Christian Formation in a Changing Church: Part 2

This is the second part of a series of posts stemming from a presentation I did at the 3rd Annual “Spring Training for God’s Mission” Day 2015 for the Episcopal Church in Connecticut, March 21, 2015. Read Part 1: How Did We Get Here?

Part Two: 21st-century-classroom-2cbd20d Today’s Context

While trying to make Sunday School “fun,” we’ve lost many who did not make the connection from the games and craft projects to becoming a disciple of Jesus 24/7/365. What was once seen a sporadic attendance at worship and education offerings is now considered “regular attendance” (once or twice a month). Christian Smith, in his longitudinal studies explored in Soul Searching and Souls in Transition, describes the theology of today’s young adults (and I would theorize many adults and high schoolers) as Moral Therapeutic Deism.

  • God exists, created the world, and watches over the earth.
  • God wants people to be good and nice to others.
  • The central goal of life is to be happy.
  • The only time God needs to be personally involved in one’s life is when one has a problem needing to be resolved.
  • Good people go to heaven when they die.

As I explained these attributes, one participant in the workshop commented, pointing to a handmade poster hanging on the classroom wall that pictured a large red heart with the words, “Be kind to each other.” It was right in front of us in a Middle School classroom in Meriden, Connecticut. Read more: Moral Therapeutic Deism

childrenchurchWhat does this mean for us in our churches today, including the programming offered, including Christian formation, Sunday School, youth group, and adult study. Let’s move away from the “Aesop Fable-ization” of the Bible. Let’s stop segregating the generations, including worship which should be meaningful for all. Let’s help parents be THE spiritual nurturers of their children. It is the Church’s job to equip parents in their role, and acknowledge there is a whole generation of parents who were probably not raised in the church and are looking to us for assistance. Can we teach our youth to “speak Christian” (which Kenda Creasy Dean calls the meta-narrative in Almost Christian). Can we honor the theological voices of our children and youth by respecting their relationship with God and not dumb-down the biblical message? One method (for any age) can be experienced in Godly Play. Let’s do church “with” our children, youth, and adults – not “for” them. Practice being hopeful. If we can’t offer hope as Christians, we aren’t following Jesus. It’s not easy to live a life embodied with the mantra: “Love God. Live in the Way of Jesus.”

Knowing your kids and figuring out how to help them understand a Bible story in light of their particular context of culture, personal story, and age-appropriateness is not something that can be done in twenty minutes of preparation on a Sunday morning. Most of today’s curriculum is designed for linear thinkers, and the current two generations – millennials (1982-2003) and futuristic adaptives (Generation Z 2003-beyond) – are not linear thinkers. Our childen, youth, and young adults are being taught very differently in this era of Post-Modernity. View this 2010 video from New Brunswick, Canada. Keep in mind your church, programming, and members (adults, children, and youth). Substitute: education = formation; learning = discipleship; students = Christians.

We know what we are doing isn’t working. Just yesterday (March 22, 2015), USA Today posted an article, “Has the Sun Set on Sunday School?” What do we need?

  • Imagination
  • Collaboration
  • Innovation
  • Partnership

We need to focus on ministry “with” and “for” instead of “to.” What if we embraced the meaning of diakonia as in the Early Church? What if we were out in the community acting like what we believe as Christians can really make a difference in the world? Ivy Beckwith, team leader of the United Church of Christ’s faith formation team suggests we focus on safety, mission, and identity. How can we practice “four acts of love” that are born out of reasons why many people no longer go to church. None of these are tied to any program: (1) radical hospitality; (2) genuine humility; (3) fearless conversation; and (4) divine anticipation). Listen to Ivy here, and check out her recent book, written with Dave Csinos: Children’s Ministry in the Way of Jesus.

Some questions to ponder:

  1. How do your educational ministries help others discover the Way of Jesus and incorporate faith practices and the biblical story into daily life?
  2. How are we using technology in our ministry, knowing that we are “connected” at home, school, and work and our children (and many of us) are immersed and learn via these tools?
  3. How can you “flip the classroom” and provide leadership that guides and empowers others to collaborate and learn on their own, discovering their own gifts for ministry as well as falling in love with God?

Tomorrow’s post: Part Three: A New Ecosystem

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