Friday, December 01, 2006

What Will the Church Look Like in Fifty Years?--Christian Formation

When I use the term "Christian formation," I intend it to be an umbrella term encompassing ideas like Christian education, discipleship, spiritual formation, and catechesis. Basically, this is the process by which a believer is not only instructed in the faith but transformed into a practitioner of the faith. Of course, this process is never complete but it is one in which every follower of Christ should be involved throughout his or her life.

How will the church practice such formation of believers fifty years from now? I imagine that it will take a variety of forms, but my hunch is that we will engage more in an "action-learning" approach to Christian formation. There will be an intentional effort to link the believer's growth in Christ with her or his daily life. As one encounters various challenges in life, these challenges will become the raw material for reflection and learning.

The sources that ground such reflection and learning might be best characterized by what has been called the Wesleyan Quadrilateral. Although John Wesley may never have consciously articulated it in this way, he seems to have used four sources in coming to theological conclusions:
  • Scripture - the Holy Bible;
  • Tradition - the two millenia history of the church (and its present practices as well);
  • Reason - rational thinking;
  • Experience - our personal and communal journey with Christ.

In order for this formation to take place, believers in the future will be more deeply invested in the community of faith. This will find expression not only in the larger congregation but in relationship with an on-going small group of fellow believers and perhaps a one-on-one relationship with a spiritual director. Just as we have seen the emergence of personal trainers and life coaches, I think we will see a greater role for spiritual coaches in the future.

What about curriculum? We have the entire historical archive of the church to draw upon as well as the stories of believers and non-believers who struggle with life issues. The curriculum will not be as important as the individual struggles that the believer brings to the discussion and context in which those experiences are processed.

The next few years offer rich opportunities for bringing together both classic and contemporary modes of learning to form healthy, growing, ministering followers of Jesus Christ.


Dr. Danny Chisholm said...

I hadn't seen the Wesleyan quadrilateral in a while, thanks for the refresher. SOmetimes I wonder about all the money spent on curriculum for SS. What did the church do before Lifeway or Smyth/Helwys? THe church might go "paperless" and have the lessons over the internet and have chatrooms set up.

Ircel said...

I do think that producers of future curriculum will use the internet as a delivery system. Baptist Center for Ethics already does this and leaves reproduction up to the churches that use the curriculum. Smyth and Helwys has developed Caleb's Cafe both to build relationships in small groups and SS classes and to deliver curriculum.

More innovations are on the way.