Conversations around “Envisioning the Future of Faith Formation in the First Third of Life” with John Roberto
By Laurie Neill, MDIV Children, Youth and Family senior at Luther Seminary
The reality that John Roberto brought to light for me was that it is not only possible, but beneficial, for the church to provide faith formation for anyone, anytime, anywhere, 24x7x365. While I know that our youth (and adults) are connected to each other on many different levels, and to many different circles (often at the same time), I never really envisioned ministry as something that would be provided at that same level of complexity. So the first question that I had after reading the essay but before attending the conference was: how do you provide faith formation on that level (for anyone, anytime, anywhere, 24x7x365)?
What I learned after hearing Roberto speak and having conversations with fellow attendees is that a new approach to faith formation is a must if we have any hope at all of keep “the church” alive. In fact, what I took from conversations is that we have to re-think how we do church all together. We can no longer do more of the same. Our job not is not to “get people to church,” but rather to “reach people where they are at.” I was just reminded of one of the consequences of the loss of Christendom when my son’s girlfriend, Kelsey, and I were talking the other night. The high school is putting on a play called, “Children of Eden.” She questioned me about the significance of the apple and the serpent. I asked her if she had ever heard the creation story and she said she never even went to church until just a few years ago. She has never been to Sunday School and is not confirmed. I was a little taken aback but was thankful for the reminder that not all people have the religious education I assume they have. I can’t teach confirmation with the assumption that kids have even basic knowledge of the Bible or biblical concepts. But there are kids who were raised in the church who do have that knowledge. And these kids are all lumped together in my class. So the linear curriculum we use in confirmation and Sunday School is no longer efficient (and maybe never was but it was all we had).
So what I heard Roberto saying is that our role is to become more of a “faith formation curator.” He went on to talk about the concept of leveraging technology (social media, websites, smart phones, etc.) but the practical side of that was a mystery to me. I don’t know how to design a website. My kids laugh at my cell phone and how old it is. How am I supposed to be a curator of faith formation using technology? What a classmate (who is a lot younger than me, by the way) said is that I don’t have to necessarily know the technical end of things, but instead become an “equipper.” Ideally, I could find someone else to handle the technical side of things, but I would direct and create a model for equipping families with information that meets them where they are at. It is not about re-inventing the wheel, but taking advantage of all of the good information and resources that are out there and putting them to use. I have written in my notes: “it’s not about technology, but about new delivery methods.”