What is Faith Formation?

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What is faith formation?
Is faith formation the same as Christian education (Sunday school)?
What do you mean by “faith”?
What do you mean by “formation”?
What do you mean by “worldview”?
Isn’t faith a gift from God, not something earned by our works?
Where should we be doing faith formation at church?
How do you make faith formation effective?
What about at home?
How does Spirit & Truth Publishing support faith formation?
Why do you keep using the term “disciples”?

 

What is faith formation?

Spirit & Truth Publishing produces faith formation resources, but what is faith formation? We define faith formation as every action, experience, or relationship that nurtures a transformative relationship of trust with God and shapes the way we see and interact with God’s world. Faith formation is the very mission of God’s church, to equip followers of Jesus Christ so that they may be sent out into the world to spread God’s kingdom. Basically, faith formation is the process by which our faith grows, and our lives are shaped by God’s love.


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Is faith formation the same as Christian education (Sunday school)?

The term “faith formation” is sometimes used as a synonym for Christian education classes (which many still call “Sunday School”). Education is a critical part of forming the faith of all disciples. To have our faith and life formed by God’s love in Christ, we need to know something about the story of God, what it means that God loves us, and how God wants us to act in our daily lives. However, faith formation goes way beyond the classroom. Faith is formed through any action, experience, or relationship, and education is only one part of that.


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What do you mean by “faith”?

“Faith” is a word with a long and complicated history. The Greek word often translated “faith” in the New Testament is pistis, but it can also be translated as “trust” and “belief.” Faith (trust, belief) is not an object or an abstract idea, it’s a relationship. Christian faith is primarily a transformative relationship of trust between ourselves and God (through Christ, by the activity of the Holy Spirit). But, this relationship also involves trust in a specific worldview (the way we see and interpret the world around us). This faith (relationship with God and the resulting way we interact with the world), is a gift from God and transforms our lives completely.


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What do you mean by “formation”?

To “form” something is simply to change its shape. We can take a blob of play dough and form it into whatever shape we want (and have the skill to do). A relationship can be formed as well, not only in the sense of it beginning but also how it is deepened and changes our lives. A worldview can be formed as well, being shaped by what we learn and experience. In terms of faith formation, it is the process by which our relationship with God, our worldview, and therefore our lives are shaped over time.


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What do you mean by “worldview”?

A worldview is simply a word to describe how we view our world. You can think of it as the lens through which we see, experience, and understand our environment and events around us. You may have heard the phrase “seeing the world through rose-colored glasses,” referring to someone who sees everything in a positive light. Our worldview consists of things like what we believe, what we have learned, our philosophy of life, what we have experienced, and even our personalities. What one person sees as a miracle, another sees as a coincidence. The same event interpreted through different worldviews. Our worldview changes when we learn (experience, believe, etc.) something new.


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Isn’t faith a gift from God, not something earned by our works?

Yes, faith is most certainly a gift from God. We could never create a transforming relationship with God under our own power. God has to be the one to create the connection and transform us so that we can fully engage in the relationship. However, our thoughts and actions shape this faith, and God calls us to live it (after all, faith without action is dead (James 2:17)). It takes work to sculpt play dough, but that work doesn’t create the play dough, just shapes it.


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Where should we be doing faith formation at church?

The simple answer is everywhere. The reason that the church exists is to form faith and then to live that faith in the world, spreading the kingdom of God. Everything a church does should directly form faith or do so indirectly by supporting the direct faith formation ministries (e.g. maintaining the building so that faith formation can happen there). Faith is formed in education, in small groups, in fellowship time, in service projects, and in worship. In fact, worship is the most common and most attended faith formation experience a congregation does. It’s not that your congregation isn’t doing faith formation, it’s a question as to whether it’s being effective.


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How do you make faith formation effective?

Faith formation is effective when the actions, experiences, and relationships encouraged by your congregation reaches the most people with the biggest impact. It’s not about numbers though. Faith formation is about lives transformed by the love of God. There is no precise formula or ten-step process that will make your faith formation efforts effective. There is no magic (or miraculous) curriculum or resource that will do it. The details change with the specific context; however, the general principles apply everywhere.

  1. Teach disciples the story of God found throughout Scripture and help them see their stories as a part of that.
  2. Fully engage disciples in worship and other faith practices.
  3. Make the home the center of faith formation.
  4. Create authentic relationships, especially across generational lines.
  5. Send disciples out to serve others and spread God’s kingdom of love, justice, and peace.

For more on this, check out our blog post The 7 Facets of Faith Formation.


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What about at home?

Home is more than a place, it is where our primary relationships are, our family, no matter how our family came about or who is in it. Most faithful church attendees spend an hour or two a week at church events (worship, classes, small groups, etc.), which is not much when you consider that a week has 168 hours in it. Putting aside sleeping (50-60 hours per week), and work/school (30-40 hours per week), that gives us about 70-80 hours. Not all of that is spent at home, but especially for households with children, the biggest chunk of that time will be spent at home (or at least with their primary relationships). And, those primary relationships are the relationships that have the biggest impact on our lives (positively or negatively). Faith formation practiced in the home is one of the most important predictors of lifelong faith for children, youth, and teens.


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How does Spirit & Truth Publishing support faith formation?

We support faith formation by providing congregations with high-quality tools. Our curricula, worship guides, devotional helps, and others do the hard work of providing the content for faith formation experiences, so you don’t have to start from scratch. Instead, you can devote your time to creating, encouraging, and nurturing those faith formation experiences. We cannot do faith formation in your congregation for you, but we can provide the resources to support you as you do that work. Specifically we have resources in the areas of:


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Why do you keep using the term “disciples”?

Since we use the term “faith formation” to describe basically everything that a congregation is (or should be) doing, using other common terms doesn’t fit well. “Worshippers” works, except when the faith formation isn’t directly related to worship.  “Students” works, except when the faith formation isn’t directly connected to education. “Members” is a problematic term as we are all members of the Body of Christ, but not everyone is a member of a specific congregation. We don’t want to limit faith formation only to those who have joined our churches, do we? “Participants” works well, as faith formation requires us to be participating in the process, however, it’s just longer, as is “followers of Jesus.” While “disciples” originally meant “students,” the term has a wider meaning to include all who are following the path of Jesus in relationship with God.


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