God Is a Hand-Crafter, Not a Mass-Producer

I’ve posted elsewhere about the influence John Roberto’s Faith Formation 2020 has had on my approach to faith development and spiritual growth. Two of his strategies of his sixteen strategies for addressing people’s spiritual and religious needs in the 21st century are at the center of my personal ministry:

  • Transforming the World: Engagement in and Formation for Service and Mission
  • Spiritual Formation (including Faith Formation for Spiritual Seekers).

There are other parts of Roberto’s work that have shaped my thinking, too. Like his thoughts on forming a Lifelong Faith Formation Network [PDF].

Twenty-first century faith formation will look and feel and operate as a network. It will no longer resemble the linear, one-size fits all model of the industrial age. As a network, a congregation’s faith formation will provide a diversity of religious context and experiences for all ages and generations, for a diversity of religious and spiritual needs, 24x7x365, in face-to-face and virtual settings.

It’s a pretty impressive vision. And the part that sticks out for me the most is this: “It will customize and personalize faith formation around the life tasks and issues, interests, and religious and spiritual needs of people of all ages.”

Customize and personalize. I like the sound of that. Roberto’s even got a handy little phrase that sums it up nicely: “differentiated faith formation.”

© Navarone | Dreamstime.com - Egyptian Craftsman Making Pots PhotoThis concept was reinforced for me by John Ortberg, senior pastor at Menlo Park Presbyterian Church. In an article from Christianity Today’s Leadership Journal called “Your Spiritual Growth Plan,” Ortberg says, “Many approaches to spiritual growth assume the same methods will produce the same growth in different people—but they don’t.”

Why? Because “God never grows two people the exact same way. God is a hand-crafter, not a mass-producer.”

Sounds like the beginnings of a theological basis for “differentiated faith formation.”

And I totally agree with where Ortberg takes this.

“If you’re looking for a conversation stopper, try asking people this question: How are your spiritual disciplines going?”

So here’s an alternative question: What do you do that makes you feel fully alive?

Everybody knows what it’s like to feel fully alive, and everybody longs for that.

Maybe you feel alive when taking a long walk at sunset.

Maybe it’s reading a great book and taking time to savor its thoughts and language.

Maybe it’s having a talk with lots of laughter in front of a fire with a few close friends.

Maybe it’s watching a movie or a play that causes you to say yes to life.

Maybe it’s taking a long drive.

Maybe you love to play an instrument.

Maybe you come alive when you’re pursuing a hobby.

Ortberg sums it up with this: “A spiritual discipline is simply an activity you engage in to be made more fully alive by the Spirit of Life.”

I think that’s a definition of spiritual discipline that even a Unitarian Universalist could love.

“If we really want to help someone flourish,” he says, “we have to help them in a way that fits their uniqueness.”

Sounds like “differentiated faith formation” to me.


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