Discipleship Reimagined: My Top 5 Books on Spiritual Formation

Before the church can properly engage the world in mission, we must have a clear and comprehensive exploration of formation. There is a great need—and opportunity—to reimagine discipleship in a way that truly shapes people into the image of Jesus for the sake of the world. In the words of the late author Robert Mulholland, the call is to be “in God for the world” rather than “to be in the world for God.” 

What is the church meant to be for Christ today? Very simply, people formed into his image. This is the essence of spiritual formation—a process of being formed into the image of Jesus through Spirit-animated rhythms, practices and relationships for the glory of God, the blessing of others, and our own flourishing. 

The church has one fundamental role in the world: to be faithful to Jesus and to his kingdom. So, discipleship or formation—words I often use interchangeably––is the main ecclesiological challenge and opportunity we face.

The form of discipleship will look different based on context. Broadly speaking, the best form is rooted in a combination of spaces. There will need to be spaces for learning and processing reflections on Scripture and theology. But there must also be smaller spaces for conversation and confession. Discipleship also requires margin for solitude and silence as we listen carefully for Jesus’ voice of guidance, comfort and challenge.

The content of spiritual formation will look different as well, depending on the particular season of an individual or a community’s life. But there are some tested and timeless resources to help us orient our lives toward Jesus. When I think through discipleship as a pastor, I’m looking for people who offer a beautiful vision of what it means to follow Jesus, as well as accessible entry points that help us practice what we are discovering. 

These five books are some of my go-tos personally and pastorally. 

Emotionally Healthy SpiritualityEmotionally Healthy Spirituality: It’s Impossible to Be Spiritually Mature, While Remaining Emotionally Immature by Peter Scazzero (Zondervan) is one of the most impactful books I have read. Scazzero offers a vision of formation that integrates contemplative spirituality and emotional health. It is a powerful combination that often goes missing in the formation conversation. [Editor’s note: Scazzero is the former pastor of New Life Church.]

God in My EverythingGod in My Everything: How an Ancient Rhythm Helps Busy People Enjoy God by Ken Shigematsu (Zondervan Reflective) presents a vision for formation oriented around a monastic Rule of Life. It’s a book that helps us integrate our life with God in every aspect of life––whether it be overtly “spiritual” or not. 

The Deeper JourneyThe Deeper Journey: The Spirituality of Discovering Your True Self by M. Robert Mulholland Jr. (IVP)—where the quote referenced earlier appears—helps us to see the insidious forces within us that get in the way of our formation in Christ. In particular, Mulholland offers a treatment of the “false self” that is worth the price of the book. 

Soul CareSoul Care in African American Practice by Barbara L. Peacock (IVP) is a wonderful addition to the formation category. She plumbs the depths of prayer and other spiritual practices that emerge from a perspective that often goes overlooked in the discipleship and spiritual formation community: the African American context. Moreover, it’s a vision that demonstrates how formation must always be connected to the work of justice and mission.

Liturgy of the OrdinaryLiturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life by Tish Harrison Warren (IVP) taught me how making my bed in the morning can be a profound spiritual practice. More than that, this book reframes ordinary life as a meeting place for communion with God.