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Formation + Nurture + Leadership = Mission

Christian faith formation is strongly associated with making disciples. The early Methodist movement was guided by the educational genius of John Wesley, who crafted an ecology of faith formation and leadership development for making disciples.   Two books written by Sondra Higgins Matthaei; Formation in Faith, and Making Disciples prove to be very instructive and helpful in shaping an understanding of faith formation and its relationship with making disciples.   Part of Matthaei’s thesis is that congregations need to provide an intentional and unified approach to Christian faith formation.

Matthaei lifts up three key concepts to in her book, Faith Formation. She speaks of authentic relationship, communion and deeper meaning.  She states it is a challenge to congregations, but congregations are to seek Christian faith formation by first meeting people where they are in their faith journeys.  It is to have the openness and willingness to hear the needs and questions of people.  This means that members of our congregation need to learn their faith tradition so that they can share it with others.   This requires a great deal of intentionality, for it means cultivating a church culture that is welcoming and hospitable.   Matthaei says being heard, being known and being accepted are the characteristics of authentic relationships.  She goes on to say that authentic relationships give purpose and meaning to our lives as we discover ourselves in them.   Matthaei quotes Parker Palmer saying, “We have forgotten that the self is a moving intersection of many other selves.  We are formed by the lives which intersect ours.  In a congregational ministry of making disciples the church’s role is to welcome others and to listen to their stories, needs, interests, questions, and ideas in order that they come to know that they are a valued part of God’s creation.”
It is our willingness to hear others that transforms community into communion according to Matthaei.   Parker Palmer elaborates on this notion and says that the grouping of people into a communion is not self selected, but a gift from God.   If every time someone becomes a member of our congregation we saw them as a gift from God, we might be better at community building, thus, building stronger communion.  Matthaei goes on to say that hearing nurtures meaning.  She says, “To hear the story of another person provides an opportunity for meaning-making.  Meaning is an interpretation of our life experience that begins with telling our stories and naming our experience.”   Ann Wimberly in her book Soul Stories says that story is a powerful part of human existence.

Matthaei’s exposition on Christian faith formation through the means of authentic relationship, communion and meaning is summed up by Christian educators Margaret Ann Crain and Jack Seymour in their book “Yearnings for God.”   They spent an enormous amount of time listening to people and in the process building authentic relationships.  They did this listening in community, thus, building communion; and in the process the participants were able to find deeper meanings for their lives.  The authors made this observation, “We found these people hungering for an opportunity to reflect on the meaning of their lives and relationship with God through deep and thorough conversation.”
Formation and transformation are at the forefront of this approach to Christian education.  Formation is a gradual lifelong process. Transformation is more radical and crisis oriented.

Additional Resources

Formation in Faith

by Sondra Higgins Matthaei

Description:  This work is very similar to Matthaei's larger corpus work on the formation of disciples who love God and their neighbor. Some of her previous work has been more focused and Wesleyan in nature; this work is much more ecumenical. It will be useful for denominations interested in formation faithful people. Each chapter begins with a Biblical text that is further explored in the chapter. Throughout the book, Matthaei brings together personal experiences as well as Biblical, theological, and pedagogical resources in a way that is practical, insightful, and cutting edge. She provides discussion questions, reflection questions, and suggestions for further reading at the end of each chapter. In addition to this, she even includes some worksheets that could be used by church and affiliated organizations interested in evaluating and improving their discipleship systems.

Making Disciples: Faith Formation in the Wesleyan Tradition

by Sondra Higgins Matthaei

Description:  How is it that we come to know ourselves as Christian? What were the elements, and their interrelationships, of John Wesley's work that contributed to spiritual formation for a Christian life? Focusing on matters of formation and transformation in faith, Sondra Matthaei answers such questions in light of early Methodist practices of formation. Through research and dialogue with Wesleyan scholarship and constructive proposals related to the life of the church, this insightful study encourages faithful and imaginative approaches to spiritual formation in churches today. Key Features: * Focus is on matters of formation and transformation in faith * Answers the question: "How do we come to know ourselves as Christian?" * Analyzes these questions in light early Methodist practices of formation and an ecology of education within the Methodist movement Key Benefits: * The reader will understand John Wesley's idea of character formation and moral transformation * The reader will understand how Christian and vocation are shaped through spiritual formation * The reader will understand the role of structures and relationships in spiritual formation (family, school, church, etc.)