Make it Better – Guiding Moral Beacons

“You who live in the shelter of the Most High,
who abide in the shadow of the Almighty,
will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress;
my God, in whom I trust.”
Psalm 91:1-2


Once upon a time the church’s responsibility was to raise moral beacons in communities throughout the world.  In fact, Christian Formation in the early church was aimed at nurturing, producing and guiding young people and adults as they moved towards, what Methodists have termed “Christian Perfection.”  In other words, Christian Formation’s primary purpose was helping people discover a life grounded in the perfect love of God.  Augustine interpreted Jesus’ words as four forms of love:

1)    Temperance: Love giving itself entirely to that which is loved;

2)    Fortitude: Love bearing all things for the sake of that which is loved;

3)    Justice: Love serving only that which is loved;

4)    Prudence: Love distinguishing between what helps and what hinders love.[1]

However, this task did not come easily and was rather complex, time-consuming and required a great deal of participation from the entire community.  Training young people in the four forms of love was a task that began with the first and most fundamental investors in the process; the parents.  Not only was there value in the one-on-one relationship and coaching but, there was an expectation that parents would be the moral beacons for their children, living examples of faithfulness and virtue.  The early church had a system of Christian Formation that prioritized faith as a way of life rather than as an accessory to the good life.  Faith formation permeated their way of living and being and was ingrained in them from early childhood and nurtured through every stage of life.  So, what happened?  Why did faith formation go from the front seat – VIP priority in the lives of Christians to the back seat, if not the back of the pick-up in our virtual cultural American truck?  Now, we are lucky if any type of faith formation even sticks.

Some say the demise of Christian Formation began with the introduction of the first Sunday School in 1780 when Robert Raikes, a journalist and editor of an England paper started it as a social experiment to take care of the so-called “bad boys” who had been skipping out on church.  (LIFE Magazine, June 1941)  Sunday School has had its high moments and its low moments, however the current trend is low with little sign of recovery.  Some say it is because in the fruition of Sunday Schools, we released parents from the responsibility of Christian Spiritual Formation in the lives of their children.  It became easier to believe as a parent and say that, “I don’t know enough about church and God, I’ll just leave that to the ‘experts.’”  Now, as youth leaders, ministers and more, we are fighting an up-hill battle, trying to convince parents and other adults that their role and responsibility in the Spiritual Formation of their children is essential to the development of moral beacons for this world.

If identity of the human spirit is a fragile, yet beautiful gift from the Divine, then why have we relinquished this formation piece to a hope-filled, one-hour a week event that has rarely affected every other day of our lives?  As youth ministers, directors, volunteers and people who care about youth in general, our job is to gather the village and remind each person of their role in raising and nurturing these moral beacons in our world.

Step 1 – The first step is with YOU.  Do you believe that your role is important and valuable to the faith formation process of young people today?  Do you believe that by God’s grace and humility, you can be a part of this very important work?  Do you also believe that you cannot do this alone?  GOOD – now move on to step 2.

Step 2 – Gather the village.  Youth ministry cannot be a single person approach.  It takes every person in the village (IE: your church community) to nurture these young people in the faith.  Go back to the baptismal vows, study them and remind the people of God about the covenant they make to these children of God, both in their baptism and in their confirmation.

Step 3 – Gather the parents.  Encourage, equip and empower parents to lead by example.  Invite them to lead with confidence and nurture their children in the faith by modeling their own faith development and journey.  It’s OK if they don’t have all the answers, no one does.  However, it is NOT OK to relinquish their responsibility in the Christian Spiritual Formation of their children to the Sunday School teacher, youth leader or minister of the church.  Be their advocate!  Do all that you can to partner with parents and invite parents to pray with their children, study scripture with their children and even discuss the tough questions with their children, at every stage of their life (both parents and children.)

Step 4 – Be intentional in practicing the “Means of Grace.”  In the Methodist tradition we believe that there are means by which we can grow closer to God and learn to love and serve our neighbor.  These “Means of Grace,” invite us into a relationship with our Creator that is strengthened through daily practice and intentional habits.  (some of the Means of Grace are: Prayer, Communal Worship, Fasting, Bible Study, Communion, Visiting the Sick, Imprisoned, Serving the hungry, Clothing the Naked, and more.)

Step 5 – Pray, Pray, Pray…need I say more?

It is not a perfect process, however it leads to a “perfect” outcome.  When we grow in our relationship with God, then out of that faithfulness comes the good and right relationship with people all over our communities and our world.  Discover the gift of God’s perfect love!


By Amy Valdez Barker

PhD in Christian Education and Congregational Studies

Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary

[1] On the Morals of the Catholic Church 15-25

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