Dipping Deeper: forming lifelong disciples

Online workshop shares array of PC(USA) resources to enhance Christian education and formation ministries in the local church

by Tammy Warren | Presbyterian News Service

All who registered by the Sept. 15 deadline received a packet of resources before the virtual Dipping Deeper workshop on lifelong discipleship. (Photo by Mary Marcotte)

LOUISVILLE — More than 50 Christian educators, pastors, volunteers and others are taking part in a three-day virtual workshop “Dipping Deeper into the Well of PC(USA) Ministries,” Oct. 5–7. Sessions are focused on the formation of lifelong disciples who are grounded in the Reformed tradition and equipped for the work of evangelism, peacemaking, witnessing and working toward justice and equity for all God’s people.

The training, hosted by the South Central Region of the Association of Presbyterian Church Educators (SCRAPCE) and coordinated by Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, meets PC(USA) Educator Certification Council requirements for Presbyterian Program and Mission. Each session includes a video presentation, panel discussion and group breakouts.

“There is absolutely no way that we can train people to share something that is not already in them,” said the Rev. Dr. Ray Jones III, director of the PC(USA)’s Theology, Formation & Evangelism. “So if the Good News is not already in us, we cannot train people to go out and share this Good News. This formation, the Christian formation, this discipleship formation over a lifetime is critical in developing a people who know that we have a story to tell, and a beautiful story to tell at that.”

The Rev. Dr. Ray Jones directs the Office of Theology, Formation & Evangelism. (Photo by Michael Whitman)

Faith development is a constant journey of dying to old ways and being raised up in new life that looks like Jesus, Jones said. “All of our ministries in Theology, Formation and Evangelism address this important need for formation. We’re working with leaders and we’re reaching people who are new to the faith and we’re actually on the margins of many communities working with people who have not had a contact with a faith community.”

The Rev. Carlton Johnson, associate for Vital Congregations, said, “For far too long the idea of discipleship has really been sort of married to the question, How do we get people to come to church?” Yet, he added, “At the end of the day what we’re really trying to do is to get people to follow Christ,” which is “a lot harder than ‘coming to church’ and ‘worshiping Christ.’ That’s one of the reasons ‘lifelong discipleship’ is the first of the seven marks of congregational vitality,” he said. Download resources.

Through the years, Mary Marcotte’s understanding of Christian education and formation has evolved and grown, she said during a breakout session on Tuesday. Although she is now living in Dallas, retired from her service as a ruling elder and 13 years as associate general presbytery in the Presbytery of New Covenant, of her work as a Christian educator Marcotte said, “I can’t retire from that intrinsic part of me. I increasingly understand it [Christian formation] as a process and a relationship. It’s not about ‘what’ we know but ‘who’ we know and how deeply we hold that knowledge. If we are truly engaged in lifelong learning and lifelong formation, we can’t be ‘Sunday school graduates.’ We have to continue to have these ‘aha’ moments, even as we grow as senior citizens.”

“Formation is a thread through all of the leadership ministries throughout the church,” said Martha Miller, assistant stated clerk and manager for ruling elder ministries and Christian educator certification for the Office of the General Assembly. Miller coordinates the monthly resource article Regarding Ruling Elders, which is available in English, Korean and Spanish. She described a new PC(USA) online training resource, Equip, which is related to lifelong formation, specifically for leaders (ordination exam leader courses, courses for presbytery stated clerks and others). Miller also shared a new OGA book study “Disability and the Way of Jesus: Holistic Healing in the Gospels and the Church,” led by the author, the Rev. Dr. Bethany McKinney Fox, organizing pastor of Beloved Everybody Church in Los Angeles.

“One of the things that is true about the Christian faith is that there is no ‘generic’ form of Christianity,” said the Rev. Dr. Barry Ensign-George, coordinator for the Office of Theology and Worship. “Christianity comes to us always in distinctive forms: Presbyterian, Methodist, Episcopalian, Baptist, nondenominational, so we have a particular way of shaping and understanding the Christian faith and the Christian life. The Christian life is indeed a lifelong process of becoming more like Christ, but never actually reaching the endpoint. We have a profound sense that this is a struggle that’s woven deep into us and it goes on across a lifetime.”

Ensign-George shared Theology and Worship resources, such as Everyday God-Talk and Everyday God-Dance (videos), the Daily Prayer app and the landing page for The Scattered Church project, resources designed for pastoral leaders, sessions and worship committees who are seeking faithful and creative ways to gather as communities of witness online and in alternative ways as well as in safe in-person ways as local circumstances permit.

Stephanie Fritz, mission coordinator for the Office for Christian Formation in the Presbyterian Mission Agency, asked the panel about when and where faith formation happens. She said she hears answers about “camp” or “time on session as an elder.” What she doesn’t hear is stories of faith formation that happen in listening to a particular sermon on a particular day at church. “As educators we know that faith formation happens in all places and in all ways,” Fritz said. “Faith formation happens through a process of relationships and experiences that include worship but is much more than attending church.” Find Christian Formation resources.

The Rev. Nikki Collins coordinates the PC(USA)’s 1001 New Worshiping Communities movement.

The Rev. Nikki Collins, coordinator of 1001 New Worshiping Communities, said “Lifelong formation leads us to call others to a life of discipleship. New churches form because we are leading people in new ways and engaging them in the gospel in ways that the established church hasn’t been able to do in the past. It’s an outgrowth of our continued following of Jesus, and following Jesus into places that we as an institution haven’t previously gone.” Watch 1001 video stories. Listen to New Church New Way podcasts; prior seasons have focused on racial injustice and the demands of COVID-19 as a church in quarantine. A new season will launch in the next few weeks. Collins said coaching is available in several languages to assist in starting and strengthening worshiping communities.

This moment, Collins said, is one that reflects our need to “scale down.” We need to be equipping the domestic church and households for the formation of faith in and among themselves, whether it’s parents, children, spouses, housemates — whoever is living under our roof, she said. “I think our task really is to recognize that church happens in the smallest of communities.” This, she said, makes her think about people who live in a household alone.

“What are the ways we are able to build community and spiritual friendships?” She asks, “How much of our emphasis really needs to be on forming individuals as opposed to creating programs and curriculum?” All of those things matter, she said, but “what forms a disciple is relationship with another disciple.”

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