What’s in a Word: Education vs. Formation
You may not have noticed, but a few years ago, we included a new word in our St. Paul’s lexicon: we began referring to our education programming as “formation.”
I’m asked about that word occasionally, and I always appreciate the opportunity to share why it’s there. In a world that values knowledge, we are prone to think of Christian teaching and doctrine as strictly intellectual activities —something that engages, in the words of the Apostle Paul, “the renewing of our minds” (Romans 12:2).
And yet this renewal is about something deeper than having the right thoughts about faith. It is about a whole way of life — the things we do each day, the people we interact with, and how we go about doing that. We use the word “formation” to imply this larger context: to be disciples in the Way of Jesus is not simply a question of having the right thoughts and beliefs about God. It is also about the formation of habits that help us embody what it means to be God’s people.
In a practical sense, this means that “formation” includes everything from praying, breaking bread, and learning together to actively seeking out ways to participate in God’s redeeming, reconciling, and liberating work of God in the world. The opportunity to engage in Bible study and theological reflection, therefore, has a clear purpose beyond the world of
mere interesting ideas. We reflect critically so that we may more truly reflect Christ’s hope, justice, and love, not as an end in and of itself.
I invite you to consider St. Paul’s opportunities for theological enrichment and self-reflection as something more than interesting discussions for the philosophically-minded. How is God at work in the lives of our children and youth, as they learn and practice the Way of Love through their regular gatherings each week? How do the Beatitudes and the teachings of the Apostle Paul inform our practice of justice and peacemaking in day-to-day life? How does delving deeper into our spiritual lives through such programs as the Advent Retreat on Spirituality and the Enneagram — help us model, live into, and appreciate the richness and diversity of the Christian community? These are just a few opportunities available for you to study, reflect, and share the Way of Jesus — again, not as an end in themselves, but as a place to reflect on where God is calling you forward in faith and where God is calling our community to more fully embody Christ’s hope, justice, and love.
I hope that you’ll join the conversation. After all, we will not be the community of faith we are called to be without you.
In Christ, Javier
This piece was originally published in the St. Paul’s monthly newsletter in November 2018.