In my last post I suggested mission, unity and spiritual direction belong together and most traditions have a balance of all three. In my next post, I will return to the theme of unity but in this one I will review the diverse approaches to formation across the traditions. I am aware this review will be nowhere near complete and so would welcome suggestions of other approaches to formation I do not cover here.
Primarily, I am interested in formation of lay people. Ministers, priests and religious have long periods of formation, as part of their training and continuing development. However, my intention is to highlight how formation is an important dimension to the mission of the church. Without the formation of laity, there will be no retention of church members.
There are of course many formal approaches to formation. Spiritual direction is generally available to anyone who seeks it. It is possibly more common in some traditions. It can be available on a one to one basis, perhaps over a limited period of time. Retreats are another popular option. Groups can also meet for formation. Wesley's classes and mission bands in the 18th and 19th centuries were successful approaches to formation, where dedicated ministers were scarce. Even today, bible study groups and some fresh expressions consciously address the formation of their members.
There are other ways in which people are formed by their churches. Regular attendance at church services is not tribalism; it is a (perhaps residual) approach to formation. For Methodists the singing of hymns and prayerful use of the hymn book has traditionally contributed to the formation of Methodists.
In the Catholic Church regular attendance at Mass is an approach to formation, as is their sacrament of reconciliation. I remember facilitating a mission audit of two churches in the mid-nineties. One was the Methodist and the other was a Catholic Church (illustrated). They were across the road from each other and we called a joint meeting to look at the mission activities of the two churches together.
The Priest was a little apologetic before the meeting, as he believed the Methodists were far more active than the Catholics. So, we sat down and filled a side of flipchart paper with the activities of the Methodist Church. This was a respectable result, much as everyone anticipated. The Catholics started rather slowly and then as confidence increased easily filled a second and then a third sheet.
The difference between the two churches was, I suppose, the Catholics did not normally discuss their mission activities. I suspect the work of the Priest in the formation of the people led to their missionary activity. The Priest was not terribly interested in leading mission, he focused on formation and left the rest to God.
Some ministers, like Wesley, are able to do both effectively but it is likely the minister who focuses solely on mission, will not be as effective as the minister whose sole interest is formation. Formation equips the church for mission. Mission on its own is likely to be activist.
Indeed, what we have here is a restatement, perhaps in ecclesiological terms, of praxis. This is the recognition that action and reflection are both needed for effective ministry. And this does of course lead to the question, if action and reflection are sufficient, is unity really necessary?