Where Does Faith Formation Begin?

The answer to that may not necessarily be, “Faith formation begins with church boards!”

Still, spiritually mature church boards understand that they need to think through how faith formation happens, as they do their work leading a congregation.

Among the many definitions of faith formation, we will use this one:  Christians are formed to do what Jesus did, see the world how Jesus saw the world, and act in hope and love the way Jesus embodied hope and love.

In the midst of busy church planning, it is easy to lose sight of the purpose of all the planning and all the busy-ness. They support the formation of disciples to learn the way of Jesus.

It is also easy to lose sight of the purpose of the “cloud of witnesses” mentioned in Hebrews 12. The cloud of witnesses is not invoked as part of a plan to create a Christian hall of fame. It is not mentioned for the sake of honoring those witnesses with plaques or statues. The cloud of witnesses is lifted up because it shows us the way and encourages us in our faith formation.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

-Hebrews 12:1-3

Faith formation begins with specific people in your faith community who are running the race with perseverance and not growing weary or losing heart.  How is your board actively supporting these witnesses to show the rest of us the way of faith?

Robert Hayden’s poem honoring Frederick Douglass is also about the power of specific people for faith formation.

Frederick Douglass

 by Robert Hayden

When it is finally ours, this freedom, this liberty, this beautiful

and terrible thing, needful to man as air,

usable as earth; when it belongs at last to all,

when it is truly instinct, brain matter, diastole, systole,

reflex action; when it is finally won; when it is more

than the gaudy mumbo jumbo of politicians:

this man, this Douglass, this former slave, this Negro

beaten to his knees, exiled, visioning a world

where none is lonely, none hunted, alien,

this man, superb in love and logic, this man

shall be remembered. Oh, not with statues’ rhetoric,

not with legends and poems and wreaths of bronze alone,

but with the lives grown out of his life, the lives

fleshing his dream of the beautiful, needful thing.

 Catholic activist Dorothy Day never lost sight of what life was meant to be.  In a letter to a “Fellow Worker in Christ” published by The Catholic Worker in 1948, she posed a question that would benefit church boards to ask each time they meet – namely, what are we trying to do?

What are we trying to do? We are trying to get to heaven, all of us. We are trying to lead a good life. We are trying to talk about and write about the Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes, the social principles of the church, and it is most astounding, the things that happen when you start trying to live this way.



Why is the “cloud of witnesses” mentioned in Hebrews 12? What work does it do? What work does it want us to do?


How will Frederick Douglass be remembered, according to Robert Hayden? When will Douglass be remembered—and why is that important?


What matters most to faith formation, according to Dorothy Day?


How often does your board talk about the way faith formation happens? How often do you think you should be talking about it?


How well do you, as a congregation, support the cloud of witnesses in your midst?

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