Thinking about Christian formation and Christian education:
In modern times it would be common for first-time visitors to ask, "Does this church have a Christian education program?"
Depending on the church, they might be told, "Yes, we have a Sunday School." Or "yes, we have home Bible studies." Or "yes, we have a Wednesday evening program for every age group."
But during the last half of the twentieth century, many people began to realize that Christian education as we imagined it in the nineteenth and twentieth century was not accomplishing what we hoped it would accomplish. The modern idea that education would transform people had been well tested in our society, and had proven to be a false hope, socially, culturally, and spiritually. As General Omar Bradley observed, "The world has achieved brilliance without conscience. ..Ours is a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants."
As people thought, talked, reflected and explored, they began to rediscover Christian formation -- the more ancient practices of the Church which had fallen away in modern times, displaced by mere education. It became clear that Christian formation was not nearly so much about information as about a profound inner transformation, of persons, groups and humanity as a whole.
As Christians continued to think, talk, reflect and explore, we found ourselves increasingly drawn more to the idea of "Christian formation" than to mere education. Many found themselves inspired by thinkers and practitioners, such as Doug Pagitt, Diane Butler-Bass, and Dallas Willard.
Christian leaders are understanding more and more clearly that for effective Christian formation, study and learning are not enough. They are essential for effective Christian formation, but are only a part of the whole -- and not the most central part. Without diminishing our efforts in study and learning, we found that it is crucial to expand into deeper, broader ways into intentional practice within the context of building Christian community.
There is a whole constellation of intentional practices that Christian people do together over time to address fundamental human needs. None of these are sufficient in themselves. But as a community of people practices the entire constellation together, they become a powerful tool for inner transformation and spiritual growth.
These practices, done intentionally, and reflectively, in community, form the core of what a congregation does, in order to more fully experience the presence of God in our lives, to discover more clearly God's call to us, and to express more effectively God's healing, redeeming, and reconciling love for the world.
These practices include, but are not limited to: Acts of Kindness, Alms, Availability, Confession, Contemplation, the Daily Office, Denial, Devotional Singing, Detection, Doing Good 'Little Things', Fasting, Journal keeping, Lectio Divina, Meditation, Retreats, Sabbath keeping, Silence, Solitude, Spiritual direction, Story telling, Study, Tithing, Travel and Pilgrimage, Weekly Eucharist.
We Christians are beginning to rediscover how to see these as a constellation for the entire community to practice together, rather than as a menu from which individuals might choose one or two favorites.