Background to the challenge – why is it important?
Almost everyone acknowledges that the church in North America is
not as it should be. There are many symptoms of this chronic trouble.
They are voiced in comments such as “My children don’t go to church –
where did I go wrong?”, “Why has the church lost its passion and energy
for social witness?” and “How can so many people claim to be Christians
but live no differently than anyone else?”
Allelon in partnership with the Gospel and Our Culture Network has
initiated a conversation for those who care deeply about the church and
who realize that these concerns need to be taken seriously – that it is
not business as usual for the church in North America. It is a
conversation for those who hear the call to learn ways that form
Christians as citizens in the kingdom of God and whose life together
bears witness to God’s purposes and promises (the “missio dei”) in
This conversation is grounded in these shared assumptions:
- Formation in the Way of Christ – catechesis – is not simply a
matter for each individual but is a crucial communal practice for
congregations. Our formation in Christ – individually and collectively
– involves us in practices of learning to pattern our lives and life
together according to the ways of life in the kingdom of God. This is a
rich and complex journey of apprenticeship undertaken by novices who
are prepared to learn the unfamiliar rhythms of a different way of
- The church’s formative work takes place in the midst of a
powerful, though largely unconscious, “catechism” that schools us to be
entertained consumers who look to technique and technology for our
salvation. The question before us is not “Will we be indoctrinated?”
but “Which indoctrination – which outlooks and practices, which
allegiances and doctrines – will shape us?” Learning to see and hear
these competing claims for our loyalty and affection is a critical step
in forming communities whose primary allegiance is to Jesus Christ.
- We have come to realize that we do not know how to solve the
catechetical weaknesses and failures that plague the North American
church. Our current methods of Christian formation are largely
unexamined and ineffective. These habitual patterns of passing on the
gospel do not seem to be penetrating the veneer of “culture
- Because these are problems that are shared across ecclesial
traditions and denominational identities we believe that God’s call to
the church will also be discerned across these old walls, divides and
barriers. We notice signs of this call – and an emerging response – in
parallel movements, networks and conversations among disparate members
of the Body of Christ.
We are eager to bring the wisdom of scholars from a variety of
disciplines – theology, Bible, ethics, sociology, education – into
conversation with the wisdom of pastors and lay leaders from a
diversity of congregations and cultural contexts. We want to learn from
– and with – each other by growing in our awareness of the cultural
context we inhabit and in our knowledge of exemplary congregations
whose stories may inform our common journey.
- We assume that there is much at stake in the subject of our
conversation. Christian formation lies at the heart of Christian
witness – both social and personal. In our generation the church we
know has largely lived off of the capital of Christian formation
undertaken by our grandparents and great-grandparents. The capacity of
congregations in the coming generation to generate energy and passion
for the gospel depends in large part upon this generation’s capacity to
form its life in accord with the Way of Christ. We believe that this is
a matter of huge importance. We also believe that we need not take
ourselves too seriously, that we can learn from our glorious failures
and that we can lose the struggle in interesting ways because our
redemption lies in the God we meet in Jesus Christ and not in our
capacity to save ourselves.
Ways we’re framing the conversation
At this point, we imagine that our conversation together will host at least three chief questions:
- How are we being formed in the world?
“Who Are We? Identities, Dispositions, and the Work of Culture”
“Whose Are We? Naming the Loyalties and Allegiances of Our Time”
“What’s At Stake: Formation and Social Justice, Evangelization, and Transformation”
- What are we called to as God’s people in the world?
“The Church as Called and Created: Formation as a Unique Responsibility of the Church”
“The Shape We’re In: Problems in Christian Formation and their Consequences”
- How is the Triune God experimenting among us today?
“New Directions in Christian Formation: Examples, Experiments and Resources”
“Where Do We Go From Here? Reflections for Continuing the Journey”
Article supplied by www.allelon.org