Spiritual Formation in the Context of an Asian Family





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Spiritual Formation in the Context of An Asian Family

Stephen Ng




Spiritual formation is intended for the individuals as well as an entire community. Since the family unit is the basic organizational structure in any society, with the man as the father figure, spiritual formation in the family rests on the head of the family to provide nourishment for spiritual growth (Ephesians 4:22-33; Joshua 24: 14-23). In the context of the Hellenistic cities in the New Testament, the household (or family) also gets the prominence, showing its importance in the local churches. For example, when names such as Cornelius (Acts 10:7, 24), Lydia and the Philippian jailer (Acts 16:15, 31-34), and Stephanas (1 Corinthians 16:15) are mentioned, their households are also given the prominence  (Douglas 1986, 502). Mothers and grandmothers also play an important role in the spiritual formation of young people as in the case of Timothy (2 Timothy 1:5).

Any form of theological studies would be meaningless unless one can also use the learning to benefit others[1]. This paper is written more as a research paper, but with specific emphasis on how I have or will try to apply it within the context of my family, where my wife Ferlene Yoong and I have the responsibility of raising two young children, Shaun (9 years old) and Alyson (6 years old) in the way of the Lord (Proverbs 22:6). Because of their age and the attention span is limited, communication of spiritual formation concepts has to therefore take a slightly easier form, by using pictorial illustrations, storytelling and occasionally in the form of counselling. There is also a need to recognise that Shaun is turning ten soon, and that there needs to be a smooth transition into his adolescence; therefore, we have to reduce physical punishment (Dobson 2004, 110). At the same time, recognizing that we are in this age of information and communication technology (ICT), we have to also consider the advantages of using the Internet in the spiritual formation of the two children, since they have been exposed to the Internet from a young age.


Definition and Theological Foundation for Spiritual Formation in the Family

Willard defines Christian spiritual formation as referring to “the Spirit-driven process of forming the inner world of the human self in such a way that it becomes like the inner being of Christ himself”  (Dallas 2002, 22). It is a process of transformation within the heart of the human individual until we become more like Christ. Tang, on the other hand, speaks of spiritual formation within the church context, where he includes among others the Sunday worship service, Cell Groups, Fellowship Groups, Children’s ministry, Baptism, Prayer Meetings, and Adult Education Classes, Seminars, Conferences and Camps  (Tang 2014, 24-34). This involves an entire community of believers.

However, in the context of the family, the goals of Spiritual Formation are the same, but the manner in which to achieve these goals in the family setting has to be adapted from both Willard and Tang’s suggestions. The goals for my family are adapted from Tang’s three formative strands  (Tang 2014, 86):

(a)    Person-in-formation: Helping me and my family to become more Christ-like. Tang has defined this as the process of “restoring the full potential of the personhood” resulting in “that person’s becoming more like God”  (Tang 2014, 97). This involves personal holiness and an on-going relationship with the triune God  (Tang 2014, 96), where all Three Persons of the Trinity are involved.

(b)   Persons-in-Community formation: Helping us, especially our children, to equip and develop ourselves into becoming a people of God by connecting with other people in our church, Grace Assembly and the wider Christian community.

(c)    Persons-in-mission: Establishing the kingdom of God and the healing of the whole of creation. This is to inculcate in ourselves and our children the sense of true missions.

These desired goals are first communicated to the children at their level on a one-to-one basis, with the question, “Do you want to be more like Jesus?” The objective of the discussion is to ask if the children desire to “taste” the all nine-flavoured fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). We want them to earnestly desire to have more love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, goodness, kindness, meekness and self-control in their lives. It is only after seeking their cooperation that spiritual formation can begin.

Next is to try to adapt and apply some of the principles in Spiritual Formation to fit within the context of my own family. We look for activities that we as a family could do together in our own home. Spiritual formation, when involving young children, requires a good bonding between parents and the children. With younger children, where the attention span is short, Deuteronomy 6:6-9 provides a good advice on how any spiritual formation programme can be carried out in the family settings, where parents and children are told to engage in a constant discussion around the Bible as God’s Word. This form of teaching God’s word replaces preaching from the pulpit or a Sunday school class as in a church setting.

In pursuing spiritual formation for younger children, there is also a need to realise that for the child, the “human spirit is a million times more delicate”; therefore, if we have a strong willed child, as parents, we also need to understand how to break the will without breaking the spirit  (Dobson 2004, 67, 107). Therefore, it requires more than just teaching from some Sunday School books. Every child is also different; therefore, the biggest challenge is to vary and adapt the approaches used.


Key Spiritual Activities for the entire family

Tang discusses the lack of trained ministers, the low level of biblical knowledge, the lack of personal holiness and problems of an inward looking community ethos as among other concerns in the way how spiritual formation in the English speaking churches is approached (Tang 2014, 35-67). To address some of these common issues in English speaking churches, the emphasis is to first apply spiritual formation within the family unit, with activities being designed or selected to meet the need of the individual family members. These activities form part of a whole web of activities that we do in order to achieve the same goal in mind using Tang’s three-dimension strand:


1)      Person-in-formation: Being Christ-like and Walking Closely with God: To achieve this, we encourage the children to develop spiritual disciplines that will hopefully become their daily habits.


(a)    Using the Bible for personal meditation, scripture memory and developing closer relationship with God. This has been my personal discipline since secondary school days to begin the day by meditating on a short passage of the Bible and praying for the entire family. However, due to a change in lifestyle, the pattern in which devotion is done has also changed. I would now read a short passage of the Bible, and instead of sitting on the couch to meditate of what God’s word has to say, I would meditate on it as I brush my teeth, or while having a catnap on the toilet bowl early in the morning, or going about getting my son ready for school. In between, I would speak to God privately. This involves confession of one’s known sins, as the Holy Spirit so reveals throughout the day. It is a communion with God throughout the whole day. There is also a time when I catch a catnap for the calming of the soul and body in what MacDonald calls ‘times of rhythmic withdrawals’  (MacDonald 1987, 137) (Psalms 46:10). I plan to start using the Bible Reading plan in YouVersion[2] due to its duplicity and convenience for Ferlene, Shaun and I so that we are reading the same passages of the Bible using our own iPhones and even discussing about the passages in our free time.

(b)   Use of the Internet in Shaun’s Spiritual Formation  (Tang 2014, 339): For the past two years, Shaun uses the Monarch for his Alpha and Omega Programme (AOP) where one of the available online subjects is Bible knowledge. This helps to build his understanding of God’s word.

(c)    In spiritual formation for the entire family, especially on ensuring that we keep our personal holiness, a clear understanding of the concepts of being ‘dead to sin’, ‘a slave to sin’ and ‘end of the law’ and about the new creation needs to be explained to both children, in a simplest way possible. I have been trying to find an illustration to use to explain to both children. With Shaun, the idea of ‘changing Central Processing Unit (CPU)’ to illustrate the involvement of the Holy Spirit in our lives after being born again and after being born again, ‘we still need to reformat the hard disc’ by constantly reading God’s word to renew our minds (cf Romans 12:2).


2)      Persons-in-Community Formation: to achieve this, we encourage our children to attend some group activities with people of their age groups.


(a)    Jesus intended the believers to come together (Matthew 18:20 cf Hebrews 10:25) as often as they can. In the early church, the believers also gathered as often as they could for fellowship. While the children are already attending Sunday Schools and Royal Rangers, Ferlene and I are attending Sunday Worship Services. Involvement in activities should be to achieve our stated objectives of becoming equipped people of God. Although Ferlene attends the Full Gospel Businessmen’s Fellowship on Tuesday lunch hours, we have yet to get involved in a church-based Cell Group and there are plans to be involved in small group activities.


3)      Persons-in-Mission Formation: to inculcate in both Shaun and Alyson a sense of what God’s heartbeat is about – or the mission of God, -- we involve them in some social outreaches like street feeding, raising funds for Rumah Grace (Dec 2016) using socks to make snowmen and helping out Vacation Bible School with the Orang Asli kids in Raub.


(a)    Wright is correct in pointing out that the mission of God is not about ‘sending’ out missionaries to carry out cross cultural communication of the gospel  (Wright 2006, 22-24, 34). Based on Acts 1:8 and Galatians 3:28, mission in the context of the New Testament is more inclusive – both Jews and Gentiles are one, not “simply drawing them (the Gentiles) in (or into the Jewish community)”. Bird defines mission as “an eschatological event that continues the ministry of Jesus and builds towards the ultimate of God over the rebellion in this world”  (Bird 2013, 508, 754). In short, the children have to be taught that missions begin in our own backyard; we should make it our mission to be involved in His mission on a daily basis. Looking beyond the geographical boundaries, whether it is the secular marketplace that they are working in or in a foreign land, everyone in the family learns that God’s mission is universal. The Nepali guards that they meet daily are also part of this mission field that God has brought into our neighbourhood. The verse John 3:16 is being discussed from time to time, when referring to God’s missionary heart.

(b)   Currently, I am coaching and mentoring Shaun along with some of his schools friends on public speaking. It is done with the intention of developing his self-confidence in him being a lay (or ordained) preacher when he grows up.




In Spiritual Formation, there is always the emphasis on an entire community such as the church or as individuals. There is a tendency of overlooking the need of the family as a basic organization, where one learns to edify each other till Christ is formed in each of us; this leads to breakdowns in the family and marriages. This project is to briefly illustrate how and why spiritual formation can and should be adopted in the context of the family, as the old saying goes, “The family that prays together, stays together.” I believe this is the strong foundation for spiritual formation in the context of the family.






Bird, Michael F. Evangelical Theology - A Biblical and Systematic Introduction. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2013.

Brauch, Manfred. Hard Sayings of Paul. Kent: Hodder & Stoughton , 1990.

Dallas, Willard. Renovation of the Heart: Putting on the Character of Christ. Colorado: Colorado Springs: Navpress,, 2002.

Dobson, James. The New Strong-Willed Child - Birth Through Adolescence. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2004.

Douglas, J. D., ed. The Illustrated Bible Dictionary. 2. Vol. 1. 3 vols. Leicester, England: InterVarsity Press, 1986.

MacDonald, Gordon. Ordering Your Private World. Oliver Nelson, 1987.

Tang, Alex. Till We Are Fully Formed - Christian Spiritual Formation Paradigms in the English-speaking Presbyterian Churches in Malaysia . Kuang, Selangor: Malaysia Bible Seminary, 2014.

Wright, Christopher J. . The Mission of God. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2006.



[1] Why the urgency? Since discovering that I had cancer of the prostate a few years ago, I realise that we do not have many scores of 10 years to go; therefore, there is a need not only to leave behind a legacy for our children (Proverbs13:22) but it is important and an ‘obligation’ for me to raise them up in the way of the Lord (Proverbs 22:6; 1 Timothy 5:18).

[2] YouVersion is a Bible App with the url Bible.com


|posted 20 Dec 2017|


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