Why Does the Christian Reformed Church Talk About ‘Faith Formation’ and Not Discipleship?

Why does the CRC talk about “faith formation” and not discipleship? Doesn’t God grant us faith by grace? Why do we need to “form” faith?

Faith does indeed come from God. It is a gift. But God gives Christians an important role in forming the faith of others. Many of us can point to people whose presence in our lives helped our faith to grow. In 2 Timothy 1:5, Paul writes, “​​I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also.” It is not hard to draw a line from Lois to Eunice to Timothy. Paul himself also served as a mentor to Timothy. These people helped form Timothy’s faith even though that faith was given to Timothy by God.

But describing this formation can be tricky. Synonyms—words with the same meaning—are not usually exactly the same. They have shades of meaning that can be important. For example, the words “frugal” and “cheap” have similar meanings, but they’re not really interchangeable. If someone tells you you’re frugal, you likely will take that to mean you’re careful with money. But if someone calls you “cheap,” you might feel insulted because it communicates that you are to that person unnecessarily frugal.

The terms “discipleship” and “faith formation” are almost synonymous, and many people use them interchangeably. But we have found that the word “discipleship” evokes programs for adults, while “faith formation” is less likely to be pinned to a particular age and does not point to a particular method of formation. So talking about “faith formation” allows us to have a broader conversation about different programs or practices.

Some of how we use these terms comes down to personal preference. The point is that we want to communicate well and, at least for now, the term “faith formation” communicates well the full nature of the work we do.

About the Author

Laura Keeley is a regional catalyzer for Faith Formation Ministries and director of children’s ministries at 14th Street Christian Reformed Church in Holland, Mich. Robert J. Keeley is a professor of education at Calvin College and director of distance education at Calvin Seminary.

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