Cultural shifts, including information delivery systems, impact faith formation from age to age. The Christian faith, a person-to-person and household-to-household spiritual movement, started with Jesus Christ issuing an invitation, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.”Jesus approached individuals and delivered a message, an invitation. He rocked the world of the first disciples when he called them by name and asked them to seek a new way of life. Jesus nurtured the disciples and helped them belong to a meaningful, purposeful community.
Those brave enough to follow Jesus learned how to behave as Christians. Jesus modeled kingdom of God behavior. These first disciples, through fits and starts, eventually lived up to their calling. They came to believe in Jesus and to proclaim him, the Messiah, the son of the living God. They told others about this amazing way of life. The Christian church grew through their actions and through their information delivery systems, including letters and signs.
When discouraged that religious communities are not adapting as quickly as needed, it may be helpful to review the church’s adaptive history. The church—Roman, Eastern Orthodox, or otherwise—was at the center of information delivery until the invention of the printing press and the availability of Scripture in the languages of the common people. The church adapted from being the center of information delivery to helping seekers understand the information and apply it to daily life. The development of broadcast media through sound and screen led faith communities to adapt again, from helping seekers understand information to filtering and interpreting the multiple voices of the new age. The church faithfully connected through the technology of each age and through relationships of spiritual practice. The immediacy of constant contact and mega amounts of information delivered to portable devices require the church to shift and adapt once more. As Beth Herrinton-Hodge reminded us, using Roberto’s models of ministry, there are amazing possibilities for networking and connecting people to lifelong discipleship through technology.
Regardless of cultural changes over the generations, the hammering out of doctrine, and multiple theological divisions, commonalities and consistent patterns of faith formation hold firm.Some of the same principles of faith formation that were powerful in the 1st century Christian ministry are valid for 21st century churches. People are hungry for a sense of belonging. They want to make connections to something life-changing. Christian leaders and learners who constantly ask, “What can we learn from Jesus and the early church about consistent, intentional faith development? What commonalities in faith formation can we embrace in any age? What ministry standards apply during change?” will discover how to make a difference in a new age.
The Way of Jesus touches lives consistently through personal witness and tremendous sacrifice. Holy Spirit power and wonders that never cease, as recorded in Acts 2:44–47, remind us what it means to be a disciple in an intentional, active community:
All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people.
Invitations to Christ, as subtle as the still small voice of God or as loud as the curbside evangelist, continue to call people into Christian relationship. We feel renewed and hopeful about Christian discipleship. We are called daily to help others belong to something important, to show them how to behave in kingdom ways, and to consistently and intentionally nurture a faith to believe in, always.
 Mark 1:18
 Matthew 16:16
Candace C.Hill, coordinator of educational ministries, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), is a Certified Associate Christian Educator and former church educator, supporting faith formation through Christian education resources and networks.