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