As I’ve mentioned before, congregations need to equip families to do faith formation at home. This is always true since the home is already the center of our faith formation. It is especially true at this time when our traditional church gatherings can be dangerous. Whether it is in addition to a cautious return to in-person church activities or instead of them, I urge you to put a lot of focus on at-home faith formation.
Obstacles at Home
However, if families (or singles) are not already in the habit of doing Christian education, worship, or devotional time at home, it can be a difficult thing to start. Last week, I reflected on the mental obstacle of inexperience. And, in the next few weeks, I will look also at the obstacles of stress and doubt. This week, my focus is on giving up the fight based on the shadow of past failures.
The Shadow of New Year’s Resolutions
One of the reasons that new habits are hard, in my opinion, is the prevalence of New Year’s resolutions, or, more specifically, how it’s almost a given that we will fail at them. The specter of failed resolutions can steal our hopes of starting new ones. Those memories can provide us “proof” that we can’t do something, even before we try. Or we might start, but with the expectation that we will fail. If you expect to fail, then you probably will. That becomes a mental obstacle.
New Habits Are Just Hard
Even without any previous failures, starting a new habit can be very difficult. Just do an Internet search for “why are habits hard to start?” Your results will give you a lot of information from experts in the field, and I’m not an expert. However, consistent advice is that you need motivation, a concrete end goal, accountability, and small steps.
Motivation and a Concrete End Goal
The first place to start is to introduce participants (individuals, families) to the reason why faith formation practices are important. It might seem odd given the topic, but people need to hear what’s in it for them. That doesn’t have to be selfish, though. A better relationship with God and God’s people is not selfish. And neither is self-care.
It’s also important to set up an end goal, or at least first goal. What’s a good first goal to start aiming for? Perhaps it’s daily devotions (individual or family). Perhaps it’s weekly worship observance (physical or virtual attendance). Perhaps it’s spending 45 minutes to an hour on Christian education as a family (I dislike the phrase “Sunday school,” but that’s what I’m talking about).
Commitment and Accountability
Two other helpful tools for creating new habits are commitment and accountability. If someone makes an outward, public commitment (public in terms of not just in your head, but stated to at least one other person), they are much more likely to follow through than if you are just silently thinking about it. This can provide some accountability through positive peer pressure (though see Grace below).
Accountability can be both outward (from another person) and personal (with yourself). If you are going to add any type of “public” accountability you will need to think through how to do it without the possibility of causing guilt or shame. Those are motivators, but not healthy ones. Perhaps families can submit something and enter to win a little prize. Or you can occasionally check in with families (phone, email, text, ?) and see if they need anything. Personally, I also benefit from a written log; specifically keeping visible track of your progress.
In terms of faith formation, you might find it helpful to introduce families to a plan involving small steps. In the past I’ve participated in a couch-to-5K running program that really worked. It was basically a plan to first get up to walking for 30 minutes, three times per week, and then working in three more minutes of jogging/running within that 30 minutes (whether it be three sets of one minute or one set of three minutes or anywhere in between). The point is that each step required a commitment but wasn’t a big deal. Given your end goal, what are some small, easy steps that families can take for faith formation? What is a “couch to ________” plan they can use?
Circling back to the obstacle of past failures, I believe the solution is to acknowledge it and teach about the empowerment of the Holy Spirit and—most of all—teach grace. I mentioned last week the importance of grace, and this won’t be the last time I state that. Home-based faith formation is very important. Habits are hard to establish and take real work and perseverance. And, we will have times of failure.
But God’s love for us doesn’t arise from our efforts. Even our relationship with God doesn’t “improve” from God’s perspective. God is already unconditionally in love with you and as close as your very breath. Our work with faith practices only allows us to be aware of this fact, integrate it into our self-identity, and help us to live it out with God, others, and ourselves.
In addition to teaching (and re-teaching) God’s grace, we also need to be sure that as leaders we are offering grace to participants. We know they are not perfect and don’t expect them to be. We will help them get up and try again when they fall. We also need to teach participants to offer grace to themselves. Life is stressful and can be unpredictable in the best of times. And this is 2020. We need to teach and model so that families can say, “Yep, I fell down that time. I forgot/got distracted/was only able to do five minutes before a nuclear meltdown. Let’s learn and do better next time.”
Because, again, it’s really all about grace.
Free (and Paid) Devotional Resources
For the rest of this summer, I am creating a free weekly devotional resource following the Revised Common Lectionary’s daily lectionary, based on the “take-home” sheet for our new God’s Word @ Home home-based curriculum. Check it out, and share it widely! To download, click (or tap) on the purple button below. This is a single sheet that includes a Bible reading plan, prayers, blessings, and conversation starters. I hope that this can be helpful to you!
Also, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that we also sell faith formation resources (surprise, right? 😉). If you are looking for faith formation resources for families at home, check out our new Living the Word: God’s Word @ Home (Revised Common Lectionary) and Living the Word: God’s Story @ Home (Narrative Lectionary) products. Stay updated by liking our Facebook page, subscribe to our e-newsletter, or follow this blog!
Peace be with you,
Gregory Rawn (Publisher)