faith formation

The Scary Bridge

I love bridges. But I didn’t used to.

A couple of days ago, I drove over the causeway bridge that leads into St. Petersburg, FL. It’s a long bridge with a super high point. It was a beautiful drive. As I began the ascent a memory came to mind:

When I was a child we went on a family vacation to Galveston and I experienced my first tall causeway bridge. I’ll never forget looking up and seeing that bridge that seemed to go straight up into the clouds and not come down. I remember the lump in my throat and the butterflies in my stomach. And I remember the climb that seemed to go on forever and there was no end in sight until we got all the way to the peak of the bridge. And then it happened – my dad said, “Whoa! Here we go!” And the descent ensued with laughter from me and my siblings and a huge, “Wow!” as we headed down to the other side.

Are you looking at a bridge with fear and trepidation in your ministry? Are you hoping for change but not sure how to get there?

Maybe you need a bridge.

Many congregations are in need of a bridge, a bridge that leads to the place that you know you need to go but seems a bit scary. Where do you want to be? One of our consultants Jim LaDoux has great insight on the image of being a bridge to 21st Century Faith Formation. Check it out.

At Vibrant Faith, we see ourselves as people who accompany leaders and congregations as we pass over the scary bridges, knowing that God is with us all the way. There is no question that as we lead the church in the 21st Century, we need to look at innovative ways to equip the church to be God’s love.

And that’s faith. It’s like looking up to the top of the bridge trusting that there is hope on the other side. And boy, when we make that descent we can enjoy the rush of God’s life-giving Spirit as we are led into the future of the church. And we can joyfully say, “Here we go!”

Don’t be afraid of the bridge.

TomPromo copy 3 ~ Tom Schwolert

Two Key Questions for Every Church

Two Key Questions For Every Church (1)

Every congregation must reflect on two key questions:

  • How can our community of faith be a tangible witness and authentic expression of Christ’s love?
  • How can we actively participate in what God is doing in the place we live?

The insights of Paul Sparks, Tim Sorrens, and Dwight Friesen in their book The New Parish: How Neighborhood Churches are Transforming Mission, Discipleship, and Community(IVP Books, 2014) can be a big help.

These authors/pastors contend that there are four dominant conceptions of church in the west, and that knowing which is the prevailing mode can make it easier to highlight your congregation’s strengths, and call forth what’s missing. How do you see your congregation in the following four characteristics?

The Seeker Church

Organized around felt needs, this church takes seriously how the gospel connects with the culture of the people in their region. This church thrives on gatherings where everything relates to people who are exploring and searching what they believe about Jesus. Only secondary energies are used to connect with what God might be doing in the area. Can become somewhat consumeristic. This church puts great stock on its worship area. It’s where everyone gathers.

The Heritage Church

This church puts primary energy into passing on beliefs, rites, rituals, and core distinctives of following Christ from within their particular tradition. This church is likely deeply committed to the process of formation through programs of catechesis and discipleship. Without a dynamic living tradition shaped by the Spirit, this church can find itself organized around static rituals, and calcified into a set of denominational beliefs and liturgical practices disconnected from everyday life. This church likely has extensive educational facilities that are (or were) heavily used by all ages.

The Community Church

Central to this church is deep authentic relationships with God and with one another. This church seeks to retrieve a sense of familial relationships, where each person can, and is even called to, contribute as a meaningful participant. This church seeks covenantal relationships and deep mutual commitment. Requires a heavy investment of time and energy. Mission often becomes an awkward add-on, because the meaning of church has not included life with people outside the community. This church is not too attached to physical structures. Where two or three are gathered . . .

The Mission Church

This church simply seeks to join with God in God’s mission in the world. Every aspect of this church should be engaged in God’s redemptive plan. Mission is not a project, program, or even a priority, rather, it is the very existence of this church. This church runs the risk of becoming colonial—having “the answer” for “those people”—if it has few or no mechanisms to recognize and receive God’s formative work for the church itself. This church may likely run a soup kitchen or any number of social services.

If you had to put your congregation into one of these four categories, which would it be and why?

As you have certainly concluded by now, each of these churches emphasizes one essential aspect of church life:

  • Seeker church = Sunday service
  • Heritage church = identity formation and preserve tradition
  • Community church = interpersonal relationships (i.e. familying)
  • Mission church = participating in God’s renewal of creation

What is also clear is that all four expressions must be present in a faith community in order to effectively respond to the two key questions above.

Leif Kehrwald,– Leif Kehrwald

Just What is Faith Formation?

Just What is Faith Formation-

How would you respond if a parishioner asked, “So what do you really mean by faith formation?”

I asked myself that question this week as I worked toward launching our new training program for congregational leaders: DO WHAT MATTERS! Faith Formation for a New Age. If we’re going to invite leaders to do what matters in their faith formation efforts, we need to be clear about what faith formation is, yes?

Problem is ‘faith formation’ has become a catch-all term that can mean just about anything a church or Christian community does—from the parish picnic, to Bingo nite, to team sports in the gym, to Sunday worship. It’s all faith formation, right?

Well, potentially yes, but there are some criteria that our programs and activities ought to meet in order to fall under the faith formation umbrella.

In a single line we could say faith formation is: equipping people to live as disciples of Jesus.

In his latest book, Generations Together, John Roberto reaffirms a traditional, but very rich notion that faith formation informs, forms, and transforms the person—whether child, youth, or adult—into a robust, vital, and life-giving Christian faith that is holistic: a way of the head, the heart, and the hands.

And faith formation does the very same for the Christian community as it immerses people into the particular practices and particular way of life that identifies them as followers of Jesus.

Roberto goes on to say, “While expressed in many different ways, faith formation seeks to help people:

  • Grow in their relationship with God for the whole of life
  • Live as disciples of Jesus at home, at work, in the community, and in the world
  • Develop an understanding of the Bible and their faith tradition
  • Deepen their spiritual life and practices
  • Engage in service and mission to the world
  • Participate in the life and ministries of their faith community”

So, faith formation may indeed occur at the parish picnic or on the gym floor, but it has little to do with eating hot dogs or sinking baskets, and whole lot to do with forming disciples. Much more on this when you join us for DO WHAT MATTERS! Coming to a city near you!

Leif Kehrwald,– Leif Kehrwald

Making It Sing!

I am a proponent of intergenerational faith formation. I am convinced that when we model good intergenerational patterns of faith interaction in the gathered setting (congregation), folks are more likely to do the same or similar at home.

But, of course, the intergenerational gathering must be done well. Here are twelve characteristics of an intergenerational session that “sings”, the subtle nuances that make the difference between an intergenerational program that limps, and one that hits the mark for fall ages.*

  • Variety – keep the learning interesting and informative.
  • Meaningful – it’s time well spent. Don’t gloss over the content.
  • Goals – clear learning objectives lead to engaging session (know what, know how, know why).
  • Timing – pay attention to ebb and flow of energy.
  • Flexible – good planning leads to flexible implementation.
  • Team – cooperation makes planning and implementation more solid.
  • Welcome – genuine hospitality for all ages.
  • Facilitation – keep it moving and “take care” of everyone.
  • Audience – know them, and learn what resonates with them!
  • Engage – all participate. Nobody sits on the sidelines watching. All activities have purpose.
  • Resources – start with good intergenerational material, and then adapt to your needs.
  • Alignment – all activities, including ice-breakers, games, prayer & worship, are aligned with the topic at hand.

If you want your intergenerational programming to “sing”, incorporate as many of these characteristics as you can.

*These characteristics emerged from survey data of more than 270 churches engaged in intergenerational faith formation as reported in Intergenerational Faith Formation: All Ages Learning Together by Mariette Martineau, Joan Weber, and Leif Kehrwald. Twenty-Third Publications, 2008.

Leif Kehrwald,– Leif Kehrwald

What to Look For

I’ve mentioned here before that I am working with a cluster of churches in Maryland and Delaware that are moving toward an intergenerational model as the driving force for faith formation. Each congregation will launch their new programming effort this fall.

One volunteer leader asked a simple, but profound question: how will we know if we’re succeeding? It’s a bit like the disciples of John asking Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” (Luke 7.19). Is this lifelong, intergenerational approach going to work, or is it just another passing fad?

Jesus’ response was look at the evidence: “the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them” (v.22).

Similarly, based on my own experience and witness, I can tell these congregations that they’ll know they are succeeding when:

  • People experience belonging – they know they are known, and their life matters to others.
  • People experience support – they discover a family in which acceptance and healing are found.
  • The community experiences wealth – like the multiplication of the loaves, the young ones discovered great resources in the oldsters, and vice versa.
  • All grow in character – respect and humility are modeled and shared all around.
  • Children develop authentic spiritual relationships with persons of all ages.
  • Teens find an abundance of mentors and examples to guide their perilous journey toward adulthood.
  • Young adults have their stories heard and their search for identity validated.
  • Parents receive encouragement, support, spiritual commiseration, and above all authentic validation of their vocational call.
  • Oldsters are revered as “elders” and called upon to bless youngsters with unconditional love and acceptance.

When lifelong, intergenerational faith formation is done well, these characteristics begin to emerge in the faith community. This is what to look for to let you know that your efforts are working.

What about Bible teachings? What about important doctrinal understandings? What about the content? Of course the content is important, but without these relational characteristics it has little traction. In fact, my experience tells me that people of all ages — children, teens, and adults — become hungry for faith-based content when we build community and meet relational needs. Don’t toss out the content, but make sure it has a place to gain traction.

Leif Kehrwald,


– Leif Kehrwald