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Christian Spiritual Formation Retreats

Christian Spiritual Formation Retreats

Many of us long for deeper intimacy with Jesus. We pray to look more like him. Unfortunately busyness, spiritual dryness, and emotional struggles often leave us feeling stuck

So how do you grow in healthy apprenticeship to Jesus through the challenges of everyday life? 

Spiritual formation retreats help many Christians overcome stress and hurt in Jesus’ rhythms of grace.

Sadly, the normal Christian approach of doing more isn’t working. Trying harder doesn’t make us love Jesus more or look more like him. 

Even many Christian retreats are busy and loud. They combine meetings that are like church services with fun games and activities. They’re good, but they’re not designed as spiritual formation retreats. 

Times of intentional spiritual formation retreat with Christ help you slow down, engage his presence, pray in solitude and silence, be emotionally honest with God and safe people, and learn new ways of training to grow spiritually.

In this article you will learn more about…

  • What spiritual formation is (and what the Bible says about it)
  • How spiritual formation retreats help you develop a flourishing life in Jesus
  • Typical retreat practices and activities
  • Unique retreat opportunities with Soul Shepherding

What is Spiritual Formation?

Ready or not—everybody is receiving a spiritual formation! For example:

Athletes are shaped by the culture in their locker room. Netflix bingers are molded by the shows they consume. 

The question to ask is who and what is forming you?

Every disciple of Jesus has been formed and continues to be formed. Factors like your family role, church history, image of God, friendships, and personal experience with Jesus all play a role. 

A significant part of spiritual formation is re-formation—finding personal healing and growth through God’s reconciling love. 

But don’t worry—you can’t force yourself into a healthy formation. Let’s explore how the process works.

An Overview of Christian Spiritual Formation

For the Christ-follower, spiritual formation is a process led by the Holy Spirit. 

The human spirit (heart or will) is given a definite “form” as the Spirit of Jesus shapes your inner world to become like his own.

Spiritual formation is not behavior modification or self-improvement. It won’t work if the motivation is to earn a good grade on your heavenly report card.  

Authentic life change happens inside out as you respond to the Spirit and Word deep in your heart. You are formed by love (1 John 4:8) and for love (Matthew 22:37-39).

The result of spiritual formation is a growing spiritual maturity. This is seen in the disciple who genuinely and effortlessly does what Jesus would in their place.

Definitions of Spiritual Formation

Our mentor, Dallas Willard, understood spiritual formation as an inward journey. He explained it as a “Spirit-driven process of forming the inner world…that it becomes like the inner being of Christ” (Renovation of the Heart). 

Henri Nouwen (1932-1996) was a Catholic priest who wrote insightfully about spiritual life. He captured the heartbeat of formation by stating it’s not about “fixing ourselves” but “restoring ourselves to the image of God in which we are created” (Spiritual Formation). 

Richard Forster, author of Celebration of Discipline, adds that Jesus forms you “for the sake of others.” 

In other words, you slowly become more like Jesus in your heart and then more organically express that love to God and others. 

What Does the Bible Say about Spiritual Formation?

You will not find the term “spiritual formation” when studying the Bible. That’s because it is a modern phrase used to describe growth in Christlikeness. 

But the concept of spiritual formation is all throughout the New Testament…

  • Paul committed to passionately pray for the Galatians “until Christ is formed” in them (Galatians 4:19)
  • The Apostle also taught that the Spirit—not trying hard to measure up to the law—brings life (2 Corinthians 3:6)
  • John emphasized that God’s commands are not burdensome when followed lovingly from the heart (1 John 5:3)
  • Jesus invited those who feel weary to train with him and learn to live in his easy yoke of loving attachment to Abba (Matthew 11:28-30)
  • Our Rabbi also used word pictures to show that healthy fruit comes from a healthy heart (Matthew 23:25-26, Luke 6:43-45)

You’ll notice how Jesus and the authors of the Epistles emphasized the importance of inner transformation by the Spirit into a new kind of living. 

Even still, this process might feel elusive. You might be wondering: Can I take any steps to support my spiritual formation?

What are Spiritual Formation Retreats?

There are no cheat codes, formulas, or shortcuts to apprenticeship with Jesus. Because the Spirit of Christ is the pioneer of our spiritual journey (Hebrews 12:2)—he leads the way, not us. 

But you can make space for deeper connection with Abba. You can learn tools that help cultivate Jesus’ heart habits of love. You can seek out community to find support for the stress and hurts that keep you stuck.

Christian spiritual formation retreats equip you for a flourishing life in Christ by teaching you how to practice the presence of Jesus, helping you build soul friendships, and facilitating spiritual and emotional healing.

The History of Spiritual Formation Retreats

Spiritual retreats are not a new concept—their roots date back to the early centuries of the church. Monastic communities, in particular, have long used retreats to withdraw from busyness and distraction and seek Jesus. 

Plus, our Savior held retreats in high esteem. He practiced intimacy with God and sought to grow spiritually by…

  • Following the Spirit into the wilderness for deeper formation and testing before starting his ministry (Matthew 4:1-2).
  • Often withdrawing to lonely places to rest, pray, and be strengthened by Abba (Luke 5:16). 
  • Inviting his disciples to come to a quiet place with him and rest after a long time of ministry (Mark 6:31-32).

Jesus also invites you to get away with him (or retreat), take a real rest, and learn his unforced rhythms of grace (Matthew 11:28-30 MSG). 

What Do You Do at a Spiritual Formation Retreat?

No two spiritual formation retreats are identical. Each is uniquely led by the Spirit of Jesus, the most loving and wise retreat leader.

However, retreats generally prioritize environments, spiritual practices, and relationships that cultivate a growing awareness of our Good Shepherd’s presence and leadership.

Where Do Retreats Take Place?

Retreats usually take place at retreat centers or monasteries. These locations offer quiet and serene spaces where you can engage in distraction-free solitude and prayer. 

Many retreat sites are surrounded by beautiful nature such as mountains, forests, or ranch farms. The beauty of God’s creation awakens your soul to his goodness. 

But rest assured—nature doesn’t mean camping! Most retreat centers offer comfortable accommodations. Many ministries now offer virtual options for those who find travel difficult. 

Soul Shepherding retreats are always hosted in comfortable lodging located in nature settings. Plus, every retreat is available online through Zoom.

What Activities Do You Participate in at Retreats?

Retreat activities are designed to help you rest in Jesus and grow in grace with other passionate apprentices of Jesus. Activities might include:

  • Teaching and discussion for life-long spiritual formation
  • Prayer and meditation practices 
  • Spiritual direction to help you discern the Spirit’s activity in your life
  • Extended times of solitude and silence with Jesus
  • A safe community to share your longings and needs

Soul Shepherding offers four 5-day retreats that uniquely incorporate the above activities. Each retreat week has a different focus designed to take you deeper in Jesus-centered psychology for emotional and spiritual growth. Here’s a brief description of each:

Retreat #1: Introduction to Spiritual Formation

The way to overcome hurt and sin is through apprenticeship to Jesus in his easy yoke.

You can learn helpful tools that connect you with God’s grace to cultivate intimacy with Jesus and become more like him. 

Retreat #2: Spiritual & Psychological Development

Spiritual life is not one-size-fits-all—you have unique needs depending on your stage of the journey. 

Our unique LIFE in CHRIST model of spiritual and emotional growth can help you get unstuck and thrive in honest friendship with Jesus and move into fruitful Spirit-led ministry. 

Retreat #3: Soul Care Ministry

We all carry stress, struggles, and personality pitfalls that can defeat life with God. 

Our distinctive Christ-centered psychology can help illuminate your needs so you can better care for your soul. These tools will also help you better care for others as a spiritual director, small group leader, Bible teacher, or leader of any ministry area. 

Retreat #4: Relationally Healthy Leadership

When we minister and lead out of ego or self-reliance, it depletes us and hurts the people we love. 

Learn to lead and minister in the way of Jesus—loving, relaxed, joyful, empowered—and from a healthy and vibrant soul!

Is a Spiritual Formation Retreat with Soul Shepherding Right For You?

Many spiritual formation ministries host Christ-centered and life-giving retreats. 

Spiritual formation retreats at Soul Shepherding are for those who desire to go deeper with Jesus in emotional health and loving leadership. They are tailored toward pastors, ministry leaders, missionaries, spiritual directors or counselors, and those serving Jesus in other capacities. 

You will leave each retreat feeling drawn closer to Jesus, supported by friends, and equipped to love others well from a healthy soul.

Our retreats embody the heartbeat of spiritual formation discussed in this article. Some specific benefits of Soul Shepherding retreats include: 

  • Jesus-centered psychology for emotional and spiritual growth 
  • Dallas Willard’s insights on spiritual formation and soul care
  • Guided experiences in scripture meditation and prayer (like Lectio Divina and Healing Prayer)
  • Group spiritual direction (along with opportunities for individual sessions)
  • Times to give and receive empathy and prayer with soul friends 
  • Five hours of daily TLC (“to love Christ”) Time to connect with Jesus in solitude (through Scripture meditation, recreation in nature, or a nap!)

You can start by attending an individual retreat or plan to attend all four and complete our Soul Shepherding Institute.

Our Certificate in Spiritual Direction program builds on the Institute retreats for those looking to be trained as spiritual directors. You might find this page helpful to answer your questions.

I pray you discover the joy of a deeper connection to Jesus and learn his ways of grace through a spiritual formation retreat!

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