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Pastoring for Spiritual Formation

I wish change was easy. Don’t you? I wish that I could demolish and then rebuild the deck at my house without the pain of labor or the expense of material. I wish my kids would learn from the mistakes of others and not have to experience the pain of personal sin, struggle, and poor choices. I wish that I could just one day wake up and decided to be holy and then live the rest of my life free from temptation and struggle.

But change is not easy. Is it? Whether we are talking about demolition and new construction, maturity and growing up, or holiness and consecration, change always has an associated cost package and it is nearly always painful.

During my years of pastoral ministry I have noticed that spiritual transformation is very often a hard-won and slow process. It is also never achieved without some level of pain. Generally, until the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain moving forward change will not happen.

Spiritual transformation and growth necessarily entails allowing the Holy Spirit to confront wrong patterns in their lives. My friend and ministry colleague Rev. JoAnn Swart often says that effective pastoral ministry comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable. We must not stop with simple acknowledgment of need. If we are to be formed spiritually we must embrace the pain necessary to move on from where they are.

During various seasons of growth and change we will all feel both the loving affliction and the steadfast comfort of the Holy Spirit. And while we need both time of comfort (consolation) and affliction (dark nights); we often grow most when the pain or discomfort of staying the same is greater than the pain or discomfort of change.

Maybe pain isn’t a bad thing. Maybe it is a gift God uses to alerts that something is wrong.

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