“What does it mean for us to be vital today?”
That’s the question many of us in the church are asking. Churches don’t look like what they did when we were kids. The PC(USA) is asking this question as a whole and has charged congregations with pledging to live the gospel. Our denomination calls this living out Matthew 25, and part of the Matthew 25 campaign is building “Congregational Vitality.”
The Office of Vital Congregations (OVC) within the Presbyterian Mission Agency has laid out 7 marks of vital congregations, and I’ll be sharing a bit about each one each month as we continue to look at the saints and heroes of the church. The first is LIFELONG discipleship formation versus complacent “Christian” piety, simply teaching good morals, or offering the latest programs. Let’s take Dietrich Bonhoeffer as an example!
Bonhoeffer was born in 1906 in Breslau, Germany. He grew up in an elite German family, with extravagant parties and frequent trips to the family’s country cottage. When he was merely 12 years old, he knew he was called to a life of ministry. It took him many years of education and many encounters with those of different backgrounds to mature in his faith. As Hitler was rising into power, he was reconciling his faith with all of the injustice around him. Eventually, he helped form the Confessing Church, which sought to oppose Nazi Germany. He is most notable for his involvement in an attempt to assassinate Hitler, which ultimately led to his imprisonment and execution.
Bonhoeffer left us with a legacy of the importance of Christian community and Christian formation–having led an underground seminary during Hitler’s reign. Lifelong discipleship formation starts at the cradle and leads to the grave, seeking to be formed for right living with God and with all people.
What is faith? It’s seeking understanding, cultivating wisdom, and actively following Christ. OVC writes, “It is not an extracurricular activity nor merely head-knowledge.” The OVC defines discipleship as being “awakened and engaged in issues facing today’s culture: injustice, inequality, divisive segregation, oppression, suffering, abuse of creation. Discipleship formed and strengthened in the community of Christ permeates daily practices and daily living.”
Bonhoeffer speaks to us today. As the church, we are called to equip and empower all people to interpret faith in daily life. We are to engage in–not hide from–difficult conversations in society (i.e., sexism, racism, classism, ageism, and all other “isms” that divide).
How can we grow as a church so that Lifelong Discipleship Formation takes root? What would need to change in our communal life? Our home life? Our daily life? How can this community help nurture and equip you for lifelong discipleship?
Peace be with you,