Formation and Resistance: Re-Thinking Personal Discipleship

Categories help our brains organize information. Having “bins” into which we can easily toss information helps us with recall. Having two pieces of information int he same “bin” helps us see relationships that we may have previously missed. Once all those seemingly random pieces of information are sorted, we can even see relationships between the larger categories by which we sorted them.

Recently, I’ve started to think of my discipleship in terms of two catch-all categories: formation and resistance.

  • Formation: a discipline, behavior, or mindset cultivated for its positive benefits. Most often, these are disciplines, behaviors, or mindsets not currently practiced. For example: taking a Sabbath, praying a Psalm daily, reading the Bible, etc.
  • Resistance: a counter-discipline, behavior, or mindset from cultural or personal norms. Since every behavior is formational, resistance disciplines recognize that some behaviors we simply seem to fall into can hinder our pursuit of Christ, distract us from what God is doing in any given moment, or run counter to personal values. For example: shutting my phone down at a certain point in the evening to be present with my family, deleting social media and email from my phone, limiting the amount of TV I watch weekly, etc.

We often tend to think of discipleship in terms of the formational. When I first came to Christ I was encouraged to begin a daily quiet time in which I was to pray, read the Bible, and pray again. There were some mild exhortations to remove sinful behaviors from my life, which is a helpful and necessary exhortation. But there was never any encouragement to examine my default habits, those things I went to when I got bored, worried, stressed, or began to struggle in some other way.

That’s where resistance disciplines come in. In my case, my resistance habits removed the things I did to distract myself from hard things or to avoid difficult conversations/realities. They also helped me identify specific practices I tended to prioritize over practices that I claimed to value (i.e., always being accessible vs. prioritizing my family).

While formational disciplines might be pretty similar from one person to the next– after all, everyone who is honestly pursuing Christ should be doing things like reading the Bible and praying– resistance disciplines will most likely vary.

Here are a few steps to identify your resistance disciplines:

  • Start with an honest, prayerful consideration of your personal and relational values. Who do you want to be? How do you want your relationships characterized?
  • Consider your reactive behaviors. When you get stressed, to what do you default? Worried? Bored? Write it down.
  • Imagine alternative responses to your reactive behaviors. How can you plan to change your response to those triggers to more align with your values?
  • Identify what behaviors, attitudes, or practices that you might need to eliminate altogether. Remember, when we remove a behavior it creates a habit vacuum. Think about what behavior or practice with which you will replace the eliminated habit (for instance, instead of scrolling through Facebook when I wake up, I will first spend 5 minutes in prayer).

What sorts of formational and resistance disciplines do you currently practice? Are there any that you would like to take up?

Published by benjieshaw

Follower of Christ. Husband to Jenna. Dad to Ava and Caleb. Crossfitter. Coffee snob. MCU aficionado. Passionate about discipleship, engaging the unengaged, and helping churches understand/reach young adults.

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