This is the fifth 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? and Part 2: Today’s Context and Part 3: A New Ecosystem and Part 4: Nurturing Networks
Over the past several days I’ve outlined the history of Sunday Schools, the context of the world in which we find ourselves today (very much like the early Church), the emerging ecosystem which requires us to focus our energies in new directions as well as creative ways, and how technology has opened up opportunities for personalization and customization of program delivery. But tapping into technology to solve the concerns we have is not the answer. Hybrid networks and models may assist us in counteracting what some headlines proclaim, such as “Is the Sunday School Doomed?” but we shouldn’t put all our prayers into that basket.
The Sunday School is not doomed, but if we continue to develop our programs for children, youth, and adults on the pedagogy of the 19th and 20th century, we are dooming ourselves.
What IS working in formation today in our churches? Plenty.
WORSHIP. Congregations that have hope-filled, inclusive, and liturgies that respect all ages will form future generations, as well as those who are in the congregation – children, youth, adults, and elders. If worship is planned with integrity, proclaims the Gospel in terms that respects all and speaks to our daily lives, and allows all generations to fully participate Christian formation will happen. Speak to any child who participates in a chorister program – he or she knows the liturgy and learns about the faith tradition through the hymns taught and sung. Speak to any youth who have had the opportunity to preach. Speak to the adults who are challenged by the preaching. Speak to parents who feel welcome to have their children with them – it may be the one hour of the week that they are together without any pressure. “Youth Sunday” and “Family Sunday” is fine, but why can’t children and youth be integrated into the regular rota of those who read lessons, offer prayers, usher, and preach?
COMMUNICATION. Help your congregation find resources (online) that they can use in their daily life to learn more about their faith and keep connected to faith practices. Use your church’s website and weekly e-newsletter to share spiritual reflections, ways they can subscribe to a moment of prayer dropped into their inbox every morning, and ideas of how they can connect in their community to ways they can put their faith into action. Collaborate with other faith communities in your area and promote each others’ activities and events. Make technology work for you, not against you.
FAMILIES. Offer opportunities for families (that come in all shapes and sizes) to gather for a meal, conversation, and exploration on a regular basis. It doesn’t have to be every week: enough to build community and enough to give space to families who are overworked, overtired, and stretched. Provide materials (and how to use them) to parents and grandparents so that they can practice faith at home. It may be a prayer cube to assist in developing a practice of saying grace at meals. It may be a children’s bible to read together. Perhaps a few questions that correspond to the Sunday readings that can be discussed when driving around in the car between school, home, or sports. Help families learn about the seasons of the church year and how they can be celebrated at home. Gather as a church family to make Advent wreaths, Lenten calendars, collect canned good for the local food pantry, and plant community gardens.
BE OPEN. LISTEN. Continue to offer Christian formation programming for children, youth, and adults if your congregation can support it – not as a program from the past, but as a program of the future. Be creative with curricular resources. Let volunteers know that they don’t have to know the answers; the role of a volunteer teacher is to be a role model and a sharer of the Good News. We are the curriculum – by how we share our own faith story and love for Jesus. That will be remembered long past any prescribed lesson. Tell the Biblical story. And follow the storytelling with open-ended questions. Where are you in this story? What is God telling God’s people in this story? Listen to the responses before answering yourself. And follow this method with youth and adults, not just children. We don’t have to dumb-down Scripture to the lowest denominator and make it “fun;” the Biblical story has lasted for centuries because the stories have deep meaning for all time. Respect it. And respect the thoughts of the youngest among us – they can be the prophets in our own time.
BE BRAVE. There seems to be so much fear and scarcity in our churches today. We are afraid that our pews are empty and we can’t pay the bills on the upkeep of our old buildings. God is a God of abundance. We must be a People of the Story – it is a story of abundance and love. In a world that is hurting and plagued by violence and -isms, we can be the light. Be risky. Be faithful. Remember that our (really God’s) mission is to reconcile with one another and all of creation. We can give our children hope, our youth a safe place to be themselves, and a foundation for sending adults into the world to live out the Gospel in the workplace.