The Five Areas of Christian Practice

If we are going to try to find out about how students are investing in their calling as Christian students, and we want to work toward a more holistic picture of faith than just what students believe, where should we focus?

The Practicing Faith Survey asks students questions that focus on five different kinds of Christian practices and gives them feedback in each area. The goal is not to assess mastery (as if we could get a B+ for humility), but to find out about students’ investment. Are they actively engaged in growing in faith in these areas? This can help us to explore whether the school is supporting their growth in each area. Understanding the overall map can help schools to support students as they reflect on their survey results and to adjust their teaching approaches. The survey focuses on the following five areas of Christian practice.

  1. 1. Intellectual Practices

    Scripture calls us to love God with all our mind. Christian intellectual practices seek to disciple the mind and are directed at seeking the truth about God, the world, and ourselves. This is about more than believing the right things. It is about how our thinking (even our theological thinking) is shaped by love of truth or love of self, pride or humility, patience or haste. It may include, for instance:

    • seeking out mentors who can help us to think clearly and challenge our prejudices
    • finding and choosing to read material that helps us to understand our faith and how it relates to the world
    • working at tempering our impatience or defensiveness when we hear a perspective that challenges our own
    • practicing gratitude for opportunities to learn and for what we have learned
    • learning to give full, careful attention to the beauty, intricacy, or complex needs of the world
    • thinking about how something we just learned relates to Scripture or helps us understand and live our faith
    • learning to avoid impatient judgments and hasty conclusions
  2. 2. Relational Practices

    Loving our neighbor is a fundamental part of Christian faith—Jesus made it part of his summary of the law and the prophets. Christian relational practices focus on the wellbeing of others around us. This is more than being nice; it is about intentional choices to commit to the wellbeing of others. This may include:

    • looking out for fellow students who are struggling and coming alongside to support them
    • asking others how we can pray for them
    • intentionally including new people in our circle of friends
    • thanking and encouraging others around us (students, teachers, and other school staff)
    • taking time to listen to others
    • including new people in our circle of friends and looking out for those who are excluded
    • helping to build a community that is not only attuned to our own interests
  3. 3. Introspective Practices

    Christian practices are not just about making the right moves. They force us to confront our own hearts and allow light to be shed on our motivations. Christian learning is not just about learning the right things; it is about guarding our hearts. Practices that can help us grow in this area include:

    • focusing on moments when we experience joy or wonder as we learn, and not just those where we feel success
    • reflecting on opportunities to learn as a gift from God
    • asking ourselves what new knowledge or skills could help us serve others
    • confessing times when our motive for learning is pride or self-promotion
    • talking with others about why we are learning
  4. 4. Beneficent Practices

    As Jesus’ story about the merciful Samaritan suggests, being kind only to those in our immediate community falls short of Christian love. We are called to love strangers as well as neighbors, and to seek the wellbeing of the wider world. Practices that move us in this direction can include:

    • working together on service projects in and beyond our community
    • learning about and discussing the needs of other people and how we can help address them
    • praying for the needs of others beyond our own group
    • reflecting on how our faith should shape our political and civic involvement
    • actively seeking ways of contributing to the good of the wider community
    • learning about injustices and how they might provoke us to change
  5. 5. Formational Practices

    Cutting across all of the above areas is 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


None of us are maximally pursuing all these practices. Each of us will have some areas that seem to come more easily than others. But taken together they can offer us a map on which we can plot areas where we seem to be very invested already and areas where we might want to focus more attention. The Practicing Faith Survey provides a tool for helping students to explore this map.