Above: We’ve created sets of playing cards with questions for each practice of the Path of Discipleship for children, youth and adults to help in their spiritual formation.
We grow as followers of Jesus throughout our lives, growing evermore fully into the stature of Christ. But what are the catalysts that cultivate that growth?
Twelve months ago, more than two dozen congregational leaders in the Diocese of Washington gathered in small groups to share experiences of people, events, and practices that deepened their faith and drew them closer to Jesus. For some, pivotal moments such as an illness, the loss of employment, or the birth of a child drew them closer to God. Others found their faith grew through faithful ministry with others. Still others found Jesus’ love in the abiding love of a grandparent. These rich and varied experiences affirmed that following Jesus is a life of continuous turning toward Jesus, a journey of experiencing the holy, of finding oneself, of searching, and of making commitments.
The purpose of the work of this group was to discern a path of discipleship for congregations in the Diocese of Washington–a pathway with a core set of essential practices that congregations can invite those new to faith and those with maturing faith to take in order to grow as followers of Jesus. Through a time of listening, prayer, and reflection on Scripture, we discerned five essential spiritual practices of discipleship:
Pray – Talk, listen, and respond to God
Learn – Learn the story of God and God’s people
Serve – Take part in God’s mission by serving others and creation
Give – Give generously from God’s abundant blessings
Share – Invite others to come on the journey with God
We invite every congregation to use these practices as a framework to review their formation offerings, their ministries, and their life together to help all people–newcomers and long-timers, young and old, weekly and monthly worshipers–take their next steps to grow in faith and deepen their commitment to Jesus
The life of faith is not a one-time event. It is a lifelong journey of growth and maturing as we are drawn more deeply into the heart of God and community and back out into the world. It is both individual and community oriented and changes along a growth path.
Knowing where those you serve are along their path will help you be more effective in helping them grow in their faith. Those new to faith grow in faith through opportunities to know the love of Jesus through experiences characterized by love, trust, and acceptance. As their faith grows, they soon begin to feel at home within a particular faith community and enjoy participating in experiences of awe, wonder, and mystery. Many people’s faith, at some point, is challenged by new circumstances, a crisis, or relationship. This is a time of doubt, questioning and experimentation that can lead to growing clarity and commitment to particular faith claims and an awareness of what nurtures the spiritual life. The hope is that we grow in commitment to following Jesus with our hearts, hands, and heads, putting faith into personal and social action and being willing and able to stand up for what we believe.
The journey described above can be identified as four styles of faith along a path of discipleship:
- experiencing faith
- belonging faith
- searching faith, and
- owning faith.
The description may sound linear, but styles of faith are better understood as the rings of a tree. Each expression of faith is whole, yet there’s always room to grow. And as a person grows in faith, they don’t let go of previous capacities or affinities. Instead they build on them. While experiences of awe, wonder, and mystery are a primary marker for belonging faith, God meets us all in the realm of mystery. Those with an owned faith continue to yearn for such experiences. Lastly a person can exhibit multiple styles of faith simultaneously–for example, questioning in some areas and being fully committed in others. Faith is a lifelong process.
Knowing the predominant expression of faith, however, is helpful in discerning our next steps in faith and how we might grow in faith. Someone new to faith needs to feel a sense of belonging and might welcome prayer or reflecting on Scripture in a small group, or serving alongside others. Those with an owned faith could be invited to find ways to share their faith with others.
To help congregations adopt this path of discipleship, we have developed:
- A set of posters that can be displayed in your buildings and website that describe each practice. (Download here)
- A set of playing cards for children, youth, and adults with questions for each practice. Send a deck to households. Use them at congregational gatherings, online or in person. (Print your own: Adults | Youth | Children; Print-on-demand decks coming soon.)
- A path of discipleship app for iOS and Android devices to help individuals to grow faith on-the-go will premier in September.
We will continue to develop and curate spiritual formation resources using these five practices as a framework to help you along the way.
The Rev. Jenifer Gamber
Director of the School for Christian Faith and Leadership
and Tending Our Soil Thriving Congregations Initiative