CONGREGATIONAL FAITH FORMATION
Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
This past week (Friday and Saturday) I traveled to the Gettysburg campus of the brand new “United Lutheran Seminary,” which has resulted from the recent merger of what previously had been the Philadelphia and Gettysburg seminaries of the ELCA. I was there to begin an eight-month long program (September-April) focusing on faith formation in the congregation. Once a month I will travel to Gettysburg for two full days of class-time with 36 other individuals; including other pastors, seminary students, as well as congregational lay leaders who focus on Christian education.
First, I want to thank the Hope Congregation Council for giving me the time and resources (not to mention the encouragement!) to pursue this continuing education opportunity. I am very grateful for their support!
And second, I am excited to share with all the rest of you some of what I will be studying and learning. You see, I chose to pursue this opportunity because in recent years there has been a growing recognition that Christian education and faith formation are not something just for children, or even teenagers, but for ALL the baptized of EVERY age. Just as that passage from Deuteronomy above reminds us.
This month, then, I want to begin by briefly sharing with you the 6 places where our Christian faith is shaped:
1. Children and Youth
I know, I know. I just got done saying that faith formation is not just for children and youth! But it does include them. Especially when we recognize
that they are not merely the church “of the future” but need to be recognized and
equipped right now as disciples of Jesus Christ.
Like so many things in life, faith formation starts in the home and is modeled and encouraged and affirmed in the home. Someone once remarked years ago that we get children for about an hour each week to teach them about the Christian Faith; that is, Sunday school. But then we send them back into “pagan” households. They were only half serious when they said this – I hope! However, as we again heard in that passage above, parents have a responsibility to grow in their own faith so that they can then, in turn, pass it along to their children.
This is a key point. The congregation is that place where people of all ages should be given the opportunity to explore and grow in their faith; sometimes with their own age cohort and other times in inter-generational settings like worship. That’s right, worship! Sunday school and bible study are not the only places where faith is formed. Faith is also formed in the rhythms and flows of the church year in worship; through the liturgy, the hymns, the lessons, the sacraments, and the proclamation of the word.
The next place, after the home and the congregation, where we grow and live our Christian faith is out in the community, in particular as we love and serve our neighbor as Jesus commanded.
Christians also have an opportunity to experience and live their faith out in the world as well, as we’ve been seeing in recent weeks in worship through our focus on the book of James. In other words, faith formation is not simply about the accumulation of “head’ knowledge, but also has to do with the “heart” and the decisions we make and how we go about our daily lives.
Finally, Christians live as “stewards” or “caretakers” of creation; the world around us. We have a God-given responsibility to care for nature and the other forms
of life that inhabit this planet with us. Faith formation is also about growing in our understanding of this important responsibility and our recognition that the earth is not ours to do with as we please, but that we have a biblical and moral obligation to use our intellect and power to protect this wonderful creation in which we have been blessed to reside.
There is so much more I could say, of course, just from the first weekend of this course. But I share theses insights with you in the hope that you can understand what I’ve been doing and also, perhaps, join me – at least in part – in this journey towards understanding what Christian faith formation means for our own day and time. I look forward to sharing even more with you in the months to come!