The Need for Christian Formation

The Need for Christian Formation

Written by T. M. Suffield |
Friday, April 7, 2023

The answer to formation is not “more preaching” it’s community. You need to be in thick community with other Christians who you talk to every day. That takes years of work, so you need to start by starting. It’s OK if the good stuff comes for your generation’s children, keep plugging away at genuine community. Don’t assume that a midweek group is this, though it can be a place to get to know people to do it with. If you’re a church leader, your people won’t live this way unless you do.

It’s common for people to point out that in the average church you’ve got at best two hours of people’s time a week to use to form them towards Christ—you might get a third of them for another two hours midweek—and everything else that is trying to form them has about six and a half days to do so.

It’s a fatal equation. We start with the fact that we are being catechised by everything we view on our phones, all the TV we watch, the games we play, the ads we see, and a bunch of structural artifacts in the world at large. All of it shapes us.

The classic way of framing it is that the Christian is more formed by their favourite Insta influencer than by their Pastor. That might be true. I think this is a real problem, but to get the shape of it right I’d like to push back in two directions on the way I’ve framed it.

Firstly, the things that are forming us are forming us in lots of directions. Some of them are bad, some of them are explicitly towards Christ, the vast majority are mixed phenomena. For example, it’s not so easy to say that the motorcar is explicitly terrible and should be eschewed by all people, even though it has had a long series of unintended effects on the way we understand and interact with the world and the church, some of which I think are really bad.

It’s not that the content we’re consuming might happen to be Christian, I’m a little leary of the idea of Christian content in the first place, but even if we assume it’s all good stuff my point is that all the other things that form us do so in a variety of directions. In other words, we can formed in ‘good’ directions that Christians can use to form themselves towards Christ by things that are not necessarily forming them towards Christ per se. All truth is God’s truth.

Though, I’m not sanguine about the average Christian’s ability to find dredge gold from the bottom of a murky pond without swallowing a whole lot of pond water. We need training and formation to learn how to do this.

Secondly, I don’t think counting the number of hours we do something is the only way to see the impact it has on us. Preaching, for example, is an act of encountering Christ by the Spirit in the text. It is inherently more powerful than the vast majority of everyday activities.

However, it’s also the case that we think modern devices like smartphones have greater formative effects on us than most technology that existed before them. I say ‘we think’ because everything here is very new and we’ve opened ourselves to a whole world without really thinking it through. The principalities and powers are strongly in evidence.

The problem isn’t as simple as counting the hours—which means the solution won’t be to be ‘in church’ for more hours than we’re outside of it.

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