Christian Formation Isn't My Job

March 6th, 2014

The title of this post is factually untrue. I am employed by a church. My position description includes oversight of all the church’s programs of formation for infants through high schoolers. So why do I say that Christian formation is not my job?

Because I am incapable of forming souls in the image and likeness of Christ. Only God can do that. When I start to believe that I can form people as Christians, I have lost my way. The most I can do is prayerfully create the conditions which enable the work of formation to be done by the Holy Spirit.

This paradox is at the heart of ministry. It is a paradox that makes sense to creative artists, but not to most adults. After all, adults are usually employed to play a role in directing an organization’s resources to achieve defined results. So, for example, a sales manager (role) directs people (human resources) to make sales (defined results). If I thought that way, I would see my ministry (role) as directing volunteers (resources) to make Christians (results).

To an outside observer, it might appear that this is exactly what I do. After all, I manage programs designed to utilize adult volunteers in forming children and youth. But making Christians is not as simple as making sales. If it were, I would be a Christian by now. Fifteen years after my baptism, I am still beginning to be a Christian. I am not yet “done.” I doubt I ever will be.

My job is to prayerfully create the conditions which enable the work of formation to be done by the Holy Spirit. This means recognizing that formation is God’s work. Formation does not only happen between 10:00 a.m. and 10:40 a.m. on Sunday morning. During that time, we gather children and youth to practice rituals, tell stories, and discover language. We do this so they will recognize God when God shows up to change their lives. There is no predicting what God will do in their lives or ours. God is at work all the time.

Lately I have begun to wonder whether the time and attention we devote to that forty minutes on Sunday morning is misplaced. I am starting to tell parents that their children’s primary formation happens at home. This is a humbling thing to say to them, because I am constantly aware of my own failings as a leader of Christian formation with my own children. Why does one think the Bible is boring? Why are they tired of being acolytes? Then I realize that I am not in control of their relationship with God… much as I would like to be. The only person whose behavior I can hope to control is my own.

If my job is to prayerfully create the conditions which enable the work of formation to be done by the Holy Spirit, I begin by confessing my own sin. I try to control the Spirit, who cannot be controlled. I try to manage the Spirit, who cannot be managed. I even try to rein in the Spirit, who cannot be reined in. I continue to suffer the delusion that I am in charge. God, forgive me. Let me begin again.

Pentecost is coming. So I pray for a fresh anointing of the Holy Spirit, who enables me to speak in all the varied languages the parents and children and youth of the church find meaningful. May I find the words that give glory to the One who has called me into Christian formation. I pray this holy work will always – and never – be my job.

Originally posted at: BuildingFaith used with permission.

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