What does Christian formation look like?

This question embodies an ongoing conversation I hold with fellow practitioners, theologians, academics and lay leaders.  Most of us can point out several aspects of Christian formation, but figuring out an accessible model that all can agree with is challenging.  Each of us wants to place an emphasis on one area of the other.  What is more important?  The right doctrine? The right actions? The right attitude?  How do we know when we have got it right?  Is there some specific action or reaction we are looking for?   Given that the Christian church has been working on how to form the faithful now for over 2000 years, and our predecessor, the Jewish faith for  a 1000 more, one would think that we have a pretty good idea.  Right?

I’m inclined to think we have some good ideas, but finding a way to put that all in one theory that is accessible to laity as well as clergy can be challenging.

My favorite idea is one that is based upon a Wesleyan idea called  Covenant Discipleship. I was first introduced to this idea while I was in seminary at Duke.  Covenant Discipleship is a small group of committed Christians who agree to hold each other accountable to a covenant for one year.  The covenants vary from group to group, but they all follow a pattern.  Each covenant must touch on four areas: acts of devotion, acts of worship, acts of justice and acts of mercy.  Each of these actions reflects both private and corporate actions as well as outward and inward actions.

Covenant Discipleship

Covenant Discipleship is not designed to be taught as an educational or Christian formation theory; it is a small group ministry.  However, I think it makes a great model on which to base a theory of Christian formation.

So how does Covenant Discipleship translate into a theory of Christian Formation?  Allow me  to offer a few definitions and an explanation.

First the definitions:

  • Acts of Mercy are those acts that individuals Christians do to care for others through word, action or presence.  Examples of mercy are the practice of generosity, intercessory prayer, visitation, hospitality and forgiveness.
  • Acts of Justice are those acts that Christians do as a group to seek justice for the community, individuals or all of creation.  Examples of mercy are participating in building homes for the homeless, demonstrating against an injustice, intervening in a crisis, or acting to protect God’s creation.
  • Acts of Worship are corporate acts of two or more Christians which strengthen the bonds between the divine and the Body of Christ.   Examples of act of worship are fellowship, singing music in a group, Sunday school,  evangelism, worshiping, and administering the sacraments.
  • Acts of Devotion are acts done by an individual which strengthen or build the individual’s relationship with Christ.  Examples of acts of devotion are creating art or poetry, bible study, stewardship of one’s resources, offering service to others or the church through lay leadership of some kind.

Now the Explanation:

All of these actions give evidence of the individual’s faith in Christ and often provide encouragement for other believers in their own walk with Christ.  All acts can be considered “living” the Gospel.  Each of the four kinds of acts are necessary and are interdependent upon the other.  Some actions can easily be classified as more than one of these types of acts.  The determining factors for classification are wither the acts are committed  as an individual or as a group and whether the acts primarily serve others, serve God’s church or worship God.

All of these acts help to grow the faith of the Christian and the Christian’s relationship with God and with fellow believers.  Any Christian of any age can participate in some fashion with all of these actions.  In some cases, being the recipient of the actions (ie, receiving an act of generosity) is just as transformative as being the giver/participant.  Most importantly for eduational theorists,  ALL of these acts require the Christian to participate in experiential learning, ie to learn by doing.  Thus, we have the beginning of a Theory of  Christian formation.

So, how do you describe Christian formation?

BTW- Please note that BOOKS are written on the the subject of Christian formation, and a short blog post will not do the subject justice.  I’ll flesh out what I’m talking about with this theory in subsequent posts.  But for now, this should wet the appetite and maybe start a conversation.


Dr. Mel

~ by sideseat on November 25, 2009.

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