Spiritual Formation

Spiritual Formation Header

What is 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 thinking (orthodoxy), right behaviors (orthopraxy), and right feelings (orthopathy) of individuals and communities.

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. Disciples 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?

The Spirit and the written Word, and the indwelling Christ help us to experience “living water,” which flows out of our innermost being (John 7:37-38), coming from the depths of our identities and our communities.

Spiritual disciplines are the tools of spiritual formation. Practices such labyrinth walking or contemplative prayer or lectio divina are good, but they do not necessarily result in formation. Only the Spirit can bring about spiritual formation.

To be attentive and receptive to the Spirit’s formative work in us, we engage the spiritual disciplines, and recognize that formation happens best in diverse communities. Spiritual directors, mentors, pastors, and spiritual friends provide 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.


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:

  • Every course we offer has spiritual formation components built into it.
  • Courses focused specifically on spiritual formation are one credit in length, allowing students to easily incorporate one spiritual formation course per semester into their degree program.
  • Within spiritual formation courses students get academic content, formational experiences, small-group accountability, and fellowship.
  • We offer traditional spiritual formation courses such as those focused on prayer and spiritual life, as well as specialty courses to give students various pathways for growth.

Programs with an emphasis on spiritual formation

Interested in becoming a spiritual director?


Spiritual formation courses offered

  • Knowing Self, Knowing God
  • Mystical Experiences and Images of God
  • Christian Prayer
  • Spiritual Life
  • Awareness and Identity I & II
  • Formation and the Enneagram
  • 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.