As I have been around the church and in conversations with colleagues working in parishes and missions over all different types and sizes, I have often encountered the conversation around Christian formation. In most of the conversations that I have had with lay ministers in our beloved church, I hear questions about Sunday school, and it is almost always couched in the form of what we are going to provide for children inn order to attract the families that we deeply desire to be part of our church and part of our parish. However, I often walk away from the conversation feeling like something important was missing from the conversation. Or, perhaps it is that the conversation simply did not go deep enough to touch on the main issue that is being faced by the church in this moment of learning to live out the mission of God in Christ. Perhaps, the church simply needs to reclaim Christian formation (of all ages) not simply as something that is focused on teaching doctrine or scripture or spiritual practice but also is about forming Christian leaders that go out into our community to be disciples in the everyday.
Christian formation is all about how we grow into the image of Christ. In the Letter to the Ephesians, we hear about how God calls us into ministry in different ways to be equipped for the work of ministry. The author of the letter writes, “The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.” (Eph. 4:11-12 NRSV) It is in the last part of those verses that we are called to pay special attention to as we consider Christian formation in our own parish. How are we being called to help provide those opportunities for the building up of the body of Christ? If we understand Christian formation as how the church forms leaders in our community, are we willing to give of ourselves in specific ways for the building up of the body of Christ? Do we see the importance of formation not simply as an act of discipleship within the church but also as an act of forming our community to be more reflective of the love of God made known in Christ Jesus?
In the last year, the adult formation programs at Epiphany have centered on conversational learning that happens because each person in the class is a co-learner, a co-teacher, and co-facilitator of the learning that is taking place. It is less about having all the right technical knowledge and more about how we invite each other into vulnerable conversations that help us to know the love of God more fully in our own hearts, and as we grow in that love, we are more able to share it when we go back into the everyday. Love builds us up to be the disciples that are working in this corner of God’s vineyard, and love builds us up to share the many different gifts each individual part of the body has to share with the whole.
In the spirit of understanding that Christian formation is not simply about offering a class for technical learning, we are all invited to share our gifts in creating and hosting Christian formation programs for our parish. Some of us are called to serve as teachers for our children and to create a safe space for our children to learn and grow in the image of Christ. Some of us are called to be present to our youth as they identify the concerns they have and how they want to engage those topics through a Christian lens. Some of us will be called to participate in book studies while others of us are more interested in diving even more deeply into scripture and how God is speaking into the center of our lives.
At the end of the day, we are called to understand that Christian formation programs are all about discipleship, and they are the primary vehicle through which all of us learn to walk faithfully with each other and with God. The conversations we host with each other help us to welcome God’s love and to learn a knowledge of the heart that is so important for us as we step out the door to go to school or to work or to the gym or to the park. Formation is how we share with each other the ways that God is calling us forward, and formation is how we engage in the leadership of being a disciple Monday through Saturday. Formation is one of the key ways that we receive the love of Christ in relationship with others, and it is how we learn how to share that love with those that are outside the church.
This year, I invite you to consider serving in one of our formation programs as we strive to build up the body of Christ that calls Church of the Epiphany home.
- As a teacher for our children, you may learn new things because you are caring and nurturing the youngest members of the body.
- As a youth leader, you may grow from hearing about the ways that our youth are wrestling with how best to live out the gospel.
- As an adult participant, you may hear amazing stories of God moving in another’s life, and you might have that reflected back to you in a story you share with the group.
No matter your choice, I know that your participation in our formation offerings will build you up through love.