In Search of a Faith Formation “Sweet Spot”

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In preparing for a presentation last week I was led to reflect on the nature and dynamics of faith formation. The visual above was the outcome of my musings.

At the risk of generalisation, can I suggest that there are three basic, interdependent Spirit-empowered “processes” that are at play in the making of persons and communities in the likeness of Christ?

The first process is that of EDUCATION, the communication of the content of faith, particularly Biblical knowledge and doctrinal understandings.

The second process is TRAINING in the skills, practices and habits of Christian faith, the expressions of faith that characterise and constitute the Christian way of life. These faith expressions include prayer, use of the Scriptures, worship and devotional habits and stewardship. Together they represent the conduct of faith.

The third process is PARTICIPATION in Christian community, active and reciprocal engagement with other believers in a shared and collective journey of discipleship. The Christian community is the foundational context for the life of faith. While Christ followers are called to live out their faith in all of life, life in Christ proceeds from and continually loops back into the body of Christ.

In the visual above, education (content), training (conduct) and participation (context) are pictured as three spheres. It is my “hunch” that faith formation is most fruitful and lifegiving when and where these three spheres intersect. Perhaps this can be established by considering what ensues from the absence of one or more of the processes. Content without conduct results in disconnection of Scripture and Christian teachings from the concrete practice of daily life. Content without context leaves the subject of faith formation without tangible experience of the “God story” as a dynamic, unfolding reality in the life of God’s people. Conduct without content results in empty ritual, religious performance without a deeper sense of meaning and purpose. Conduct without context diminishes the basic expressions of faith, for they are inherently communal. Context without content results in an experience of community that has no roots and no connection with God’s larger story. Context without conduct leaves the participant with few “tools” for a life of faith beyond an immediate experience of community life.

If there is such a thing as a faith formation “sweet spot”, perhaps it exists at the intersection of education (content), training (conduct) and participation (context) … where a child or young person is not simply learning the content of the Christian faith but being mentored by mature Christians in the conduct (habits and practices) of the life of faith, and participating in a loving and affirming Christian community in which the living Christ is given and received through one another.

What do you think?

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7 thoughts on “In Search of a Faith Formation “Sweet Spot”

  1. Yes! I like this a lot. At GenOn Ministries we teach the need for a “balanced approach” to make the environment for discipleship effective. We lift up the need to nurture the whole child–the learning (your education and spiritual practices) and also the practice (in community). I can’t see your article as I type so I may not be using your exact words. Ministry can’t be just “mind feeding” and can’t be just a great place to hang out–but both. IF we want it to take root and develop. I love your “sweet spot” diagram, Greg!

  2. Daron Pratt says:

    I agree with your model in principle although I would like to ask where you would place the faith forming dynamics of service, justice and mission. I believe the child does not just need immersion in the faith community but also immersion in the world in a safe intergenerational context to help put the hands and feet onto their spiritual formation. Perhaps it could come under participation? would love to hear your viewpoint on this one? Just my thoughts.

  3. Daron, I see service, justice and mission as essential expressions of Christian “body life” into the world. As we share life together in Christ and are nurtured by him in community, he sends us out beyond ourselves to be his voice, his hands and his feet. While service, justice and mission can certainly be individual or age-specific in nature my experience is that they are most impacting, formative and effective when they are enacted communally and cross-generationally. Healthy cross-generational service, justice and mission are part of what flows out of life together in the “sweet spot”. There the Biblical message and communal practices of faith coalesce to “compel” us to share the love of Christ not only with one another but also with others.

    Christian community life at the intersection of “Participation”, “Training” and “Education” (Content, Conduct, Context) not only involves being with one another – it involves a way of being together with others and acting together with others that reflects the impulse and call of Christ. True immersion into a faith community means immersion into a community that exists for the sake of the world, not simply for mutual interaction and edification.

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