Adapting adult faith formation as the church grows and changes

According to Joe Paprocki, the author of “A Church On the Move,” one of the biggest challenges facing the church today is the continuing formation of adults.

Like many others, Paprocki is convinced that generally “we are not doing a good job of forming adults into disciples of Christ.”

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No doubt there are many reasons for this failure, but as I suggested last time I think the biggest one is that many Catholic adults are confused about how or why it makes a difference to be disciples of Christ and, in turn, Catholic Christians.

For what it’s worth, I think the confusion or dismay arises out of the fact that the church is growing and changing — some would say, maturing; it is becoming for the first time in its history a truly universal church, in a world very different from any it has experienced over the past 2,000 years.

That idea alone, that the church is a living organism which grows and adapts to the times and circumstances, is itself somewhat disconcerting to older Catholics who were taught that the church can never change.

But more than that, there is always in human growth a stage where a person (a family, a community, or in this case, the church) is no longer exactly what they used to be but still not quite what they are in the process of becoming — a stage in which the past and the future overlap, or if you will, blur.

This “in-between” can be confusing and uncomfortable. Ask anyone who has raised a teenager about the confusion and angst involved in being or parenting an individual who is precariously suspended between childhood on the one hand and adulthood on the other.

Life in the church is always guided by Scripture, and the growth we are experiencing today is rooted in our recovery, over the past century and a half or so, of the profound implications of the Incarnation — the mystery by which God entered into human history in the very person of GodSelf, Jesus Christ. By its very nature, this event blurred the comforting distinction between the human and the divine, between here and there, between the past and the future.

In a much broader sense than we usually realize, we are living (and have been since the death and resurrection of Jesus) in an “in-between” time — no longer what we used to be, but not yet what we are in the process of becoming. I hope to identify these implications in the next and last column on adult faith formation.

For now, I just want to suggest that this has profound implications for adult faith formation in ways which we maybe have not fully appreciated.

What do you think?

 Pray and Reflect

Use one or more of the following questions for personal reflection, group dis­cus­­sion or private journaling:

  • On a scale of 1 (low) to 5 (high) rate how much you sense that the church is growing or changing in ways that are not entirely clear or comfortable. How would you have rated your perception five years ago?
  • What are some of the signs of growth and change which you see in the church today? Which seem good, which seem problematic to you? Have you lived in “in-between times” in your personal or family life before? Do you see similarities between that experience and the church today? How well are we equipped to help our children, grandchildren and students life in the “in-between time”?
  • I think this “in-between time” in the church is …

 Join the Conversation

Add your comments to this week’s discussion at facebook.com/FaithLeaders­Corner/.

Dave Cushing is director of adult faith formation for the Catholic parishes in Waterloo. The Disciple’s Corner is sponsored by the Archdiocese of Dubuque’s Office of Faith Formation and Education and is funded through the Archdiocesan Educational Development Board. It is designed to help catechists, teachers, parents, grandparents, guardians and other adults grow in their appreciation of their role as disciples of Jesus Christ.

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