Thursday, August 23, 2007

Basics of Adult and Teen Faith Formation

Yesterday my wife, Pam, watched the Catholic daughters of our neighbor for a few hours. The night before, Pam and I had watched ONE NIGHT WITH THE KING, a very good and recent movie on the Biblical story of Esther. I suggested to the girls that they might like to watch the movie while they were over. After chasing our cat around the house for a while, the girls settled down, and Pam turned on the DVD and projector system.

During the movie the oldest (Age 13) asked a lot of questions. Pam, being well versed in Bible stories by her parents, and by the parenting of our own children in Evangelicalism, provided answers throughout the movie. She was surprised, however, at how little this catechised and first communion young lady knew about the Bible. (Pam later told me that two years ago the Director of Religious Education at our Catholic church gave a test to the 7th and 8th grade catechism students, that they all failed.)

Later, after the girls had returned home, their mother came over and asked Pam for a Bible so her 13-year old could read the story of Esther as Pam had suggested she do. Evidently, the only Bible in this Catholic home was a hard-to-read Orthodox edition. Pam came into my office and rummaged through my shelf of Bible translations and editions, and found one. But today, I think, we're going out to buy the girl and her sister a good teen Bible -- maybe even one in LEATHER.

During my devotions and prayers this morning, I was asking God for a way to communicate with the Church the results of the research I've begun on the BEST PRACTICES OF ADULT (and TEEN) FAITH FORMATION. It occured to me that there are some absolute (that's A.B.S.O.L.U.T.E.) basics of faith formation, that begin with having a Bible, and being very familiar with the stories in it.

I started listing in my prayer journal the basics (below). Please feel free to enhance and send suggestions for improvement on this list. These have numbers, but I'm not suggesting an order. While these are suggestions to individuals, they are also suggestions to church leadership (bishops, priests, DREs, and parents) to do things that, hopefully, cause these to occur.

1. Get a Bible and read it -- to yourself, to your kids, everyday, all the time, for the rest of your life. Get a LEATHER one with your name imprinted on the cover in gold leaf. Make sure the text is easy to read (type size) with lots of study helps inside. A concordance or small encyclopedia is REALLY necessary.

2. Get (give out as gifts) a Catechism of the Catholic Church, and use it in your Bible readings and studies.

3. Attend inspirational events, or create them and ensure that there is discussion and/or a talk by a captivating speaker in conjunction with these: Gospel music concerts, Biblical movies, field trips to spiritual destinations, praise and prayer meetings with both small and LARGE groups, Eucharistic adoration in an environment that is memorable (e.g. tents, candles and great music).

4. Attend (organize) Bible Studies for small and large groups. These need to be led by either someone close to the attendees (a parent), or an excited, captivating leader who is above reproach. PLEASE DO NOT APPOINT BIBLE STUDY LEADERS WHO MIGHT HAVE A DEGREE IN THEOLOGY, BUT ARE BORING. Desire to lead these groups, or a passion for the activity IS NOT ENOUGH. The facilitator MUST HAVE A GIFT OF LEADING AND FACILITATING. People will attend PRIMARILY because of their attraction to the leader. That is why we call them "leaders" -- because people naturally follow them. (A friend just told me that she may drop out of RCIA because the leader is BORING.)

5. For teens, participate in a Bible Quiz team, and beat the socks off the Evangelical Churches in your area. For adults, start and coach a Bible Quiz team from your church. If you have never heard of Bible Quizzing, learn. A god place to start is This was an important part of my upbringing, and one of the reasons that many Evangelicals know their faith better than Catholics.

6. Participate (create) small growth groups around interests and or callings (e.g. music, service, parenting, singles, business, work, sports). These are groups where small groups of people get together regularly to study, fellowship, pray, and, most importantly, are there to help each other during the week when trials or celebrations occur. EVERYONE in a parish should be assigned to a small group, whether or not they attend. In some churches small groups are assigned to a layperson who becomes the informal leader and instigator of prayers or events for the group. In some Evangelical Churches these people are called deacons and deaconesses (which are much different from the trained deacons in Catholicism.) Don't get hung up on the name. Call them something different. Just do it.

7. Start and maintain a prayer telephone chain (or email, or text messaging) for everyone in your small group, and by extension the entire parish. When someone needs prayer, the group leader is called, who becomes a gatekeeper, and the group is called to pray. These are VERY helpful to inculcating the Christ centered existence during the week.

8. Attend (organize) regular all-church one hour prayer meetings that include:
--- 1. Worship and adoration for 20 min.
--- 2. Prayer for personal and group needs for 20 min.
--- 3. Singing and praise for 20 min.

9. Hold family prayers EVERY NIGHT before bedtime. This is NOT a prayer just before a meal while the food gets cold. These should be led by the eldest, like a parent (if so inclined), and should include daily scripture reading, structured prayers, and spontaneous prayers about personal needs. Keep the length reasonable. My sister and I used to fall asleep as my parents prayed "around the world" -- and then we'd be reprimanded for falling asleep. God help us! (When you're an adult, one-hour in a solid block should be your goal, but we're discussing "basics" here, not advanced spirituality.)

10. Attend (organize) Sunday School classes EVERY SUNDAY, for the REST OF YOUR LIFE. Platoon with Mass. Sunday School classes may become the main meeting time for the small group, which can also meet occasionally for recreational events. (See my other post on Sunday Schools.)

My research is producing wonderful results. People are sending in great ideas, and I will continue to share these ideas in the coming months. Please keep the ideas coming, and even post them in the comments below. And please forward these posts to others. Talk this up. There's a lot of work to do -- by all of us -- the body of Christ.


  1. How about a particularly Catholic bible-related activity: Go to daily Mass with your family and talk about the daily Scripture readings from that? Or, read the daily Mass readings as a family and begin family prayer with intentions specifically related to that?

  2. Thank you for your emphasis about Sunday School Classes in every Parish Stan. I am a Catechists for 17 Nineth Graders. We are using Mark Link's 'Path through Catholicism'. What would you suggest for me, the Catechist, that will grab their attention, get them involved with feedback, instead of their look, of the lights are on but nobody is home. Something that will give them a piece of our Faith they can take with them from class that will allow them to build a good Catholic Foundation for their Confirmation next year.