This summer, here in our Forming Faith blog, I’m going to branch out a bit from our normal topics. During the program/school year I reflect on the upcoming Narrative Lectionary Bible reading and how to see it from the perspective of faith formation. Instead, this summer I am planning to do two or three series, starting with this one on our work of shaping a relationship with God: What Is Faith Formation?
To start with, it’s helpful to define just what I mean when I use the word “faith.” In church, we use the word in two main ways. We talk a lot about faith as a gift from God that saves/justifies us. We also use the word to mean the content of the teaching we believe, as in a faith statement. Out in society, the term is either used to indicate a particular religious category (e.g. the Christian faith) or as confidence or trust in another person (e.g. “I have faith in you.”)
A Relationship with God
In the New Testament, the same Greek word (pistis) is translated as “faith,” “belief,” and “trust.” These correspond to our uses above: the gift of faith, what we believe, and whom we trust. For me, the most important thing about faith is that it is all about a relationship. All three of these relate to this relationship with God.
- The Gift of Faith- A relationship with God is truly a gift, freely given. God is the one who establishes the relationship with us through the work of Jesus and the agency of the Holy Spirit. This faith is not an object, as we so often think of gifts. It is a personal, two-way connection.
- What We Believe- A relationship with God is substantively different than a relationship with another human being. However, in either case, part of a relationship involves sharing information. We learn more about another person by sharing stories and conversation and having experiences together. At least in part, our teachings in the church help us learn about who God is and how God sees and interacts with the world. You can’t have a strong relationship with a person if you don’t know anything about them.
- Whom We Trust- Trust is not required for a relationship, but it is for a good, healthy one. What we learn about God teaches us that we can trust God. Our God is a keeper of promises. God is steadfast. No matter what we do, nothing can separate us from God’s love.
Love, Love, Love
We hear a lot about love in the church (or at least we should). There’s a good reason for that. Love is what it’s all about. God is defined by unconditional, unstoppable love for us. This is what God contributes to our relationship. Love also is the perfect summary of the life God calls us to live, specifically loving God back (our contribution to the relationship) and loving others as fellow image-bearers. Beyond this, it’s just details (though important details).
Defining Faith Formation
So, now that we’ve covered faith, it’s time to ask: what do I mean when I talk about faith formation? The basic definition I use is:
Every action, experience, or relationship that nurtures a transformative relationship of trust with the triune God and shapes the way we see and interact with God’s world.
For me, faith formation is huge. There are no limits to when, where, how, or with whom faith formation occurs. It happens when we act, experience, and interact. It is certainly not limited to the time spent in Christian education or small groups.
As a note, I think that “faith” formation is happening everywhere, at every time, with every person we interact. The question is, who are these interactions building relationships with and what is the worldview that is formed? Our goal is within the church is to facilitate faith formation between us and the God we meet in Jesus in the pages of our Bibles.
The Mission of the Church
When I think of the mission of God’s Church, the Body of Christ, I see one mission with two aspects, one inside and one outside. Within the community of the faithful, the mission is faith formation, nothing more, nothing less. Beyond the walls and boundaries of our communities, the mission is to spread God’s kingdom of hope, love, justice, and peace throughout the world. Inside we train, outside we put that training into action.
The important thing is that these are two aspects of the same mission, not two separate missions. In practice, the lines are blurred. Our faith is being formed when we are out serving and loving others. And, you cannot form faith merely by sitting in a classroom (though that’s important, too). We have to get out there and exercise our faith in the “real” world. The difficulty here, though, is to balance both the inward and the outward aspects of our mission. If we focus on faith formation and neglect service to our neighbor, we become insular and lose the faith we are trying to form. If we focus on service and neglect faith formation, then we risk going into the field without the proper tools, training, or strategy. Without a healthy, loving relationship with God, we stop faithfully representing Jesus to others.
So, the goal of faith formation ministries in our congregations is to help participants grow in their relationships with God, living lives shaped by God’s love. It is to train and equip disciples, internally and externally, to be the hands and feet of Jesus out in the world.
God’s blessings on your holy work!
Gregory Rawn, Publisher
High-quality tools make faith formation easier! Check out our resources for all ages on the Narrative Lectionary, as well as elementary-age worship education, cross+generational confirmation, and even special orders.