FAITH FORMATION

At our church we have been talking about Faith Formation for a couple of years, ever since we engaged in a process called “appreciative inquiry” that helped us identify some of our passions.

Faith Formation is a phrase that was introduced to the ‘focus’ group that sorted out all the responses to our data gathering to sharpen our sense of the most important ‘passions.’ There are two reasons that this term was introduced.

First, Faith Formation was used to describe a group of activities. It is not the same as Christian Education, in that Faith Formation is not only learning about ‘faith matters.’ It is not the same as Faith Practices, in that Faith Practices are activities and rituals that Disciples participate in to ‘practice’ their faith. In short, Faith Formation is both learning about and engaging in faith practices so as to grow deeper in our relationship with God and with others. Faith formation includes worship, service, learning, prayer, and giving…sometimes all at the same time!

Second, Faith Formation is expected to be an ongoing experience that shapes our faith for the better our whole life. There is not a body of knowledge that can be completed. There is no list of activities that can be achieved. It is developmental, in that different age groups need different activities, content, and style to meet their own needs and questions at the time. Sound complicated? It isn’t really, but it is multi-faceted.

This is what Faith Formation looks like in action:

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“…when Youth (or other learners) develop deep learning and engagement with their faith, they need to experience and choose and participate more in their learning. Most of us have seen a teenager who has become passionate about an issue be able to preach about it, raise money for it, and bring others into the conversation.” (Shannon Kelly, The “C’s” of Education Today.” This involves a vertical relationship with older adults who can provide relationships that support this journey, and a horizontal relationship which is the initial environment for fun, worship, and service.

In his book Helping Our Children Grow in Faith: How the Church Can Nurture the Spiritual Development of Kids, Robert J. Keeley explains that faith and moral development are both important…but aren’t the same thing. “Faith development is about helping children come to know and trust God as the Lord of their lives. Moral development is about helping children learn how to behave,” he writes.

It isn’t that we are disinterested in helping our kids live an authentically Christian life where some behaviors are to be avoided. More than this, Faith Formation is interested in helping to grow within a sense of God’s presence and care, no matter what is going on.

Here’s an analogy to explain why churches are talking less about Christian education and more about faith formation. Good cooks often love reading cookbooks. Yet reading those cookbooks won’t make you a great chef. Nor does reading about worship guarantee you’ll experience yourself as part of a community gathered around the risen Christ. You have to participate to cook or worship well.

John Roberto describes Faith Formation this way,

This emerging vision of lifelong ecclesial faith formation has several defining goals of this process:

• To utilize the whole life of the church as the faith formation curriculum through church year feasts and seasons, sacraments and liturgy, justice and service, prayer and spirituality, and community life.
• To engage all generations in more active participation in church life, especially Sunday worship.
• To develop an events-centered core curriculum for all generations in the church community, while offering age-appropriate programming to address specific life cycle learning needs.
• To involve all of the generations in learning the core curriculum together through intergenerational learning.
• To equip and support families, and especially parents, to practice the Christian way of life at home and in their daily lives.
To transform the church community into a community of lifelong learners.
(John Roberto, “Lifelong Faith Formation For All Ages, Lifelong Faith, 2008, p. 41)

This is a new way to think about growing disciples of Christ – to nurture, to tend, to oversee, to sustain, to grow those around them in the faith and love of Jesus Christ. They do this by practicing their faith in the presence of other disciples on the same journey. So, this is not only their way of life, it is the way of life for us all. We are all called into the life with God and along the way we have been fed when we were young, tended to when we were maturing, and fed more when we were older. It is the practice of lifelong formation, of lifetime learning, of generational faith development.

Kendra Creasy Dean and Ron Foster, in their book The Godbearing Life, point to this very kind of ministry with youth. They examine a ministry of presence, nurture, feeding, and tending that is more about relationships than about programs. It is about being a “god-bearer” in someone’s life, being the shepherd that tend to the sheep, being the advocate that will speak up, being the mentor that is there when you need them, being present and being real. Godbearing ministry is about tending to the heart, mind, and soul of the person, because we are all people of God and worthy of being fed.

She writes elsewhere:

Young people need practice in multiple “faith languages” — words and actions, art and prayer. Young people today live in a participatory culture, where they create cultural content as well as consume it. Treating youth primarily as consumers of worship, programming, and mission fails to recognize their creativity and makes church seem unwelcoming and archaic. (Kendra Creasy Dean, “Characteristics of a Healthy Youth Ministry”, Leading Ideas, March 14, 2012)

So Faith Formation is not so much a thing we do. It is a process, a lifelong movement, for discipleship, praxis, theologians call it – where together the whole church puts into action what we believe and through that experience revise what it is believe based on how and where we experienced Christ in the activity, in the prayerful reflection, in each other.

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