Spiritual Formation

Christian spiritual formation is the process of being conformed to the image of Christ for the glory of God and for the sake of others (II Corinthians 3:17-18).

The focus of spiritual formation is the Holy Spirit, who guides the ongoing journey.

The response is submission. Formation is an organic, life-long, and holistic process involving right (ortho) thinking, right behaviors, and right feelings of individuals and communities.

The process of becoming Christ-like involves three interwoven processes:

  1. Orthodoxy — Right-thinking about Christ and the Christian faith
  2. Orthopraxy — Right-action/piety and devotional living
  3. Orthopathy — Right-feeling toward God, self, and others

"... He may grant that you be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love."

Ephesians 3:16-17a
Spiritual formation includes thoughts (orthodoxy), feelings (orthopathy), and behavior (orthopraxy)

Terms Defined

  • Spiritual direction is a relationship between a person seeking a more Christ-like life and another who serves as guide to the process. The guide is trained as a spiritual director.
  • Spiritual formation focuses on the ordinary maturing of one's relationship with God.
  • Discipleship focuses on the maturing of one's faith in the context of the particular beliefs and values of a faith community. Disciplers are respected and spiritually mature mentors and leaders in a faith community.
  • Pastoral counseling focuses on relational and emotional maturity of an individual and/or family group. It is usually crisis-driven. Pastoral counselors are trained and certified.

How Does Spiritual Formation Happen?

Often a faith community will emphasize one or more of the three spheres; such as thoughts and behaviors to the exclusion of feelings, or feelings and behaviors to the exclusion of thoughts. As finite human beings, the containers we construct to understand life and our responsibilities to God are good and wonderful and necessary. But, in the end, they are only containers. The Spirit and the written Word, and the in-dwelling Christ help us to experience ‘living water’ which flows out of our innermost being (John 7:37-38), coming from the deepest depths of our identities and our communities.

Then to be clear, spiritual disciplines are the tools of spiritual formation. They are not the guarantors. Only the Spirit is the guarantor. Tilden Edwards referred to spiritual disciplines as concrete habits which help us be attentive to grace. Spiritual formation is not adding cool things to do such as labyrinth walking or contemplative prayer or lectio divina. Such practices are good, but they do not necessarily result in formation. Formation requires submission to the Spirit, humility of the mind and heart, and space for solitude, reflection, and accountability. Formation happens best in diverse communities.

Disciplines are tools to help us get there.

In the same way, spiritual directors, mentors, pastors, and spiritual friends are important relationships for reflection, companionship, and sometimes guidance. The best gift from these special relationships is the act of their listening deeply to us and on our behalf with the Spirit.


"All true Christian spiritualities help those who follow Christ to walk and live in God's presence with body, mind, and soul, in the midst of the sufferings and struggles of this world."

Iona Conference, 1987

Spiritual Formation at Portland Seminary

Portland Seminary is committed to the spiritual formation of its students so that the church and world might be served by God's best. Educating the mind is not enough. The heart and the will need spiritual formation.

We fulfill this commitment in these ways:

  • Spiritual formation courses are offered in protected times so they do not compete with other courses.
  • The seminary offers traditional spiritual formation courses such as prayer and spiritual life as well as specialty courses to give students various pathways for growth.
  • Spiritual Formation components are built into all courses.
  • The courses are one credit. Therefore, students have one spiritual formation course a semester throughout their degree program.
  • Within the courses students get academic content, formational experiences, small-group accountability, and fellowship.

Programs featuring spiritual formation curriculum


Programs featuring spiritual direction curriculum


Spiritual formation courses offered

  • Knowing Self, Knowing God
  • Mystical Experiences and Images of God
  • Christian Prayer in a Global Context
  • Spiritual Life
  • Shame, Grace, and Resilience
  • Awareness and Identity I & II
  • The Art of Spiritual Direction
  • Spiritual Leadership
  • Becoming a Spiritual Director
  • Special Seminar in Spiritual Formation

More about Portland Seminary


Note: Portions of this page are excerpted from an article written by Portland Seminary professor and lead mentor of the Doctor of Ministry in Leadership and Spiritual Formation program MaryKate Morse.