The first thing to catch my attention in Beth Herrinton-Hodge’s post was in the title – the word “formation.” A growing number of churches are using “formation” in place of “education” when talking generally about the Christian formation/education process and/or programs, and more specifically in naming job positions and committees. I served a church in Indiana as the Coordinator of Spiritual Formation for Adults and in my most recent position the church had a Christian Formation Ministry Team. My position included in the title, Director of Christian Formation.
This speaks to our growing sense as church leadership that there is much more to forming faith and making disciples than the traditional educational process. We are challenged to think beyond the long time church school models where stories and verses are learned in a measurable format. While growing in familiarity and understanding of scripture is certainly very important, we are hearing the call to expand our understanding of what it means to be formed, and not just informed, in our faith. We are called to provide new opportunities for individuals and groups to connect all that it means to grow in faith.
While we surely must embrace the digital age and all it offers us in resources for faith formation, the church is still a place that offers a variety of experiences that we would do well not to abandon. Experiences that meet a variety of learning styles and experiences in spiritual practices that are then intentionally connected to worship and service experiences are vital to faith formation. Although many individuals are connected through various social media and internet options, the desire for personal connection in our faith communities is still present and remains very important. We are still about relationship building with each other and with God. Providing new ways for these connections is a challenge to be met by church leadership.
Much of that challenge comes in the reality that we are a multigenerational church. We are left with the question of how to provide meaningful faith formation experiences for the variety of generations that make up our faith communities. Each generation has unique preferences related to worship, music, learning, and giving/service. And yet, the fact that we have all of these ages together in the same place is a strength as well. With so much of our culture compartmentalized by age, including many church programs, the church is in the unique position to bridge the “ipad and smart phone” generations to the “book-in-hand and land line” generations. Worshipping together, singing old and new hymns and songs together, taking the church into the community, joining in church-wide retreats where the children, youth and adults all participate together in all activities, walking labyrinths together, playing a Bible game together on an ipad, and blowing prayer bubbles together; These are all ways of fulfilling the churh’s unique role.
In her book, The Great Emergence, Phyllis Tickle espouses that the church goes through a major shift about every 500 years, and that we are in the midst of the next big shift. While this leaves many feeling unsteady and questioning the future of the church, the good news in Tickles research suggests that the church grows as a result of the shift. The church will most likely be different than it is now, just as the church was much different following the great Reformation of the 1500’s. Our challenge in faith formation in the future is in discerning what to let go and what to keep, how to be relevant to the younger generations and stabilizing for the faithful generations who have nurtured us to this point, but most importantly, how to be faithful to our call to love and serve God and share that call and that love with others.
Ginny Harville Baker graduated from the Presbyterian School of Christian Education (now Union Seminary, Richmond, VA) in 1984 and has served several churches in paid and volunteer capacities. She is also a Certified Ruling Elder, served on the writing team for the Worship for Life Resource Collection (Logos Productions) and is currently a Christian education consultant and retreat leader.