Nurturing/ Teaching Courses
Spiritual Formation Institute
Role of Education and Discipleship in Spiritual Formation
Dr Alex Tang
Educational activities in Christian faith communities and discipleship are
the means in which the dynamic processes are harness for holistic Christian
spiritual formation. Educational activities and discipleship provides the
framework of the matrix for the dynamic processes to work.
All educational activities in Christian faith communities should recognize that
everyone is different and has different learning styles (LeFever 2004). Adult
learning is different from the way a child learns (Vella 1995; Vella,
Berardinelli et al. 1998; Knowles, F.Holton III et al. 2005). This form of
learning recognizes the different developmental stage theories. Activities
planned for children should be different than those for adults. Even adult
learning activities should be customised. Educational activities in Christian
faith communities also recognizes that all learning is life-long.
Johnson identified the education process as,
First we must decide to become Christian. Next we must submit ourselves to
prolonged instruction and initiation. We must give ourselves over to the Story,
begin to participate in it; only then do we really begin to understand! Credo ut
intelligam: I participate fully in order that I might understand.” (Johnson
Educator Thomas Groome has a similar approach in his “Shared Praxis” which has
as its components: (1) present action, (2) critical reflection, (3) dialogue,
(4) the Christian story, and (5) the Vision. (Groome 1980,207-208). Concerning
vision as the final component, Groome writes, “ I intend the metaphor Vision to
be a comprehensive representation of the lived response which the Christian
Story invites and of the promise God makes in that Story.”(Groome 1980,193).
Both Johnson and Groome envisage the role of learning is to incorporate the
learner’s own story into the Christian story.
Religious educator Andrew Grannell queries about the need of having formative
activities such as education and discipleship if transformation is by the Holy
Spirit (1985). His query arises out of a revolution in educational theorising
brought on by Fowler’s “Stages of Life” and Loder’s “Transforming Moments.”
Fowler’s faith development theory fits in with formation. Though Johnson rejects
faith development theories, her formative schema is based on some staging or
growth structure (1989). Loder’s transforming moment fits in with Groome’s
I believe that the issue about formation and transformation can be reconciled by
understanding the way Johnson and Groome understand time. Johnson approaches
learning in linear (kronos) time while Groome’s emphasis is kairos time. (Groome
1980, 5-17). It will be different to compartmentalise learning into past,
present, and future learning in a linear fashion. The only linear aspect of our
lives is our chronological age. Groome is correct in placing learning in the
present. For him, present means “present of things present, the present of
things past, and the present of things future.” (Groome 1980, 5-17, 185;
Augustine 1963, 219). This is important because though we must not forget the
past nor ignore the future, learning belongs solidly in the present. Formation
activities are linear (chronos) but are punctuated by transformation events (kairos).
Both are necessary because formation activities produce the context for
transformation to occur. This is what Grannell called a “paradox” for both
continuing formation activities and instantaneous transformational moments are
essential to spiritual formation (Grannell 1985,397-398).
Educational activities in Christian faith communities is not just classroom or
seminar based but learning that takes place in communities of faith that meet
regularly for the studying of the bible, for sharing, mentoring, modelling,
hospitality, crises management, and reflection. It involves full participation
of all members.
This type of learning is full commitment, full involvement and “getting our
hands dirty” type of learning. It is also involve opening our eyes to the wider
perspective of the Christian Story. It also happens during crisis and other
events when Loder’s transforming moment occurs (Loder 1989).
Discipleship training and discipling should be conducted concurrently with other
educational activities in Christian faith communities. Discipling, as is shown
by Collinson involves smaller groups of people and its curriculum is more
focused on disciple making (Collinson 2004). Frequently as Hull has done, it is
for a limited period of time until a certain learning objective is achieved
Both educational activities and discipling will be the venues where the dynamic
process elements of story telling, heart commitment, incarnational living,
liturgical worship, community oneness, and transformational learning are taught,
reflected upon, contextualise, and incorporate into the Christian formation of
individuals and Christian faith communities.
Augustine (1963). The Confessions of Saint Augustine. Norwalk, CN, The Easton
Augustine, S. (1997). The Confessions. London, Hodder & Stoughton.
Collinson, S. W. (2004). Making Disciples: The Significance of Jesus'
Educational Methods for Today's Church. Carlisle, Cumbria, Paternoster Press.
Fowler, J. W. (1995). Stages of Faith: The Psychology of Human Development and
the Quest for Meaning. New York, HarperCollins.
Grannell, A. (1985). "The Paradox of Formation and Transformation." Religious
Education 80(3): 384-397.
Groome, T. H. (1980). Christian Religious Education: Sharing Our Story and
Vision. San Francisco, CA, Jossey-Bass.
Hull, B. (2006). The Complete Book of Discipleship: On being and making
followers of Christ. Colorado Springs, CO, NavPress.
Johnson, S. (1989). Christian Spiritual Formation in the Church and Classroom.
Nashville, TN, Abingdon Press.
Knowles, M. S., E. F.Holton III, et al. (2005). The Adult Learner: The
Definitive Classic in Adult Education and Human Resource Development. London,
LeFever, M. D. (2004). Learning Styles: Reaching Everyone God Gave You to Teach.
Eastbourne, England, NexGen.
Loder, J. E. (1989). The Transforming Moment. Colorado Springs, Helmers and
Moltmann (1995). The Coming of God: Christian Eschatology. Minneapolis,
Saunders, S. (2002). ""Learning"; Eschatology and Spiritual Formation in New
Testament Christianity." Interpretation 56(2): 155-167.
Vella, J. (1995). Training Through Dialogue: Promoting Effective Learning and
Change with Adults. San Francisco, Jossey-Bass.
Vella, J., P. Berardinelli, et al. (1998). How do They Know They Know? :
Evaluating Adult Learning. San Francisco, Jossey-Bass Publishers.
Ware, B. K. (2000). The Inner Kingdom. New York, St Vladimir's Seminary Press.
posted 8 March 2008