This is an important question on three levels. It is important for me personally, for the academy, and for the whole church.
This topic is important to me for many reasons. First, spiritual formation is both my passion and my vocation in the local church. I want to know how to create spaces in which the Holy Spirit can ignite the members of the congregation to be active participants with God’s mission in their local context. Second, I am specifically interested in how the Social Trinity impacts spiritual formation because I feel that my understanding of spiritual formation has been limited by Western Trinitarian ideas that seem to limit spiritual formation to that of a process that emphasizes individualistic, inner, personal transformation to the exclusion of communal interaction and social justice. I want to explore how an understanding of the Social Trinity and its corollary concepts of communicative praxis and relational ontology might impact spiritual formation in a suburban congregation and how that data might contribute to a missional ecclesiology.
This research question is an interdisciplinary one that weaves together three fairly new fields of study—Social Trinity, missional ecclesiology, and Christian spirituality. Each of these disciplines has found its own academic footing only recently. Therefore little academic work has been done on their interdisciplinary connections. This research will offer a very helpful new lens into each individual discipline by demonstrating how they are vitally connected in the life of the local congregation.
This question is also important for the local church for the same reasons it is important to me personally. The term suburban church is broad and requires clarification for the purpose of this research. Suburbia is not a homogenous or monolithic location. This research will focus on the bedroom-developing (B/D) suburb. The B/D suburb is comprised primarily of residential neighborhoods that are separated by great distances from shopping centers, schools, and civic centers, and populated primarily by middle-class and upper-middle class, white people. ((Myron Orfield, Metropolitics: A Regional Agenda for Community and Stability (Cambridge, MA: Brookings Institution Press; Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, 1997), 42.)) The B/D suburb is dominated by a Western, individualistic, consumerist mindset that has a tendency to sequester the idea of spiritual formation to the enclave of the private life, thus rendering it disconnected from the public, social arena. A communicative praxis of spiritual formation may be a key component needed to encourage the local suburban congregation to grow toward a reimagined and/or deepened missional identity.