Formational Reading of Scripture: Introducing it to a Congregation

Slow Walking Series

Last week we reflected on the reorientation of Scripture study as part of a faith formation process. Such a reorientation entails less focus on information and learning what Christians believe and a much greater focus on hearing and reflecting on the Word of God and exploring the questions about Jesus, faith, and the church that seekers and catechumens pose. This type of reading and exploration of Scripture is formational reading of Scripture. As the book Understanding Faith Formation indicates, formational reading transforms the reader by the influence of the Word of God mediated through the lived encounter with the text by the power of the Holy Spirit (94). One method of formational reading that we explored last week was the African Bible Study method, which seeks reflection that intersects the text with the life of the hearer.

As part of the general approach of the catechumenate for forming disciples who live by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, formational reading aims to transform the lives of those encountering Christ in the church’s life. Formational reading is described by Understanding Faith Formation in the following ways:

  • The objective is not to cover as much material as possible
  • Formational reading is deep
  • Allows the text to master the reader
  • The reader is shaped by the text
  • Forms a humble, receptive approach to the Scriptures
  • Expects an openness to mystery (especially of God) as encountered in the text (95-96)

How might you establish such a formational reading of the Scriptures in a congregation unfamiliar with such an approach? Why is it important to establish this approach for the sake of a vibrant catechumenate? Since—as we have explored in previous blog posts—n the catechumenate the parish is the curriculum, this formational reading format needs to be at home in the congregation if it is to be experienced by seekers and catechumens as a living expression of the congregation’s faith life. One of the results of the catechumenate is that it builds community and incorporates newcomers into that community. For formational reading of the Scriptures to be part of the incorporation of newcomers it needs to have a formative place in building the community’s life. As an expression of the community’s life it is normally lay led with both trained catechists and sponsors participating in the leadership of formational Bible study. Lay catechists and sponsors first need to be formed themselves by this formational approach to reading the Scriptures.

So what might be the process for establishing such a formational approach to reading the Scriptures? It would be best to have this approach firmly embedded in congregational life prior to the start of a catechumenal process. To embed this approach start with small groups in the congregation. Familiarizing the leadership of the congregation with formational reading would be critical. Consider using formational reading with the board of elders or the church council and the leadership team of the congregation. Following upon an introduction to congregational leadership, formational Bible study could be used in one of the Sunday morning Bible studies. If there is a small group Bible study ministry in the congregation, this approach could be introduced to one or more of those weekly/monthly small group studies. Once formational reading has permeated the congregation’s experience with Scripture, then the pastor can begin training laity with exposure to this approach to serve as catechists for the weekly study of Scripture in the catechumenate. Establishing such a formational reading approach to encountering the Word of God will lead the explorers and catechumens  to fall “in love with the Scriptures” and making it a daily part of their contemplation of and encounter with Christ (Macalintal, Your Parish is the Curriculum, 75).