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Brushing Up: Intentional Faith Development

A Note from the Rev.
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Sunday I preached about the importance of being intentional in the development of our faith, and about how that development is never done. As Christians we call death the “Fulfillment of our baptism,” meaning that our work in learning and growing in God is only complete at death.

That might be a grim thought, but as I sit here at [Ferncliff](http://ferncliff.org/) Camp and Conference Center outside of Little Rock, Arkansas, I’m only feeling hope and promise — nothing grim. I am after all, at a continuing education retreat, engaging my mind and heart in Intentional Faith Development.

I’m looking over the mist rising above the quiet lake behind my cabin and I’m struck by how fortuitous it is that my retreat came right after I preached on “Intentional Faith Development” because I have made a deal with myself to be as present as I possibly can: completely focused on developing my own faith, strengthening my relationship with God, and learning more about myself as a pastoral leader. I’m committing to this because all the valuable skills and disciplines I’m learning, and the rest and renewal I’m engaged in will certainly have a wonderful effect on the congregation at CEH. My hope is that will rise off of me in as lovely and inspiring a way as the mist is coming off the lake (now that I’ve written that, it seems a little trite, but it truly is my hope).

Because we do emphasize that our learning is never over, it makes it easier for me to say “I don’t know” when someone asks a difficult question, or to admit that, “I haven’t figured that one out. . . yet.”

Nobody has all the answers. Well, at least nobody human. Jesus, on the other hand, knew the answers to all the questions and was more likely to ask another question in response than to just spoon feed us the answers.

The one thing Jesus did spoon feed us was the command to LOVE. Repeatedly, and without fancy language or any need to second guess what he meant, Jesus taught us “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength, mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”

Even as I’m here in Arkansas, my heart keeps turning to you. We have a wonderful faith family at CEH, and I’m ever so grateful for you. I keep hearing nightmarish accounts of congregations who take advantage of their pastor, or who just don’t “mesh” with their pastor, and I am reminded of how my heart is filled with joy just thinking of you. I”m holding all of you in prayer, and I ask that you hold me in your prayers as well. As we finish up with New Beginnings, let’s rejoice that for us it will most certainly be a New Beginning TOGETHER!

Thank you for this opportunity to grow and develop in my own faith. I hope and pray that what I learn and and the self-discoveries I make will enhance God’s work through me at CEH.

Peace in Christ,

Rev. Paula

 


The Congregational Practice of Intentional Faith Development

“Intentional Faith Development refers to all the ministries that help us grow in faith outside of weekly worship, such as bible studies, Sunday School classes, support groups, and prayer teams.  Congregations who practice Intentional Faith Development offer opportunities for people to learn in community for people at all stages of faith.  They offer ministries that help people grow in grace and in the knowledge and love of God.  Intentional refers to deliberate effort, purposeful action, and high priority.” Robert Schnase

The Personal Practice of Intentional Faith Development

“Through the personal practice of Intentional Faith Development, we do the soul work that connects us to others, immerses us in God’s Word, and positions us to grow in grace and mature in Christ. We place ourselves in the most advantageous circumstances to learn and grow in our following of Christ.  We cooperate with the Holy Spirit in our own spiritual maturation.  We learn in community.” Robert Schnase

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” Deut 6:4-9

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God delivered this message to the Hebrews after God liberated them from the Egyptian oppression and led them into the wilderness. God admonished the people to talk about God and God’s good work in the world in all conversations, heck — write them on your heads and tie them to your forearms. Let everybody know!

We would do so well to make God and our own stories of faith filter into our everyday conversation. Not just what we know about the bible and about God’s Covenants; what we know about God still speaking and moving in our lives.

Intentional Faith Development is an important practice because it reminds us to keep this conversation going. In the children’s message, I compared sharing our faith stories to a relay race of epic proportions. In a relay race, each runner has to hand off the baton to the next runner. The hand-off part is the tricky part. If one runner drops the baton, it’s a mess! If another runner doesn’t let go, it’s impossible! Sharing our faith is a life-long, generation-spanning relay race. Do you have a baton? Have you passed it along to the next generation?

In the church, we are in the business of sharing stories (the hand-off), yet it seems like our personal transformation through faith is not something easy to share.

At CEH we have looked at all the different ages and stages of life, and are working to create a “Cradle to Grave” plan that would encompass a person’s life. We’re finding more and more that for us, inter-generational ministry works best — offering experiences where we can learn from one another and grow together.

We also have age-appropriate and developmentally-appropriate learning opportunities such as Vacation BIble School, youTHursday, adult studies, Confirmation, and preschool chapel. We have even started a group for people who want to actively engage their minds and ask probing questions about God and the church and who we are or who we claim to be as Christians called “Sinners and Skeptics.”

I’m also always happy to provide individualized study plans for those of you on a tight schedule, or for those of you who haven’t found your place to “fit in” yet. I have lots of resources spanning two millennia of Christian writers, as well as some beautiful resources for our Hebrew scriptures. I do caution that learning in a group is the true Presbyterian way — allowing the Holy Spirit to work among a group of believers or seekers together is as important as studying alone,

Please prayerfully consider how you are working to develop your own faith. It requires more than minimal attendance on Sundays, so I pray you will commit to more learning and growth in the coming year.

Peace in Christ,

Rev. Paula

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