Faith formation is an important part of a church’s ministry. This is the first in a series of articles with suggestions for how to encourage faith nurture in your worship and in your congregation. One denomination, the Christian Reformed Church, is celebrating a year of focus on faith formation.
The following readings have been adapted from those in Reformed Worship 57, pp. 3-13.
Many congregations celebrate Advent by using an Advent wreath to help worshipers focus on the coming of the Messiah. Each Sunday someone lights another candle on the wreath and leads the congregation in an appropriate reading and prayer. On Christmas morning the Christ candle in the center of the circle is lit, signifying that the time of waiting is over.
This Advent candle ceremony provides a good opportunity to nurture faith in members of your congregation. For example, you may ask members of your church community to share stories showing how God is working in their lives during the lighting of the Advent candles.
Listening to each other’s faith stories is an important aspect of faith formation. It gives us a chance to learn how to express thoughts and ideas that are not yet fully formed. As Tom Long writes in his book Testimony: Talking Ourselves into Being: “In church we are given words and ways of living that we would never dream of otherwise, not just church words and ways of living, but words and ways of living that shape our pilgrimage everyday and in every place” (Jossey- Bass, 2004, p. 32).
For Advent this year, we chose the themes of Hope, Joy, Love, and Peace. In addition to the readings and prayers, we have included a time for a member of the congregation to give a testimony that relates to these themes. (Sample testimonies are included to show the types of stories you could use.) These testimonies can serve as a model for families or small groups so that during the week they can have a similar time of sharing.
The “Take It Home” section can be printed in the bulletin or handed to members as they leave the worship service. Encourage people to read it for mealtime devotions, before bed, or any other time their family or small group gathers. “Take It Home” includes a Bible reading that connects to that week’s theme, as well as a time for sharing personal stories. Additional Bible readings are provided so members of the congregation can reflect on the theme throughout the week.
By linking the lighting of the Advent candle to faith storiesfrom the Bible and from your congregation, the seasonof waiting for the coming of Jesus becomes more personal.Together we can share our faith walk with our friends, ourfellow believers, and with the children who need to hearthe stories of faith.
First Week of Advent: Hope
Today we light the first Advent candle, the candle of hope. We look forward to the coming of Jesus, who is our hope now and forever. “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope” (1 Peter 1:3). In this hope we look forward to celebrating Jesus’ birth on Christmas, and we look forward to Jesus’ coming again.
Dear God, as we light this candle, we pray that you will shine the light of your hope into our hearts and into our world. Amen.
Ask a member of your congregation to talk about a time when he or she faced a particularly difficult time but through God’s grace was able to have hope.
Ann has been a church member all her life. She has a husband and two grown sons. Soon after her return from a twoweek mission trip, her husband sat down with her and told her that he didn’t love her anymore and wanted to move out. Ann was devastated. In the weeks since this happened she has experienced intense feelings of betrayal and loss. But she says she has also felt the real presence of God upholding her through this time. As she struggles with the hurt, she has hope because she knows that God is beside her.
Take It Home
Read the story of Abraham and Sarah in Genesis 15:1-6 and 21:1-3. This is a story of hope. God promises a son to Abraham and Sarah. Even though it took a long time for their son to be born, God kept his promise. Share a time when you have experienced God’s hope, perhaps in a time of difficulty.
Exodus 17:1-7; Numbers 21: 4-9; Luke 2:25-32
Second Week of Advent: Joy
Today we light the candle of joy. In Luke 2:10 the angel told the shepherds, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ, the Lord.” Jesus’ birth brings us great joy.
Dear God, give us joy in our hearts, now and forever. Helpus to tell other people about this joy too. Amen.
Ask a member of your congregation to talk about the joy of knowing that he or she belongs to God. Some members will have a conversion story to tell; others will tell of being raised in the church and at some point claiming that faith as their own. (While “Damascus Road” stories are inspiring, don’t overlook someone who has a less exciting story of coming to know the Lord. Using ordinary conversion stories will encourage members to share their stories at home.)
Brandon doesn’t remember a time when he didn’t love the Lord. When he was in high school he started thinking more about God and what it means to live for Jesus. Through spending time on retreats with friends and talking to youth leaders and other adults, Brandon came to realize that the faith that he grew up with was actually his faith too. As an adult, he continues to learn about God and he looks back with joy at the time in high school when his faith became real and personal.
Take It Home
Read Acts 8:26-40, the story of Philip and the Ethiopian. Share the story of how you came to know Jesus as your Lord and Savior or of a time when you experienced great joy.
Acts 9:1-19; 1 Samuel 1:1-20; Luke 1:1-25
Third Week of Advent: Love
Today we light the candle of love. In 1 John 4:7 we read, “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.”
Dear God, we love you because we know that you loved us first. As we light this candle, help us love to each other and tell others about the love of Jesus. Amen.
Ask a member of the congregation to talk about a time of experiencing the love of God through the ministry of other people.
Kristen is a young single adult who recently moved from her home to a new city where she took up a position as a high school teacher. After attending a church for a few weeks, a young family asked her to sit with them for worship, and then asked her to come to their house for dinner. This happened every week. This simple act of ministry made a real difference in Kristen’s life. She knew she would not have to sit in church alone and she knew that she had a place in the church’s fellowship. She felt Christ’slove through the faith community.
Take It Home
Read Genesis 33:1-17, the story of Jacob’s return to Esau and the gracious spirit in which Esau received him. Share a time when the love of Christ was shown to you through the ministry of others.
Ruth 4:1-12; 1 Samuel 20; 2 Samuel 9
Fourth Week of Advent: Peace
Today we light the candle of peace. Only Jesus, who came to earth to be our Prince of Peace, can give us peace. In Philippians 4 Paul wrote, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”
Dear God, help us to know how close you are to us all the time, and help us to show you and your peace to other people. Amen.
Ask a member of the congregation to talk about his or her desire for peace. Is there some place in the world, the city, or in life for which he or she especially longs for peace?
Frank, a police officer, spoke about his desire for peace in the church neighborhood. Last summer an increase of violence and unrest in the neighborhood raised the congregation’s concern for the people who live in the area. Frank asked for prayers for the city and for the police officers as they try to keep the peace.
Take It Home
Read John 14:15-27, the passage in which Jesus promises the Holy Spirit. Share your desire for peace in the world, whether a large conflict (such as the war in Iraq) or something much smaller (such as people in your workplace or at school who do not get along.)
Mark 4:35-41; 2 Chronicles 30:1-20