The Task of Christian Formation in the Future

For many churches, this is the time of year when educational ministries are slowing down and concluding for the academic year. It’s a time to re-assess the year, plan for the future, order curriculum for the Fall, recognize volunteers and celebrate accomplishments. The 2009-2010 year as been a rough one for Christian educators (and their budgets). Many have had their hours cut (if they still have a job) and are working on a bare bones budget (if they have one left). It has definitely been a challenge in many ways.

I receive a weekly reflection via e-newsletter from the Episcopal Diocese of Western North Carolina, of which Bishop Porter Taylor offers his thoughts. This week’s particular spoke to me – as an educator and as a person who now works for a publishing company to support churches in providing liturgical and education materials. It is a new day in both arenas, and Bishop Taylor articulates it extraordinarily well.

So I felt it was worth sharing. Along with a few questions for your own reflection:

  • How do we help individuals and communities of faith keep connected to the source of life and love we find in Jesus?
  • What knowledge and practices are essential for forming Christians in faith?
  • How do we spread the Good News to those who have never heard it, or aren’t interested in wanting to hear it?
  • What do we need to hold onto and what do we need to let go?
  • What are some best practices that you have experienced? How can you go about sharing it with others?
  • What are you being called to do in Christian formation within and beyond your own community?

From The Right Reverend Porter Taylor, Diocese of Western North Carolina (May 26, 2010) in “Bishop’s Weekly Reflection”:

“This week I have been in Minneapolis for the meeting of the Standing Commission on Lifelong Christian Formation. This Commission is authorized by General Convention to focus on policies that will enhance, deepen, and improve Christian Formation across the Church and to propose resolutions to the 2012 General Convention. Our task is to make disciples, equip the baptized to do the work of ministry every day, and to enable the people to go deeper in their faith, their connection to God in Christ through the Holy Spirit, and their identity as Christians and Episcopalians. Formation is about individuals and communities of faith being so connected to the source of life and love that they are not only transformed; they become agents of transformation.

Our discussions have centered on how the ground underneath has shifted. It’s the economy and it’s more than the economy. Christian Formation is no longer equated with Sunday School. Our definitions of “formation” are more complex as is our world. It seems as if our mantra since 2009 has become, “We need to do more with less.” We have fewer resources and less personnel, yet the challenge before us is more daunting. In this decade, not only are more people becoming unchurched, but no longer is knowledge of the Christian tradition a given. People simply don’t know the Christian story. We can’t assume that there is a common base of shared understanding. Yet the staffs and the budgets on all levels are smaller.

This combination pushes us to discern what knowledge and practices are essential as well as to find more innovative practices. What do we need to know and how can it be learned more creatively? What do we need to hold onto and of what must we let go? That is, we must focus on the essentials of our faith and insure that we invite and inform people to embrace them.

We will need to think beyond a traditional classroom model and collaborate. We will need to rely on other dioceses and parishes for best practices. I think much of our work as The Episcopal Church is less about providing finished resources and more about providing connections. Someone in Montana might have an idea that would help someone in Maine. We need to find ways to connect them. In short, we have moved from offering published curricula to becoming a Church version of Google.

One thing is clear. Knowing who we are as Christians and as Episcopalians must be an intentional lifelong communal process, and this process is not optional. It is about our survival, but most of all it’s about our mission. If we are to spread the Good News, then it won’t happen accidently but prayerfully, intentionally, and purposefully. The future of the Church is about formation.”

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