Monday, May 07, 2012

Mid-life Lesson #32: That when you stop learning you are dead

I was prepared in seminary for preaching, teaching, counseling, exegesis, and historical and theological inquiry, among other things. I think I might have studied Hebrew and Greek a little bit, and there was that one class on death and dying and twelve weeks of CPE. Oh, and I took a three year break for mission work in Slovakia.

So yeah.

Then, during the last ten years of my ministry, I've been shaped to lead an organization, preside at liturgy, conduct weddings and funerals, design contemporary worship, write stuff, start Facebook groups, and in general be a cool cat. There's way more, but that gives a sense. I might have had a few kids and started a blog.

But I digress.

What I am now learning, for the first time, or at least in a much more concentrated fashion than ever before, is how to be a person of faith in conversation with inquirers--the unchurched, dechurched, and overchurched, the ostracized, hurting, turning and returning.

I find myself in this new year logging a whole new kind of time, time spent over coffee (or lunch or walks) with inquirers into the Christian faith. Often as much as five hours per week. Some of you who are on just such a spiritual journey, the journey back to the church, or near the church. Or the journey of trying to get the church to be more like the church, etc., read this blog. I thank you for teaching me anew what is central to the life of faith, calling me back to the main things: things like Jesus, being real, seeking justice, listening well, caring for the poor and marginalized, and so much more. I thank you for honoring the church and the Christian community by not giving up on us. You inspire me with your faithfulness.

One thing I'm convinced of: the rites of Christian initiation for adults, what we call the catechumenate, is absolutely the way forward as the church and inquirers journey together in faith. I have a team coming together this summer to start our first inquiry process this fall. It's kind of an egalitarian process we're putting together, because some of the inquirers are on the planning team for the inquiry class, and some of us with "experience" will be learning as much if not more than those inquiring. Like one thirsty person leading another thirsty person to water, hopefully not like the blind leading the blind. :)

Never in my life have I felt more like I'm doing what church should be about--conversion--and it makes me both nervous and giddy.

Over the past 18 months or so, I've had a wide array of conversations with adults in our congregation and community who are looking for a process of spiritual growth and formation in faith. It just keeps popping up, and I've been learning that some of our old approaches to how welcome newcomers just isn't cutting it. They have been telling us they need and want more than we are currently offering.

Some have said, "I wish I could do adult confirmation." Others are interested in being introduced to Christianity for the first time, in preparation for baptism. Still others are regularly in conversation with adult inquirers, and want to learn more about how to help have those conversations and facilitate connection into Christian community.

Often, the people who are connecting to our church are connecting precisely through the newest people.

Given how many adults are currently on this journey in our congregation, and given that we are continually welcoming new people on the journey with us, God has been clearly letting me know in a variety of ways, I believe, that I need to take a step and formalize a process for adult faith formation.

So I'm doing what I always do in situations where I feel ill-equipped to handle everything on my own. I'm forming a team!

I have a good friend (well, we've never met, but I still consider him a good friend), Paul Hoffman, who has written a little book that describes the catechumenal process they host at the church he pastors, Phinney Ridge Lutheran in Seattle, Washington. Over the course of 15 years they have developed a process that welcomes many adults into the Christian faith annually. It takes time, it takes intentionally, but it is beautiful and rich and helpful for their journey of faith. It's called Faith Forming Faith: Bringing New Christians to Baptism and Beyond, and you can see more about it here:

Since it is available on Kindle, you can download the first chapter for free and read it to get a sense.

The reason I like this book is that it simply describes how Phinney Ridge integrates catechumenal ministry as a core practice of their congregation. It is a process many churches use for faith formation for adults, and I would like to start this fall with it being the primary way new adults come into and are formed in faith in our congregation. It is not another program. It is not a class at which one receives information. Instead, it is a process of faith formation that ties worship and community and learning and faith altogether in a holistic thread.

Our denomination has also recently published a resource that I'm digging into, Go Make Disciples: An Invitation to Baptismal Living.

This whole post is just an initial foray into getting some of my thoughts on this shift out in print and to open up a conversation. At the risk of inviting conversations on multiple topics here, here are my questions: 1) Do you consider yourself an "inquirer" of some kind into the Christian faith? How is this going for you? What connections are you making? What do you need? 2) If you do offer the catechumenate, tell me more of your story? What are you reading? What are you learning? Who are you partnering with? What is God up to?


  1. I think it would help to create a brave new catechism -- one that speaks to the concerns, knowledge and insights of the up-and-coming generations with the good news and and humble wisdom conveyed through Scripture and the insights and Spirit of Martin Luther and the Reformers.

  2. Lars, I like that, "brave new catechism." I agree, producing something like that would go a long ways towards being the resource we need. Some of the analysis of the RCIA suggests that the model is strong on theory and weaker on implementation, especially as regards core curriculum--what should we teach. I'm queued up to try my hand at writing a catechism in 2013 after I get my dissertation finished.

  3. Kathy Suarez6:19 PM

    Clint -- Before I put my mouse in my mouth -- again -- what do you mean by RCIA?

  4. Rites of Christian Initiation for Adults. For a good web site that summarizes the approach, see:

  5. Kathy9:21 AM

    Thanks -- I have worked in the RCIA for many years. I am surprised to learn that the Protestants have a program with the same name.