Imagining a New Future

Imagine a church community where broad and deep faith nurture are a vibrant part of everything it does . . .

  • where committed and joyful disciples of Jesus Christ bring his healing power to a lost and hurting world
  • where corporate worship is the heartbeat of lives devoted to loving God and loving neighbors.
  • Imagine a place where a 7-year-old and a 70-year-old can’t wait to talk to each other about what’s happening in their lives
  • homes where families talk freely about their faith
  • a church that brings an indispensable servant presence to its community.

Imagine a community that shares God’s one true story and lives their lives out of it.

Christ-centered imagination is a powerful thing. It pulls us out of the present toward a new future. It invites us beyond “the way we’ve always done it” toward a new paradigm. It enables us to see beyond our failures and dead ends to new possibilities.

At Faith Alive we are actively engaged in imagining a future in which faith formation and nurture is woven into every aspect of life.

Daunting Problems

Over the past decade, studies have shown that the church faces enormous challenges in its strategic work of passing the faith from one generation to the next. Researcher George Barna and others have identified disturbing trends:

  • Young adults are leaving the church in large numbers, even after intense church involvement in their teen years, with no strong indication of their later return.
  • Families are spending less time in devotional activity, prayer, spiritual conversations, and joint mealtimes.
  • Children spend less time in structured church education or Sunday school classes but more time in structured sports and other activities.
  • Children and teens have far less basic Bible knowledge than their parents’ generation did.
  • Christian teens tend to reject moral absolutes for a relativistic approach.

Those are sobering observations. But with a Spirit-inspired imagination, we can discover new ways to nurture faith for all generations.

Ancient Pathways

Creating a living environment of faith nurture is nothing new. It’s an ancient pattern in the Bible.

Through Moses, God told the Israelites, “These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates” (Deut. 6: 6-9).

From this passage, as well as Israel’s practice, some principles of faith nurture emerge: It begins in the home and family. It is anchored in everyday life. It uses concrete symbols and regular practices.

However, faith nurture was not confined to the home. Israel’s festivals, feasts, pilgrimages, and temple worship involved even the youngest children. Faith was learned, modeled, and practiced in every aspect of life.

Community Immersion

So how can we recover those biblical principles today? It takes more than a 45-minute Sunday school class, more than a few sentences of prayer before a meal. It takes immersion into a community of faith.

Faith Alive, in partnership with the Christian Reformed Church’s Faith Formation Committee, wants to help churches create a congregation-wide environment of faith nurture—to become communities that foster faith formation in every aspect of life.

Here’s what that looks like:

  • developing a deep understanding of God’s one true story of redemption, from creation to new creation—the story out of which we live our lives every day
  • supporting and equipping parents and caregivers to make the home a place for learning and practicing faith and discipleship
  • enabling congregations to find new ways to bring the generations together in learning and service
  • helping churches to plan worship services that nurture the faith of all ages
  • stimulating adult spiritual growth and discipleship that will influence the lives of children and teens
  • providing curriculum materials that anchor children and youths in biblical knowledge while inviting them to live transformed lives.

Resources for Nurture

Faith Alive has already released several resources to help implement this faith-nurture vision. These include:

  • Nurture: a newsletter for parents and families that provides engaging and practical tools to promote faith nurture in the home.
  • The True Story of the Whole World by Mike Goheen and Craig Bartholomew is a wonderful retelling of the biblical story in a way that helps us understand the unfolding drama of God’s story in the Bible and our place in it.
  • Celebrating the Milestones of Faith by Laura and Robert Keeley, a guide to help families and churches celebrate the milestones of the faith journey from birth to death, from baptism to profession of faith, from kindergarten to graduation.

Coming this fall is The Book that Understands You by Kevin Adams—a user-friendly Bible study that helps new Christians, especially, grasp the Bible as God’s big story that continues into our lives today.

In the next two years Faith Alive plans to release other major new resources designed to help churches create an environment that nurtures faith:

  • a new Sunday school curriculum that will help churches tell God’s story to the next generation and provide exciting tie-ins with worship and communal faith nurture
  • a practical, video-based course on Christian parenting and nurturing faith in children, including a useful and accessible parenting handbook
  • illustrated Bible-story books for younger and older children that helps them see the Bible as God’s one true story that we continue to live out today
  • an intergenerational course on church history that brings teens and adults together to explore how that history is deeply relevant for our lives today
  • a book of essays on faith nurture for church leaders that will feature the best writers on the best theory and practices of faith formation in today’s context.

It’s our prayer that these resources will help you and your church deepen and strengthen your efforts to nurture one another in the faith as together we re-imagine our future.

Way Ahead

Some churches are already blazing the trail of comprehensive faith formation.

At Pathway Church, a growing congregation in Byron Center, Mich., Pastor Steve Elzinga’s goal is to make everything that happens in the church and in the homes of members an opportunity for faith nurture. He says the Sunday worship service is really “the culmination of walking with and worshiping God through the week.”

All the adult and children’s programs, as well as small groups and even families at home, follow a Bible-reading plan so that on any given day they are all, literally, on the same page. On Sunday the worship service is based on the same Bible-reading plan, and the service begins with a recitation of the Bible passage of the month.

Elzinga says, “An impromptu Bible study happens anytime, anywhere, as people meet and say, ‘Hey, what did you think of the chapter we read today?’”

In addition, congregation members have written original Scripture songs based on the readings. The songs are recorded on CDs so that people can play them at home, in the car, and on their iPods.

Pathway Church also regularly marks milestones in faith development. Parents are trained to mark milestones in the home that are then echoed in church services.

In this and many other way, Pathway Church leverages every activity toward the biblical and spiritual formation of its members and friends. n

New Life for Coffee Break

Coffee Break, a long-standing small-group evangelism ministry, is a cooperative ministry of Christian Reformed Home Missions and Faith Alive.

Home Missions’ small-group developers, like Sam Huizenga in West Michigan, train churches and small-group leaders to use simple, inviting, inductive Bible study to link church members with unchurched neighbors. Faith Alive publishes the Discover Your Bible series used by these small groups.

Many churches have successfully offered a Coffee Break ministry for decades. At Milwood CRC in Kalamazoo, Mich., leaders began wondering about their Coffee Break program’s effectiveness, as numbers were dwindling. Coffee Break leader Julie Meinema and others decided to spend time in prayer for the ministry, seeking wisdom and direction from God. At the same time, they stepped up their efforts to advertise the ministry in the community. They were amazed and grateful when God by his Spirit nearly doubled the number of people in Coffee Break in a few months. They now have two groups, one of 12 and another of 14 members, many of whom are new Christians and people interested in finding out more about the Christian faith.

Faith Alive is now working in cooperation with Home Missions Small Group Developers in piloting and field-testing a new inductive Bible study series that will focus more directly on adults in their 20s and 30s. The first of this series, on the book of Esther, will be released this winter.

Another Home Missions ministry developer, Grace Park, has translated the Coffee Break training materials and many books into the Korean language, in cooperation with Faith Alive. She has also written two books about leading Coffee Break. These books are bestsellers in Korea, where Park was interviewed on a Christian TV station. Park has also trained another person to translate the Discover Your Bible series for the underground church in China. She says, “It would be impossible to count how many people in China are using Coffee Break materials, but it’s huge.”

Faith Alive at a Glance

Who we are: Faith Alive is the publishing ministry of the Christian Reformed Church and the resource provider for the Reformed Church in America.

What we publish: Sunday school curriculum, youth resources, small group studies, Bible studies, topical studies, resources for church leaders, curriculum and other resources for people with special needs, hymnals and other resources for worship, and two periodicals: The Banner and Reformed Worship.

Why we exist: to connect and communicate with churches in the Reformed tradition and assist them in their mission of forming vibrant communities of faith.

Online catalog: Check out our new online catalog at www.FaithAliveResources.org

Faith Alive News

Is Sunday school missional? At Rosewood CRC in Bellflower, Calif., most of the 90 kids who attend weekly Sunday school are from the community, and many of their parents now attend church classes or worship services. Family Ministries Pastor Bonny Mulder-Behnia uses Faith Alive’s Walk With Me and Kid Connection curricula.

Mark Rice, Faith Alive’s new director, reports: “Faith Alive has the potential to enable relationships: congregant to congregant, pastor to pastor, pastor to congregant, denominations to pastors, denominations to the broader church, denominations to the broader culture, and of course, God to God’s people. We enable people to build relationships through our media, our content. Our measure of success is how well people are connected, how alive the church community is, and how vibrant the conversation is.”

Making use of technology: In response to feedback, Faith Alive has produced two resources with video components in the past year—God Wins: A Study of Revelation and Living Your Faith in a Messed Up World. More DVD-based resources are to come. Faith Alive also now has several resources with significant online and Web components, with more to come. And Faith Alive’s website (www.FaithAliveResources.org) has been completely redesigned for ease of use and purchasing.

About the Author

Len Vander Zee is a retired CRC pastor now serving as interim minister of preaching at Church of the Servant CRC in Grand Rapids, Mich.

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