The Dance of Formation: Engaging Faith Practices As A Way to Shape Clergy Spouse Life in The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
Christian spiritual formation is a lifelong process of being transformed into the image of Christ. The current model of theological education in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) often fails to prepare seminarians and their spouses for the challenges of long-term ministry by neglecting the spiritual formation process in favor of skill-based training. When this occurs, problems may arise in the marriage or ministry. This dissertation proposes there is a definite need for spiritual nourishment and spiritual formation for clergy and their families, and faith practices are important predictors of individual and relational health.
The first five years of ministry is an ideal time for clergy spouses to benefit from an intentional Christian spiritual formation program that focuses on Sabbath practice, Scripture reading, and prayer within the context of mentoring relationships. Christian spiritual formation is an individual yet communal affair, and one that requires intentionality and engagement. This being the case, an intentional Christian spiritual formation process needs to be invitational instead of prescriptive, recognizing that all persons can benefit from the practices of the spiritual disciplines.
The paradox of the clergy spouse role is that it is a place of privilege and challenge. It is life-giving, but often isolating and spiritually lonely. The spiritual disciplines help the clergy spouse embrace her role by deepening her relationships with God, self, and others. Regardless of how the clergy spouse enters the dance–whether grudgingly or willingly–the clergy family life is one that requires practice and discipline in order to dance with grace and joy.