Formational Practices cut across (and therefore overlap with) all of the other areas of practice. Rather than emphasizing a particular area of application (the life of the mind, our neighbor, our inner motives, or the needs of the wider world), formational practices focus on ways in which we are intentionally investing in our own growth in faith. They are ways in which we directly seek to cooperate with God in our faith formation, and they include common devotional practices. The Practicing Faith Survey defines them as follows:
“The need to be invested in our own growth, to trust God’s grace at work in us and at the same time to “work out our salvation.” We can cooperate with God’s work in us and mature in our faith by:
- reading Scripture with attentiveness to how it can shape our life in school
- seeking out resources (books, sermons, podcasts, etc.) that can help us to mature in our faith
- praying about our work, our relationships, and our community
- seeking out interaction with peers and mentors that focuses on how we can grow
- sharing our struggles with others, confessing and forgiving
- identifying specific ways in which we fall short and seeking change”
We all need to work on some areas more than others. We might invest in our own formation in large, systematic ways (such as adopting a regular prayer practice or Bible-reading plan) or in very simple, immediate ways (like the student with whom we spoke who had decided to intentionally sit closer to the front of class because it seemed to help her begin to pay more respectful attention to her teachers.)
Many basic devotional practices are intended to shape our spiritual growth as we connect to God and the community of faith. Many of our students may be encouraged at church or at home to develop formational practices such as Scripture reading, prayer and seeking mentorship. But our students may not be familiar with the idea of Christian formation or have connected it to their learning at school.
This was brought home to a school principal and her staff who participated in a Cardus research project. They had all assumed that habits of Christian practice at home reinforced the faith formation occurring at school, in particular the integration of worship, prayer and devotions into teaching and learning. The research revealed that the way students and their families lived out Christian life at home was quite different to what they had always assumed. Many of their students were not from families who regularly attended church anymore. The principal used the research data to talk about this with her staff team. They decided that as well as focusing on curriculum content they needed to pay attention to creating opportunities for students to participate in liturgy and formational Christian practices within the classroom, and beyond it in the life of the school.
In the following examples teachers have woven formational practices into their classroom teaching:
What if studying a novel included looking at faith journeys?
What if students reflected on the connections between their physical and spiritual health?
Review these examples on your own or, even better, with a colleague. Make a list of the strategies teachers used to engage students in:
- Thinking intentionally about how faith grows and changes.
- Identifying practices that could lead to growth.
- Intentionally pursuing faith development by seeking resources.
Consider how these practices could be incorporated into lessons or units of work you already teach. You will find many more examples and specific teaching activities at the links below:
Teachfastly.com in particular the activities that directly engage Scripture or on prompting a personally committed response to learning.
Whatiflearning.com, especially the activities that focus on commitment.