In keeping with its path through the Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations the Tennessee Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church should focus its 2010 meeting on "Intentional Faith Development." Bishop Robert Schnase, Missouri Area, in his book on the subject writes that intentional faith development is a lifelong practice. He points to the apostle Paul who wrote, "Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own" (Philippians 3:12).
Intentional faith development is also something that must happen in community, writes Schnase. "Growth in faith does not come easily or automatically, but requires placing our selves in community to learn the faith with others," he says. Today this regularly happens in Disciple Bible studies, Companions in Christ groups and other intentional small groups. The challenge is to continually share the journey with others, asking questions of Scripture and seeking the answers.
Schnase says that intentional faith development is essential for fruitful congregations because "most new members will not feel like they really belong to the church until they find meaningful connections in small groups beyond the worship experience." Then the congregation truly becomes a community in which one is missed when not present.
The early Methodist movement was a group of societies formed into classes and bands. These classes and bands checked in on each other and supported each other on the growth in faith. The General Rules for the societies remains part of the official law of the United Methodist Church to this day, albeit more as a testament to our history than actual rules for today.
Intentional faith development need not only take place in the church building. Small groups may meet in homes, restaurants, bars and coffee shops. "The more the church can do to accommodate, the better," Schanse says. The question is how best to reach the people in your community, and what topics are they most in need of having covered.
Lastly, to be successful with intentional faith development, leadership needs also to be intentional about their own development and preparation. No leader should be left alone or unrecognized. How are you recognizing the education leaders in your congregation? What groups are you a part of the intentionally focus on faith development?