What Lifelong Formation Means
Terminology in the church (and throughout the world) continually changes as we humans try to verbalize and articulate what we mean. Sometimes our language clarifies, sometimes it makes things too broad and inclusive so we aren’t sure what we are talking about, and sometimes it is helpful yet still needs clarification. Both the terms “Lifelong” and “Formation” fit into all three of these categories. So let’s break each of those things down and talk about what we mean by them.
This should be self-explanatory, however it does garner confusion. Does lifelong mean adult? Does it include children’s formation? Does it mean throughout our whole lives? Yes.
If you look at John Roberto’s work, he talks about the Ten Decades of Faith Formation (see pages 19 and 20) that speaks to the fact that we continue learning in a variety of ways throughout our lives. Our formation does not start or stop at any magical age. Just as people practice musical instruments, medicine, law, and sports to continue to learn new things, we need to be practicing faith our whole lives so we learn and discover new things. Which leads us to formation.
Not long ago, I began a keynote address talking about faith formation. Halfway through a sentence a man in the front row said, “What do you mean by formation?” Formation is not a perfect word and neither is education. However, I think formation more closely speaks to the point above that we are practicing our faith throughout our lives.
Formation is everything we do whether intentional or not. We are always forming who we become as people of faith and we are continually forming people of every age and who they are becoming as people of faith. Formation speaks to the formal, informal, and non-formal learning we engage in throughout each day.
Prayer, conversation, books, gaining knowledge from a teacher, experiences, encounters with others, reading, watching, listening, etc. are all thing that happen along the formation continuum. They all shape who we are and who we are becoming.
Lifelong and Life-Wide
If you agree with this line of thought, then Lifelong Formation is the formal, informal, and non-formal ways in which we learn about and pass on our faith to others. Lifelong formation begins at birth and ends at death. It holds not only the long vision, but also the moment-to-moment experiences and learning we encounter on a daily basis.
At the Forma Conference last week, this is what we spoke of as being the Life-Wide experience. Where do I see God today? How might I study God to know more about God? Where does God intersect with culture today? Where do I see my faith and my work meet?
As a way of being intentional about our Lifelong Faith journeys and where we might need special attention, the Formation and Vocation Offices have dedicated people and councils who are assisting in calling attention to this lifelong faith journey we are all on right now. Our offices and councils work to equip and support the adults who work in specific life stages with Children, Youth, Young Adults (including college students), Adults, and Older Adults.
We are on this journey with you, so please reach out when you need assistance, support, ideas, or have questions.