Friday, July 25, 2014

Day 2 Reflections at Rethinking Faith Formation

I will begin by admitting Day 2 of Rethinking Faith Formation wore me out. Upon returning to my room after dinner I lay down and promptly fell asleep. Now I am awake writing this and have a four hour drive tomorrow after the morning session. I'm not sure this is wise, but alas, if I wait until I get home I will never have a chance to just sit down and write while this is still fresh.

In addition to yesterday's joys and sorrows, today I came away with a growing sense of that some of the pastors with whom I was interacting lacked confidence in the people they serve and the great and mysterious power of the Holy Spirit to risk the failure of an idea in order to achieve greater growth in faith formation as a whole. I have experienced this myself, and it troubles me greatly. What to do with that? I do not know. I will continue to risk failure boldly.

In our opening reflection, Rolf Jacobsen challenged us to consider what "Mature Christian Faith" might look like. After eliminating worship attendance, giving and prayer as options we were turned over for discussion. We had a difficult time articulating any measurable characteristics that were quantifiable in our group of three. Instead of an answer, we were drawn to question, is faith quantifiable?

Our presentations today included Amy Sevimli, assistant to the Bishop in the Washington DC Metro speaking on how to mentor people into faith. She used an illustration of a young man who continued to seek his pastor out as spiritual adviser, raising the question "I want to have a closer relationship with God, I just don't know what to do?" The pastor quickly realized this would take a dedication of time and intention she could not provide in her current role. In seeking a mentor for the young man, members of her congregation said they did not feel equipped to do so.

Amy went on to describe her intentional interactions with adults in the 18-24 age group (those without children) to listen to why they do not attend worship. The answers she heard were supported by research  conducted in recent years. These young adults said:

  • Preaching sounded more like op-ed page of the New York times
  • Never clear that mainline church really cared about God
  • They were often experiencing Good News as Law instead of Gospel
  • One young women mentioned in other church she experienced Grace in the preaching as she never has in 27 years in the Lutheran church
  • Preaching matters
    • Intention
    • Purpose
    • Mission -- who are we called to be in this time and place?
  • Young adults who show up in church are looking for God
  • There are a lot of young adults who don’t go to church who are totally open to God, many are even looking for God, but when they show up, we aren't speaking or living in ways that address the questions, trial, things with which they struggle.
Amy outlined the process she worked with this pastor to implement, a process by which the pastor used intentional faith formation small groups to begin a process of formation throughout the congregation, starting with one group of leaders who them became leaders of their own groups, and so on and so forth. The requirements of the group were:

  • 60-90 minutes a week (Google + Hangouts used to facilitate if unable to attend)
  • Need to be willing to talk about Bible, theology, faith, real life
  • Deep conversations about what it means to be a mature Christian in life
  • How/what do I want to do differently?
  • After 9-12 months, meet less frequently and that you will lead someone else
  • Might look like you are starting to ignore things in the organizational chart to focus on Faith Formation
  • Each faith formation group will give them language to talk to friends family/invite people 
  • It will be simple, but hard
Amy closed with the story of Jesus and the rich man and suggested that as the church we are like the rich man, we have done everything "right" that we know and have been trained to do. We have abundance in the sense our traditions that we know and love and to which we are attached. But it's not working, Despite the most faithful implementation of the current models, our people do not feel equipped to walk in faith beside another. So, we return to Jesus, saying "it's not working!" And Jesus says to us, "I care about these people who don't get what you're doing, give up your stuff (all those traditions you hold dear) and follow me."

And we are left with the challenge: will risk giving up what we know to follow Jesus call?

In so many ways Amy's talk resonated with the intuitions I have had as to where we most need to be putting our time and attention over the last three years in ministry position. I found her message affirming, empowering and challenging. Yet my heart breaks for the conversations I had afterwards in reflection groups for the number of individuals who continued to focus on what wasn't working in their contexts and were using these failings to suggest this model wouldn't work either without daring to put them down and entrust a new venture to God's care.

I am thankful for my position where I am not bound by worship attendance, giving or seminary training in what is "right worship" that might inhibit my ability to feel a sense of the Spirit's moving and simply trust that if it is of God it will flourish and if it is not it will die away. 

I am reminded of where this yearning began, five years ago as I began to sense the pull of the Spirit to open my eyes to the needs around me. As it turns out, that was not the context in which God would use me. Yet as I've allowed the Spirit to refine and shape my vision as the circumstances around me change, the formation of faith in all of God's people, as introduced by Amy Sevimli in her presentation, continues to be paramount. Some visual notes on Twitter courtesy of Steve Thomason Part I and Part II

From Amy Sevimli's presentation we moved into a discussion of a world that we can no longer accurately describe as "online" but instead "augmented reality" as interacting face to face and digitally become more integrated into our everyday life. Deanna Thompson presented a story through which we came face to face with the many ways the wired world allows us to be present with one another as the body of Christ as she experienced when she became an invalid in her treatment for Stage 4 cancer. You can see visual notes that reacap that discussion on Twitter

Dan Taylor continued the discussion to introduce the importance of story, ours and the Great Story. Part of faith formation is teaching people how to tell their story of faith so that they know it (because we cannot know what we don't articulate) but also so they can share it. More visual notes on Twitter Part I and  Part II.

Then the energy and passion of Lois Malcom launched onto us a discussion of the Holy Spirit's work in this formation process. I am still receiving and digesting her message and its many sides and nuances as I transfer my scribbled notes (drat that laptop battery!) and apply the truths she spoke in terms of leading into faith formation in my context and the greater church. Awesome visual notes on Twitter Part I and Part II.

We finished the day with Dorothy Bass and a discussion of the role of wisdom that was either too unstructured for my balance-seeking brain or for which my brain was too full to process. At any rate, my takeaway was that "Wisdom is knowing which story to tell when," and that when we see wisdom in others we must lift it up. We must name it honor it and notice it. I have to say, both of these statements ring true of my friend, Ruth, and I continue to process how powerful it can be to call that out in those around us as we see God's writing on the hearts of those in our midst. More visual notes.

So there it is, friends. I've probably already lost those of you who aren't church nerds, and for that I'm sorry. Please come back again when I promise to ply you with reflections on the more relate-able topics of motherhood and faith in general.

Now I really should sleep.