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How Liturgy Forms Habits, and Habits Shape Faith

Human beings are "liturgical animals," says author and professor James K.A. Smith in an hour-long presentation at the 2014 Worship Symposium sponsored by the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, an organization devoted to renewing worship in church communities. Human beings, Smith continued, are trained what to love and desire by the practices they are immersed within. Liturgies, he said, are the practices that aim the heart. They are cultural practices that are not neutral, but teach one to love some version of the good life, some version of the kingdom. Hence, even secular cultural practices are liturgical. So, what is at stake in Christian liturgical formation is more serious than we typically think because we are proposing a rival version of the kingdom; we are engaged in "counter-formation." That's why we have to be very intentional about the practices we employ to shape people into the kingdom of God.

In Christian formation programs and in worship liturgy we are re-forming people's love of God. Recognizing that people are not coming to church from neutral, non-liturgical spaces, but from competing liturgies, worship practices call them out from those other forms of liturgical formation into the one that focuses on the Christian worldview. Listen to this stimulating exposition of the theme that we are formed by what we love, and we love what we are liturgically immersed in. That is important because before you can know what you ought to do, you have to know of what story you are a part. Liturgy is the enactment of a story that engages and shapes your imagination before it reaches the level of your intellect, and therefore liturgy - what you do — governs how you perceive yourself and the world before you even start to think about it. Clergy, then, need to know what habits and practices are shaping parishioners before they come to church - so that they can create an implicit pedagogy that can call them into "a new take on who we are, what we are for" in the world and in the imagination. For more on Christian formation, see the Practicing Our Faith website, and read our feature article, "Christian Education Programs Vital to Congregational Health." For help on understanding secular culture's liturgical practices, explore "Best Resources to Research Cultural Trends."

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