Jill was one of six Covenant representatives in the first cohort that was launched with two other churches in September 2016. The program added another 17 Covenant members in September 2017. Covenant is expanding the program even more. This coming fall, Covenant will invite 60 to join cohorts.
The Idea is Born
Brian Wallace, Executive Director, Fuller Formation Groups, developed the idea as part of his Doctor of Ministry (D-Min) project at Fuller Seminary. Wallace did much research on Christian leaders, trying to answer questions about people’s growth: What has shaped you? What has enabled you to continue to be a disciple of Jesus, and have health and vitality in your own spiritual formation? How do people grow?
Jill said Brian kept coming back to the belief that these people had three regular practices and though they were not exactly alike for everybody, they all included time for solitude, regular meetings with a group that included at least an annual retreat, and going out to serve.
Getting behind Wallace’s idea, Fuller invited three churches to participate in a pilot program. Covenant was one of the churches involved. Jill, along with Senior Pastor Thomas Daniel, Associate Pastor Jon Wasson, Associate Director of Discipleship Kathryn Sedberry, and Harold and Jan Skaggs spent a year meeting with leaders from Lakeway Church and Grace Covenant in Houston.
“We were one of three churches to get involved in this Fuller initiative and the results have been incredibly exciting,” Thomas Daniel said. “The first step in this program was for six staff and lay leaders to go through a year-long formation process that has included several retreats, a monthly small group meeting and engaging a basic curriculum. The six of us were unified that what we experienced needed to be encouraged throughout our congregation.”
Fuller’s Wallace explained the rationale: “We believe the regeneration of the church relies on the formation of all God’s people to take their place in the kingdom work of God—and that this happens at the intersection of worship, community, mission and vocation. Our Church Formation Groups accomplish this by providing spiritual formation and mentorship for a church’s key leaders, with contextualized coaching to help them extend that formation throughout their entire congregation.”
Each retreat focused on a different spiritual formation practice,” Kathryn Sedberry said. “One was listening to God and to each other. One was finding our calling. Each of the retreats focuses on a different element of spiritual formation. We do the practices and have assignments between retreats that reinforced the practice.”
“Our meetings were just circles of chairs, and talking,” Jill said. “The first year with other churches was precious, but the second year when we invited Covenant members to participate in our first cohort has been even more precious. We loved going through it with other churches, but we don’t ever see them. Now we are doing this with people that we share life with. I know this is really impacting some of the 17. It’s not flashy, we are just figuring out how to live out our commitment to scripture, listen to the Lord and talk about the fundamentals of the faith.
“It’s a community of practice. We try things on. We try those practices. It might be a two-hour time of solitude, it might be listening practices, or spending time in scripture, confession and forgiveness,” Jill explained.
Thomas explained the goal of the program is to form people to live as missional disciples in the 21st century while Christianity continues to be pushed further and further to the margins of our society.
“Members of the cohort journey together to deepen their relationship with God and to discover how God is calling them to be part of His mission in the world,” Jon Wasson said. “Together, they retreat, meet in small groups and devote themselves to spiritual practices.”
Next September, more Covenant members will spend a year, devoting the time and energy to IMF retreats, small groups and curriculum. “We are still figuring out the other ways we will offer this to our members,” Kathryn Sedberry said. “We want everyone to be able to take advantage of this opportunity.”
“Formation Groups offer the opportunity to do the critical work of formation in the critical context of an authentic community,” Wallace said.
For questions about cohort groups, visit covenant.org/imfcohort or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Megan Poore: “If someone told me to spend a year growing spiritually, I don’t know that I would’ve anticipated it being a fun project,” said Megan Poore, a member of Covenant’s first church member Institute for Missional Formation cohort. “But the past several months have been wonderful. I’ve benefited from closer Christian community, I’ve developed more of a longing to know Christ and feel much more comfortable in my prayer life, too. To go through a purposeful process for growing spiritually has been absolutely wonderful.”
Megan Poore, full time accountant, mother and volunteer extraordinaire at Covenant, likes to know exactly what she is signing up for when she commits to something. So, when Covenant asked her to be on its first 17-person cohort, she asked several questions to learn the purpose of the cohort and the time commitment.
“The time involvement has been pretty close to what I was led to believe. Sometimes people tend to give you a best-case scenario on timing and then you start the project and realize it will be a lot more involved. However, the time I’m spending on this does not often feel like ‘work.’ It’s been a blessing to do my homework and get to know the people in my small group. All of it seems to be leading to a single purpose – growing us each spiritually.”
Megan explained that cohort takes participant through several different spiritual practices, giving each the opportunity to learn from others in our Covenant community about how they listen to God. “It is a wonderful chance to meet people, deepen relationships and learn to better serve Christ in your daily life,” Megan said.