There are a lot of Christian formation resources, curricula, programs, and guides out there and there are some really good ones. Researching, evaluating, and promoting them is a part of my job. But over the slow months of last summer, a deeper realization began to take root. When it comes to Christian formation, it is Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit who does the forming. As St. Paul writes about our justification or saving in 2 Corinthians, the same can be said of our sanctification or formation – “It is all God’s work.”
What does this mean for us in parishes? Archbishop Melissa Skelton in her introduction to Christian Formation on the diocesan website writes:
“Christian formation is at the core of the purpose of a parish church/faith community. God is always the ultimate source of all formation. Our role is to assist God in God’s work of the formation of God’s own people. “
The good news in this statement is that we do not bear the responsibility for “making” Christians. That is God’s work in cooperation with the person and the parish. We can feel relieved of anxiety and attachment to certain outcomes. Our role is “to assist God” and this makes for more grace-filled possibilities for formation. I think the most we can do is create the conditions that we have learned make for likely and fruitful meetings between the Holy Spirit and Her people. And, what are some of those conditions? Making time for prayer and scripture reflection in meetings, encouraging regular conversation in small groups about our faith journeys – one of my current favourite questions to open a conversation is “What’s saving your life these days?”, even providing breaks and healthy snacks allows for an integrating of formation in body, mind, and spirit. Our Father cares for it all. Creating the conditions for an encounter with Jesus can also mean making our times of intentional formation such as bible studies and small group courses available to more people in different life stages. Can we offer conditions such as childcare for an evening course? A daytime bible study with ridesharing for elders? Offer online resources for those unable to make it to certain times and places? None of these things are going to offer certain outcomes, but they certainly are things we can do “to assist God in God’s work of the formation of God’s own people.”
Our role in formation is a lot like the role of the sower sowing seed in Mark 4:26-29. In this parable Jesus tells us: “someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how.” We are like the sowers, working and resting, and letting God make the growth in ways we may not understand but faithfully attend to. In the parable, God seems a lot like the earth: “The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head.” Whenever we worry about the success of our formation efforts or get a bit carried away by a new program, or even cynical about trying them, it is the simple return to daily assisting the growth God is already making that will serve over the long haul. And after the maturing process then the parable ends with a promise: “But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.” I think the assisting work of formation comes with the same promise. Assisting God in “God’s work of formation” means not only sowing but also reaping -- with joy.
Stock Photo ID: 471051685 by cstar 55