by Sharon Ely Pearson
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved. Acts 2:42, 44-47
In the Acts of the Apostles, Luke is describing the course of the Church’s life – its purpose and its actions. We can think of this as the church’s curriculum. The word curriculum comes from the Latin verb currere, which means, “to run.” Taken literally, curriculum means a course to be run, just as the early Church lived out its existence. Today it is much the same; the curriculum is our total experience of Christian education and formation. It involves every facet of discipleship, at every age, when we:
- Proclaim the word of Jesus’ resurrection (Kerygma)
- Teach the sacred story and its meaning to our lives (Didache)
- Come together to pray and re-present Jesus in the breaking of the bread (Leiturgia)
- Live in community with one another (Koinoia)
- Care for those in need (Diakonia)
What is Christian formation in today’s church?
Christian formation is the continual lifelong process of deepening one’s understanding of his or her faith. It involves all that we do: worship, service, mission, pastoral care, evangelism, fellowship, AND education, which is a large part of this formation process. Education is comprised of learning and reflecting, integrating holistically in helping connect faith and daily life. WE are the curriculum – individually and our congregations together in all that we say and do as well as what is implicitly stated in how we shape our environment and provide hospitality.
The learning process should be experiential, allowing the individual to put him/herself completely into the learning process, allowing them to name and claim the experiences as they learn and grow in faith. This can be done by the use of mentors, affective experiences of prayer (labyrinths, centering prayer, chant), retreat experiences, opportunities for service, use of multi-sensory methods to engage the whole person (drama, music, art, dance, storytelling, media, prayer, rituals), and collaborative and group-centered formats for study, inquiry, activities and sharing in an environment that is accepting and participatory of all ages.
Effective Christian formation programs today:
- Creatively and fully engage all ages in the learning process
- Are intense and necessitate relationship building among the participants
- Often offer something back to the community
- Utilize the gifts of the participants and actively involve the whole person: head, heart & hands
- Understand the teacher as learner and spiritual guide, not information giver
- Embrace discipleship as a lifelong process that involves collaboration between education, liturgy, mission, service and fellowship across the generations