During Lent, Rev Rob Stewart offers a 7-part series about the Vital Congregations Initiative entitled “7 Marks of Vital Congregations”. This is the first installment, which focuses on lifelong discipleship formation.
As a child, going to Sunday School was a regular part of our family routine. As I think about that, now decades later, I realize that my parents chose to place me in an environment of learning Bible stories (it was “school,” after all). Yet it was more; much more. I gathered with the kids of other church families, by age. Nearly every Sunday, we in Grades 1-3 gathered while Mrs. Ogle, with her wonderful smile, welcoming words, and warm embrace, led us in singing accompanied by another teacher playing the gigantic upright grand piano. (The church had several.) After the singing, we separated by grade and gathered around 8-foot long tables as the teacher lead us through activities that always involved crayons. She engaged us with stories and questions as we immersed ourselves in episodes of the people of the Bible. Together, we colored our pictures and “did crafts.” This was the beginning of my Lifelong Discipleship Formation.
Today, I think about those who formed my faith by caring about me, telling me the stories of Biblical people of faith, sharing their lives, and including me in the family of God. Later, I realized how their love formed me, not just with information about heroes and heroines of the faith, but also about being a member of the body of Christ, the community of faith as we cared for one another and our neighbors as well. This formation made me who I am. This formation nourished my spirit and instilled within me the values of the Way of Jesus and the People of God. This formation nurtured within me a desire to follow Jesus, to live gospel values, to strive be to a person living “the love and justice of Jesus Christ.” Eventually, I confirmed the faith of my parents and became a member of the church at age 13.
To this day, I continue to have my faith formed and reformed through engaging the Bible (always more fun and fulfilling when done with others). I find that it is in dialog with others, struggling to apply faith to real-life situations that seem to erupt regularly. I believe that we, as people of faith, are called to continue to form our faith, not unlike a blacksmith, who forges metal through continuous heating and hammering, forming it, adapting it for a purpose. Faith that is grounded in trust, forged to meet the current moment and need, is what guides us in daily living.
The early church, as we see in “The Acts of the Apostles,” met together for four purposes: teaching, fellowship, sharing meals, and prayer (Acts chapter 2). These activities, to this day, build up the church, making it more lively, more vital. Is this our calling as the church today and into the future? Are these the activities we can creatively develop, use and perfect in order to build up the Body of Christ? What experiences can we create and offer to help people engage with one another, build community, centered around God’s faithful, loving activity among us?
How we answer these and other questions, alone as well as with one another, can lead us into the life-long task of forming and reforming our faith and our congregations as we seek to live faithfully to God in Christ. Enjoy the journey!