Becoming a Christian: Formation in the Future Church
How does one become a Christian? Some of us are “born” into our faith, with our parents, grandparents or another family member taking us to their church and teaching us what they believe. Others may have been introduced to Christianity via friends or acquaintances. No matter how we came upon Christianity, each of us have our own distinct pilgrimage story. How we found our way to Christianity is uniquely ours and it is ours to share.
Somewhere along Church history, it was decided that it is the Church that makes the Christian. We bought into the lie that in order to “make” Christians the Church would need to operate like any other industrial machine that values standardization, efficiency, speed, and linearity. This mechanized process, of course, does not mesh with how people in the world actually develop and grow. The world is filled with makers, story-tellers, and ambitious learners who seek to know spiritual and theological truth. A cookie-cutter model of “making Christians” will not work in today’s world. The Church has yet to realize this.
Individual Christian formation will need to be a large part of the future Church. There will be an assortment of formation strategies and developments as the future Church will understand that they will be stronger through the work of diversity. The future Episcopal Church will be known as an innovative and ground-breaking network of Christian communities; there will be multiple ways in which people can discover God. It will be a Church that engages in storytelling and sharing, and will have members that are invested in cultivating community. Formation in the future Church will be about connecting experiences through conversations.
Our individual stories play an important role in society; they are key in helping the future Church understand its role within a wider global community. We will need to take the time and the opportunity to listen to people’s stories, creating new Church participants.
The work of Christian formation has always been about accompanying people as they find their way to baptism. It is about helping people figure out how to respond to God’s grace and how they may want to live their life as a believer. God has given all people a remarkable capacity for life; living a fulfilled and creative life is an essential aspect of formation for the future Church. To help people become their best selves and live to their fullest capacity, we must be willing to try new things, accept when ideas go wrong and always be open to flexibility.
All too often we let anxiety dictate our decisions and our church’s formation practices have reflected this. We have been dampening the spark of questioning with facts and undermining people’s longing for creative inspiration. Our formation practices parallel secular education practices with the same goal in mind of producing good members. Our faith, however, is not about being “made” into a good member. Rather, it is dependent upon the sharing of our story with others; that is where we have failed in our formation. We have rejected Jesus’ way of allowing the questions of the seeker to guide the conversation.
If the future Church is to thrive, we must unhinge ourselves from the idea of “Sunday only” formation. Formation is more than hearing scripture readings and sitting at the feet of the professional or expert. Formation in the future Church will be individuals joining together to embark on pilgrimages, discovering how the story of God intertwines with their own. Regardless of age or time spent in the community, every person is a learner and is capable of learning from one another and from themselves. God is making a community of self-learners, engaged in the mutual work of formation to build a future Church that is a community of transformation.
Adapted from Ch. 12 of A Generous Community by C. Andrew Doyle
Suggestions for further reading
New Clothes: Putting on Christ and Finding Ourselves by John Newton
The Leader's Journey: Accepting the Call to Personal and Congregational Transformation by Jim Herrington, R. Robert Creech, and Trisha Taylor