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Michael J. Christensen, Ph.D., Professor of Theology and Center Director

The Masters and Doctorate in Specialized Ministry degrees with a concentration in Spiritual Formation at Northwind Seminary are intended for religious professionals who desire to teach spiritual formation, lead spiritual practice groups, and/or offer individual spiritual direction within their faith tradition.


Spiritual formation, I have come to believe, is not about steps or stages on the way to perfection.  It’s about the movements from the mind to the heart through prayer in its many forms that reunite us with God, each other, and our truest selves.” -- Henri Nouwen

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At the intersection of theology (study of God) and psychology (study of human psyche) is the place of spirituality.  One of the leading voices in Christian spirituality is psychologist-priest Henri J. M. Nouwen, author of over 40 books on the spiritual life.  Spiritual Formation, according to Nouwen, is the shaping of the human heart or deepest self, through intentional spiritual practices, leading to communion, community, and compassion in the world.  


Professor Michael Christensen (a former graduate student of Nouwen’s at Yale) describes Nouwen’s unique contribution to the field of pastoral psychology and spiritual development, this way: “Nouwen turned the ladder of divine ascent on its side and taught spiritual formation as a series of horizontal movements of the heart, back and forth, that require daily devotion and discipline, with the goal of human wholeness rather than divine perfection.” 

​The Northwind Certificate and Degree Programs in Spiritual Formation focus on the distinctive contribution of Henri Nouwen to spiritual direction, formation and discernment; as well as on the classical sources in the history of Christian spirituality that informed his unique approach. The practical focus of this concentration is on the dynamic process, practices, states, stages, movements, and various approaches to adult spiritual formation within the Christian tradition.  


Michael J. Christensen, PhD

Director of The Center for Theology, Spirituality, and Ministry at Northwind

Professor of Theology & Spiritual Formation, Academic Dean

Meet Michael J. Christensen (M.A., Yale; Ph.D., Drew University), a noted expert in the life and works of Henri Nouwen. Michael is co-editor of The Heart of Henri Nouwen, The Nouwen Trilogy (Spiritual Direction, Spiritual Formation, and Discernment) and Partakers of the Divine Nature: the History and Development of Deification in the Christian Traditions. 

Faculty Mentors in Northwind’s Spiritual Formation Program

Core faculty, visiting professors, and guest lecturers serve as Faculty Mentors in the program, offering original lectures, recommended resources, and periodic participation in group discussions and doctoral committees. In addition to Professor Christensen, this year’s program faculty include:


Dr. Terry Glaspey (Master of Arts, History, D.S.Min Spiritual Formation)

Associate Professor for Spiritual Formation and Inklings Studies

Terry is a writer, editor, teacher, and international speaker on spiritual formation and the visual arts, and the author of award-winning books, including: 75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know, Discovering God Through the Arts, and The Spiritual Legacy of C. S. Lewis

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Dr. Robert A. Jonas (Ed.D., Psychology)

Guest Lecturer for Spiritual Formation

“Jonas” as he prefers to be called, is founder and director of The Empty Bell, a contemplative sanctuary in Northampton, MA, with a special emphasis on the Buddhist-Christian dialogue and on the arts.  He is author/creator of several books, videos, and music CDs, and editor of Henri Nouwen: Selected Writings. 


Dr. Wil Henandez (Ph.D., Practical Theology and Spiritual Formation)

Guest Lecturer for Spiritual Formation

Wil is founder and director of CenterQuest, author of a trilogy of books on Henri Nouwen, and serves on the editorial panel of Presence, the journal published by Spiritual Directors International (SDI). He conducts retreats and workshops across the U.S. and abroad focusing on the spirituality of Nouwen.

Featured Video: Introduction to Spiritual Formation

with Dr. Michael J. Christensen

Spiritual Formation Degrees are offered by Northwind Seminary

A Certificate in Spiritual Formation is offered by Northwind Institute.

Virtual Team Meeting

Master in

Specialized Ministry

30 Credits

Course of Study

 Northwind Institute

Nouwen Courses

Spiritual Direction

Spiritual Formation

Spiritual Discernment

Northwind Seminary

Master's Courses


Intro to Grad Studies

Research Methods

Research Course

Capstone Paper

Degree Awarded by

Northwind Seminary

Doctor in 

Specialized Ministry

36 Credits

Course of Study

Christian Tradition

Spiritual Formation & Arts

Reading Nowen I

Reading Nouwen II

Doctoral Research Methods

Research I

Research II

Doctoral Paper

Degree Awarded by

Northwind Seminary

Program Outcomes

These degrees focus on formation, biblical study, vocational discernment, theological reflection, and integrated practice. , the Doctor of Ministry helps you connect your journey of discipleship with what God is doing in the world. Through the degree programs, students develop and demonstrate competency in their area of specialized ministry.

Customized Learning Experiences

Learning experiences have been built around an invitation for students to explore some aspect of their vocation, Christian thought and practice, or the human experience. Students progress through these learning experiences in the way that is most helpful to them in their context and vocation. They work with faculty members to create customized learning experiences that help them develop vocational excellence and expertise. 

Final Project

The Kairos Degrees includes a final project integrating the student's learning, theology, and practice. The project is intended to provide vocational context by planning, conducting, and reflecting on a project completed in the student's ministry context. Students work with a mentor team to customize or concentrate on any area of interest. Students can focus on anything from missional theology, systems design, thinking, pastoral care, or chaplaincy to biblical languages, spiritual formation and direction, finances, strategic leadership, and much more.

Contextual Learning

Throughout the program, students work with a mentor team to design learning experiences entirely shaped by what they are doing (or will do) in their current or desired ministry or vocational context. Are you planting a church? Building a youth ministry program? Developing curriculum? Then use that in your program! Are you managing finances? Writing code? Building homes? Developing software? Leading teams? Then use that in your program! If an experience or project is connected to what it means to flourish in your ministry or vocation, use it to progress in your program!

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