Faith Nurture, General Worship
Organizing Your Faith Formation Tools
January 16, 2017
Updated January 5, 2021
4 comments 532 views
In my role as a Regional Catalyzer for Faith Formation Ministries, one of the questions I hear from church leaders is: How can we organize our practices, groups, and curriculum for lifelong faith formation? Some of these churches are looking for a comprehensive plan from cradle to grave. Sometimes faith formation can feel like reaching into a disorganized tool box—searching and grabbing for the right tool at the right time with a promise to someday organize the chaos.
One simple way to organize faith formation is around the liturgical calendar. Many churches already acknowledge certain liturgical seasons, mostly Advent and Lent. But those aren’t the only two seasons. Here’s the church calendar in a nutshell:
Have you ever thought about shaping your church’s faith formation practices around these meaningful seasons? Each season has its own postures and practices. The key posture of Advent is waiting (looking forward to celebrating the first coming of Jesus in the manger but also waiting for his return as the glorified King). While we wait, we’re invited into two key practices: singing and groaning. We sing and celebrate God’s arrival (Emmanuel—God with us) and we groan while we live in this broken and painful world, hungering for Christ to return and restore all things.
Many churches have found it helpful to encourage their congregations to embrace Advent’s posture and practices. In fact, at Granite Springs Church we invite people to embrace the season by engaging in a number of faith formation practices. First, we encourage people to show up to church on a regular basis. Second, we designate a key passage from the Bible that sums up the season. For instance, in 2016 our Advent passage was Isaiah 9:2-7, with a special emphasis on verse 6: “For unto us a child is born. . . .” Not only were our adults encouraged to memorize this passage, but our children in Sunday school and young people in middle and high school ministries were memorizing Isaiah as well. Third, we invited people to be a part of a Lectio Divina group. These groups spent time meditating on the passage that was to be preached the following Sunday (basically a sermon-based small group with a meditation bent). Fourth, we encouraged a home-based practice for families. We passed out Jesse Tree kits that contained a devotional and paper ornaments that corresponded to each devotional reading. Families cut the ornaments out and hung them on the family Christmas tree or on a designated smaller tree.
Epiphany has its own posture and practices. The key posture of Epiphany is beholding and spreading light. Over the course of Epiphany, the lights are being turned up on Jesus’ identity— we are seeing more and more clearly that the Jewish baby born in the manger is the glorified King of heaven and earth. It’s also about spreading the good news of Jesus to everyone both near and far, symbolized by the story of the Magi. So the practices of Epiphany are living and spreading the good news of Jesus.
Like Advent, how might a church invite people to live out the posture and the practices of Epiphany? What groups might be formed? What Scripture could be memorized? What home-based practice could be encouraged? How might curriculum be written or chosen? Same thing for Lent, Eastertide, and the season of Pentecost.
A church can go even deeper into these seasons by following the Lectionary. The passages designated for preaching are on a three-year rotation, which provides a steady and varied biblical diet. Moreover, by following the Lectionary a particular church participates with thousands upon thousands of churches all over the world in hearing, meditating on, and wrestling with the exact same passages.
Following the liturgical calendar gives structure to what can seem like random faith formation practices. It also helps churches deal with the issue of uniting increasingly diverse congregations, which I’ll talk about in my next article.
If your church already celebrates Advent, consider living more deeply into the season of Epiphany or some other season. Many churches decide to jump in and jump out of the liturgical calendar depending on if it “works” with what they want to do. For many years, I belonged to a church that did this—they always dropped the calendar after Easter Sunday. I can personally tell you that I still benefitted from this picking and choosing. However, jumping in and out doesn’t maximize the formative power of the calendar and may even create confusion about your church’s “identity.”
Again, following the liturgical calendar is just one way to think about and organize faith formation in any particular congregation. It’s not right or wrong, but it is a creative and consistent way to help people live into the story of God’s grace in Jesus Christ.
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Simple and succinct! A good way to live into a rhythm of formation. And, I think it's a positive when we connect what we do as a local congregation with the global church in observing and practicing the liturgical church year.
Along with some of the things you've described, we also had a theme song for Advent that was sung each week during Advent in different places in the worship service. The church could choose a theme song for each season - perhaps that goes with the scripture passage that is memorized, or a theme for the season. As we participated in the season of waiting (advent), we used the refrain, "Take O Take Me As I Am" (#741 in Lift Up Your Hearts), and also did motions. The children enjoyed learning the motions with the adults in worship. Since the church was also going through a renewal process, we also added a 2nd 'verse' and sang, "Take O take us as we are..."
thanks for the creative example! I love it!
Liturgical season "theme" song! - Smart!
Just a little correction! Pentecost does not last 50 days... it is one day (the third great feast - along with Christmas and Easter) that kicks off the season called "Ordinary Time" - Sam Gutierrez. Sorry about that. :)
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