Wednesday, December 12, 2018
Education is not the same as faith formation. . .
I wonder if we have not confused and conflated education with faith formation. Faith formation is first of all the fruits of a home life rooted in the faith and in the Church. Faith formation begins not with church programs but with parents developing, modelling, and formally teaching the faith to their children. The various programs of the Church only added to that effective program of faith formation that was largely the work of strong Christian parents and extended family. We have kept all the educational programs (to one degree or another) and they have kept pace with technology and cultural trend but the one thing that has changed over time is the role of the parents, the faith formation within the home, and the support of the extended family. Education about the faith as a child and churchly rites of passage into adolescence are clearly not enough. The faith cannot be taught as theory by people who have read it from a book but needs to be personal from people who live what they believe, as imperfectly as that might be.
Let me begin by saying that I am not at all blaming the family for all our problems retaining youth and young adults. It is not about blame. It is about the realization that all the finest education programs in the world cannot in and of themselves do the work of faith formation. That is because education in the faith is not the same as being formed in that faith (through faithful worship together at Church and in the home, for the faithful models who give good example to children and youth, and the strong example and support of a close, extended family. So I am not at all saying that our education is wrong or deficient but that it is designed to impart knowledge while these other things actually form the faith implanted in baptism.
My own children lived far away from grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. It was the consequence of being a pastor and serving where placed and where the calls come from. I realize now the additional burden placed upon the home by our isolation from faithful examples within the circle of our extended family. Much of that was also shifted to my wife because she was in the pews while I was in the chancel. That said, I am happy to report that my children have grown into people of faith. They are not perfect but they have retained their baptismal identity, by their interest in and investment in the faith and the work of the Kingdom, and by their commitment to the Church (for them and for my granddaughter). It is something in which I am ever so thankful to God, my wife, my family, and my congregation who helped to form this faith in my children. I would like to think that I had a part in this as well but I know it takes many levels of support to accomplish this. Even so, I worry about the future, about my grandchildren as they grow into youth, teens, and young adults. I know they will face many and great challenges and threats to the faith.
What I am saying is that our response to the losses must be about more than educational programs but must have as a central component the intentional work of faith formation. A recent conversation with a family whose children had all but abandoned the faith comes to mind. They were lamenting all of this while I was thinking of how irregular their church attendance was when those children were young and of their spotty participation beyond the divine service. I wondered what had happened in the home when those children were young and what kind of intentional and accidental witness took place within that home and their family life. I had my suspicions. The point is that faith formation needs more than a monthly attendance in the Divine Service, an occasional participation in other church programs, and a rudimentary knowledge of the Bible or catechism. This family thought that taking the kids to church occasionally and making sure that somebody else taught them the faith would be enough. It was not. It is never enough. Even if the kids got a great education in the faith, that is not the same as solid faith formation.
One last part of my rant. Faith formation is not about feelings. I am not at all saying we need to spend more time helping our kids develop a relationship with Jesus (whatever that might be). I am saying that we need to be with our children and they with us in the Lord's House around the Lord's Word and Table on the Lord's day. I am saying that we need to wake up to the faith conversations that could be all around us as our kids face challenges, struggles, and a world so clearly different from the will of Christ. I am saying that we need to pray with our children every day so that they can learn to pray. I am saying that we need to mentor our children with adult role models of faith on many levels -- something less about what we do for them than living out the faith in our own daily lives. Faith formation is not about emotions -- not about likes, dislikes or preferences. Faith formation is about our kids seeing the faith lived out in the home, on the job, and in the neighborhood -- and, of course, within the life of the Church.
Many people think you make pastors at seminary. You teach them what they need to know to be pastors, to be sure, but the formation of a pastor relies upon home, family, friends, and the strong example of good pastors within the lives of those being raised for this vocation. The same thing is true of making good and faithful Christians of our youth. Church educational programs will help with knowledge but faith formation relies primarily upon faith in the home, family, and friends -- as well as the good roles and examples of church workers.