Cultivating Wholeness

Why Evangelical spiritual formation often fails

Todd Wilson argues that many Christians, even pastors—including himself for many years—are both godly and dysfunctional. They are “holy and not whole, spiritually mature and emotionally repressed, biblically faithful, and psychologically maladjusted.”

How does this happen? Wilson says in his case he “discovered that twenty-five years of growth as a Christian had successfully added layer on layer of spiritual formation on top of some deep-seated compulsions that were still profoundly influencing my life.”

What he was missing was integration.

Integration. From the Latin integrare, which means “to make whole.” To integrate is to bring together different elements of a single system into a coordinated, unified whole. To be dis-integrated is the failure to bring together different elements of a single system into a coordinated, unified whole. So for the purpose of this conversation, integration is to bring together the different elements of the human person into a coordinate, unified whole, and to be dis-integrated is to fall short of that purpose.

It is my conviction that most forms of evangelical spirituality fail to foster integration. We prioritize doctrinal instruction and moral development. But we neglect psychological healing. We emphasize the cultivation of character. But we overlook our deep-seated psychological compulsions, fixations, and emotional reactivity.

You might say that evangelical approaches to spiritual formation often fail to promote integration. Sadly, this means that, if left to itself, evangelical spirituality will breed not integrated but disintegrated pastors whose ministries may sooner or later disintegrate all around them.

We need to rethink our approach to spiritual formation. We need an approach to spiritual formation that fosters integration—that brings together doctrinal instruction and moral development with psychological healing.

In short, I’m appealing for an approach that—by the grace of God, through the Spirit of God, grounded in the Word of God—engenders not only holiness but wholeness.

— Todd Wilson, “The Integrated Pastor: Toward an Embodied and Embedded Spiritual Formation,” Bulletin of Ecclesial Theology 7, no. 2 (Fall 2020): 101–112