I’ve been thinking a lot, lately, about Christian formation – discipleship. More specifically: thinking about how churches go about it; how the church I’m in goes about it; and models of what I see and have seen. And, in particular, I’ve been thinking about it in the context of children and young people a) because I’m a dad and b) because although I’m far from being a children’s or youth worker/practitioner, I give oversight to that area of work in the church I work in and we’re exploring that just now in a general sense.
And let me say from the outset, this is where I have to give credit where credit is due and say that some of the things in place in a Salvation Army context have been brilliant for me. I came to it at the age of 15 and so missed a lot of the childhood discipleship stuff in the Army, but so valued the early investment in my life as a young man. Before signing up and being allowed to wear the Ss on my uniform collar, it was a good dose of ‘recruits classes.’ This was a thorough investigation of core Christian beliefs and some key discipleship practicalities – how to live it (in the SA context). By the time I donned the Sally Army Super Suit I’d been well prepared.
I’ve now served, quite accidentally on my part, in three different parts of the church and the one thing that seems very obvious to me is the absence of a clear discipleship pathway, to use some language that seems to be in common parlance in some circles. This isn’t about making sausages in a sausage factory…or even disciples in a church factory. It is, however, about taking responsibility for the impartation of faith, the principles upon which our life in Christ is built, and the foundations we offer to those who are stepping out into a new life with Christ.
There is one fundamental danger in my mind to not offering this. The church today is probably more theological complex than its ever been. In one way, I think there is a great opportunity to explore many facets and shades of theology, biblical literacy and spirituality, and so I welcome that complexity. But, I find it dangerous to launch people into that context without at least something of a basic platform where the ‘basics’ are set out. Understanding the ‘basics’ helps to have a framework to explore a whole load of different stuff.
In my MA studies, I’ve looked a lot at Christian formation, particularly from a new monastic concept of building spiritual disciplines into everyday life and in community, and have spent hours exploring the influence of discipleship movements in pioneering church movements and exponential growth of the church. Suffice to say, ‘the church is only as good as its disciples’.
What have the strengths of your Christian formation been? What do you still need? What are your struggles? In what ways do you need to be resourced for growth and development?