Sunday, September 13, 2009
What does it mean to have Christian faith? Faith is not just a single act of belief. It is not just a belief in a doctrine. It is an ongoing commitment to Jesus Christ. Dr. James Fowler, the foremost researcher on faith development, refers to faith as a verb. He says “to faith” involves continual growth and nurture from less to more mature stages. He states that a person comes to faith through community. In other words, a person’s faith is shaped by his own experiences and the influence of his family and faith community.
Let’s look at these influencers of faith.
Family Influence -
In the 1990s the Search Institute study titled Effective Christian Education surveyed over 11,000 people in 561 congregations. Researchers discovered several key factors that promote faith. The first is family religiousness. Families who participate in devotions together, parents who talk about their faith to their children, and the families who do service projects together have the greatest impact on a person’s faith.
Faith Community Influence -
The study also examined congregational factors that promote faith growth and maturity and discovered that Christian education is the most vital factor. Christian education is defined as the programs of study outside of worship services, such as Bible studies, Sunday School, and small groups, that help us grow our faith. In fact, the study showed that Christian education has twice the impact on faith growth of all other areas of congregational life. This influence began in the first Christian church established at Pentecost. “They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” Acts 2:42
Personal Experience -
Much of my own faith growth has come through trials and tribulations, or what the Bible refers to as "the testing of our faith" ( 1 Peter 1:7 and James 1:3). While coping with cancer, divorce, and deaths, I struggled with the direction my life was going. I questioned God and tried to make meaning of suffering and pain. However, I clung to the belief that God is faithful and called on him for peace. He gave me a strength and courage I could never have imagined. During those dark times, I turned to the firm foundation I had been given through my family and faith communities.
I’ve learned that faith growth can be both intentional and unintentional.
We can be intentional in our families as we encourage faith development. We can choose to have family devotions, participate in service projects, and discuss our faith.
We can be intentional in our involvement in the community of faith. We can participate in Bible studies and small groups in order to learn about our faith. This is what Rev. Mark calls learning the orthodoxy, or “right beliefs” of our faith. We can reach out in orthopraxy, or “right practice” by sharing our faith and giving sacrificially of our resources.
If we are diligent with our intentional faith development, then when the trials and tribulations come, however unintentional they may be, we will have that strong foundation to see us through. We will be armed with the influence of our family and faith community so that we can face the storms.
As we mature in faith we move beyond a belief about God toward deep abiding in God. We move from studying the orthodoxy, “right practice” to orthopraxy, “right practice.” We become not only “hearers of the Word” but “doers of the Word.”
Here’s “to faith!”