people who crave spiritual formation. We all have parishioners who are seeking to be good disciples of Jesus Christ. We all have laity with the capacity to lead. So we are left with a few questions to consider for our own contexts:

• How do our ministries make disciples?
• What opportunities will we offer for spiritual formation?
• How will we equip laity to be leaders in spiritual formation and disciple making?

I was grateful to listen to Dr. Booth excitedly share about all the ways that First Baptist is involved in spiritual formation and disciple making. As he put it, “God’s using it all for his formative purposes.” I offer my sincere thanks to Dr. Steve Booth and the First Baptist Church of Richmond and thanks to you for reading and sharing your thoughts.

Here are a few resources that Dr. Booth shared with me that you might find helpful:
Companions in Christ: A Small-Group Experience in Spiritual Formation
Soul Shaping: A Practical Guide for Spiritual Transformation
From Wild Man to Wise Man: Reflections on Male Spirituality
Invitation to a Journey: A Road Map for Spiritual Formation

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6 Responses to Discipleship Reflections: Interview with Dr. Steve Booth

  1. Randy Carter says:

    Todd,
    The shift from pastors/ministers doing everything to the church doing the ministry is one of the perennial challenges throughout church history. I don’t know how many times I have gone back to Acts 6, asking myself if I am properly focused or if I am robbing the church of her ministry by my own selfish need to be needed and wanted and busy with good things. I have found that it is actually more difficult to focus on “prayer and the word” because I am infected with the mentality that I must be doing something with my time – that this “job” requires a frenetic pace of activity. Thanks for sharing these thoughts. Hope you are doing well.
    Randy Carter

    • revtoddblake says:

      I am learning/feeling that giving people the opportunity, space, and blessing to be ministers is a big part of our ministry to them. I am well. I miss talking evangelism with you, Rob, and Rendell. Blessings.

  2. Jim Upchurch says:

    Hey Todd, happy to comment and give you my perspective.

    Critique/Differences
    I notice a couple of differences between Dr. Booth and I in regards to making disciples. I’m not sure of the value of the term “spiritual formation.” Is that something different than becoming a disciple? If so, I’m not sure what it is. If not, then why introduce a new word which may complicate understanding? Also, in my view of making disciples, there is no support in the Scriptures for “contemplative spirituality.” It seems more a modern application of the aberrant mystics of Christian history. I wouldn’t include it in my discipleship process.

    Agreements/Philosophy of Making Disciples
    There are a few things that I appreciate and agree with in Dr. Booth’s view of making disciples. 1) We have really botched things with our age-segregation. In many churches adults, youth, and children are separated almost every time they meet. This is a big problem for discipleship and doesn’t comport with how relationships we see in the scriptures.

    2) While I’m not sure I would go as far as Dr. Booth in regards to “lay leadership,” I would agree that discipleship is a community project. To address this need, I see great value in men discipling men in one-on-one to relationships or in small groups, and women doing the same. We must live life together and be able to talk about more than the weather, work, or sports. We need relationships in which we can confess our sins to one another and be encouraged by the gospel.

    3) One final statement I will make about my philosophy of discipleship is that it is church-based. I’m an “ordinary means” kind of guy. That means I think growth as believers comes primarily through hearing Christ and his word preached from week to week in the gathering, receiving the sacraments by faith, and prayer. In supplement to these God-given means we should develop intentional relationships with other believers in which we “stir one another up towards love and good deeds.” Less programmatic. More organic. Less structurally focused. More Christ-and-his-word focused.

  3. Jim Upchurch says:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christian_contemplation

    Wiki’s not always helpful. But I think of it as something like this. Notice the distinction the article makes between “meditation” and “contemplation.”

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