Tag Archives: Church School teachers

2017 Curriculum Overview Charts

Every spring I update the curriculum overview charts that I’ve been doing for about fifteen years now. Not a whole lot has changed in the below charts (for children or youth) but I have noticed a few changes:

  • Most years price increases were typically 50¢ per leader guide, student booklet, or resource pack. In my checking for updates on what have become the “staples” on the list, I saw increases of $1.00 or even more. It is either getting much more expensive to publish curriculum (probably) and/or publishers are needing to increase prices to keep the “bottom line” stable with fewer people purchasing a range of products. (Just my personal observation.)
  • Almost all leader guides to curriculum are available as a download and those costs are often the same as the print.
  • There were fewer “new” curricular programs making a debut in the past year.

In looking at and using the below updated charts, I steer you back to some of my previous postings on choosing curriculum and processes for evaluating and planning educational programming: Continue reading 2017 Curriculum Overview Charts

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It’s Planning Season!

All the planning, implementation, and celebrations of Holy Week and Easter Sunday are now a joyful memory, and those of you working in a congregation have hopefully had a quiet week of reflection and rest. But there is no rest for the weary . . . it’s time to begin evaluating this past year and begin planning for the next program year.

A checklist for the coming weeks:

  • Collect feedback from volunteer leaders and teachers about what worked and what needs improvement. Plan how you will be recognizing and giving thanks to all those who have given their time and talents this past academic year.
  • Begin the discernment process for calling new teachers and volunteers for next year.
  • Evaluate the programs and the resources you have been using. Do they need tweaking or refreshment? Poll participants, including children and youth, about what they have found memorable and life-giving over the past nine months.
  • Gather a group of parents, teachers, and other leaders together to discuss the curricula you have been using. What has worked? What hasn’t?
  • From your evaluation processes, what will your goals be for next year?
  • Discern what curricula and program resources can support your goals with a team that represents the ministries and cohorts of your congregation.

Some tools to help in your discernment: Continue reading It’s Planning Season!

The Cost of Christian Education

Should churches charge a fee to have their child tend Church School?

What percentage of a church’s budget should go toward children and youth ministries?

When the budget gets cut, why is the Christian educator on staff the first to go?

Does your church pay its Sunday School teachers?

These are just a few of a myriad of questions that have recently been part of discussions on some Christian Education association list-servs. No matter the denomination (NAECED – Episcopal, APCE – Presbyterian, AUCE – United Church of Christ, CEF – United Methodist, or LACE – Lutheran), the common thread is that while Christian education and formation are valued, those that are called to this ministry are often given lip service when it comes time for the rubber to hit the road .  .  . the budget. What will it cost?

Yes, some traditions (the Roman Catholic Church for CCD classes which tend to be more formal and “required” and Synagogues for their formation programs of young people) charge tuition. And often their teachers are paid (or receive credit against their assessment / tithe to the church.)

But, what does this say about how we value volunteers, professionals who have credentials in the field, and the notion of passing on the faith from one generation to another?

I don’t have the statistics handy to prove my point. I do have plenty of anecdotal facts that show the importance of putting Christian formation at the top of the budget process. Churches who have “let go” of their Christian educator due to budget constraints hope that volunteers will take up the slack. Not. We are no longer living in the 50’s when “Mom the Volunteer” had all the time in the world while the kiddos where in school to bake brownies, attend the Women’s Auxiliary, and prepare craft projects for 30 first graders. Families are stretched and they have lots of choices. Including putting food on the table.

Countless churches have seen families with children drift away upon the release of the Christian educator. The behind the scenes personal touches, the planning and intentionality of the Christian Ed program wane. The stuff that a staff person does on Monday – Saturday (and perhaps a day off?), not including at least 4 hours on a Sunday goes unseen by many.  Families go in search somewhere else, they show up for Christmas and Easter, or they drop out completely.

The one that makes me scratch my head the most is paying folks to teach Sunday School. Putting an ad in the newspaper for someone to come teach on Sunday morning. Yes, they will show up (hopefully prepared). But are they part of your denomination? Do they KNOW what they are teaching about and believe it throughout their being? Are they part of your faith community and have an investment in building a relationship with those they share their OWN faith with? (Which is what I believe the job description of a Sunday School teacher should be.)

I’m going to take the liberty and share some of the comments from the list-servs that really bring it home:

  • Did Jesus pass the hat after passing around the loaves and fishes?
  • Did Jesus turn away anyone who could not “pay” for his teachings?
  • Do we want to pit funding for Outreach, Music, Worship, Fellowship and Education against each other? (Actually that is what happens in lots of churches. What would Jesus say to that?)
  • Do clergy charge for hospital visitations and pastoral calls?
  • Do we charge admission to worship?

Yes, education is costly. But without education, it is more costly. In today’s world, adults need to learn God’s Story just as much as the five-year-olds. Without investing in Christian formation, we will cost the Church a future.

Why Certification?

For numerous years, those who call the ministry of Christian formation and education as their vocation in the Episcopal Church have lamented the lack of equity and standards within our church. When the National Association for Episcopal Christian Education Directors (NAECED) was formed almost 15 years ago, one of its purposes for organizing was to develop standards for the certification of Christian educators. This past weekend I was privileged to attend a gathering of stakeholders (representing a variety of threads that have been working toward this goal) at Virginia Theological Seminary. I am beginning to have hope. 2017 Update: NAECED has now become Forma.

Our ecumenical partners have long recognized the importance of lifting up and acknowledging the ministry of Christian educators with certification. APCE (Presbyterian Church USA) and CEF (Christian Educators Fellowship of the United Methodist Church) have led the way. And while they have struggled to live into their levels of certification and continuing education requirements for those members who choose to follow this route, they have paved the way for us.

Why certification?

  • Validation and Credibility – Are educators valued as equals to other staff members in a congregation? Are their education and gifts accepted?
  • This is a Career Path chosen by many – Do we want future generations to find this a rewarding career in which one can earn a living?
  • Feeling isolated – Is there a system in which one can turn when searching for continuing education and support?
  • Variations across dioceses and polity – Can there be standards for pay and benefits commensurate with education and experience on a national scale?
  • Need for consciousness-raising – If the church truly thinks education is important, why doesn’t it treat educators with the same passion?

In 2009, General Convention endorsed the Charter for Lifelong Christian Formation. Theologically trained and experienced Christian educators can help the church live into this vision. Can the church help lift up the ministry of those who are ready to partner and make this vision a reality?

Statistics have shown that churches that focus on lifelong formation have more engaged communities than those that just focus on Sunday School for children.  In the Episcopal Church, is lifelong formation an agreed upon norm? Is discernment for lifelong committed Christians the norm?  In our post-Christian world, adults are coming to the church without any grounding in faith. For many churches, 6th grade (or Confirmation) is the graduation point; parents who are not formed in faith will not realize the validity of engaging their children into their searching and discerning years. We need to be focusing on discipleship. An “educated” educator in a congregation who has been mentored by respected leaders of the church will continue to grow and learn alongside his or her peers as well as those with whom they share ministry.

The conversation has just begun. But there is definite energy and momentum around a Certificate for Leadership for Lifelong Christian Formation. There is more work to do and many more conversations to be had.

2017 Update: Many certificate programs now exist through Forma. You can learn more about each here:

Lord, please let our small mustard seeds of daily service grow into great shrubs of change and trees in whose branches the birds can nest and in whose shade our children can rest and feel safe. Marian Wright Edelman

Is Formation Important to the Church?

Gleanings from Church Visitations

My travels take me to many dioceses in The Episcopal Church. In 2010 alone I’ve made presentations for the Episcopal Dioceses of Bethlehem, Rochester, Hawaii, North Carolina, Southwestern Virginia, Indianapolis, Chicago, and Pittsburgh, plus events in Texas, Tennessee, Minnesota and California. I’ll soon add Oregon and San Joaquin to the list this fall. Several themes and questions emerge from all these trips. I’ve also participated in ecumenical events and networks. The questions are the same, with perhaps a few tweaks in the responses:

  • Is Christian formation important in the [Episcopal] Church?
  • How does the [Episcopal] Church measure up when it comes to promoting life long Christian Formation in 2010?
  • What will the future of the Church be?
  • Are there mandates for guiding the Church in being more intentional about Christian education in the future?

Depending on who you speak with or what diocese or congregation you are in, the answers to all of the above range from “Yes” to “No” and “It is a high priority” to “It’s just given lip service.” Some congregations are innovative and provide engaging opportunities for growing in knowledge and the mission of Christ, while others still focus on education for children in a 1950s model of coloring and pasting, pizza and games for youth (if there are any), and passive adults who have never opened a Bible, let alone read it on their own. Some just choose to “entertain” because they feel it is the only way to grab folks’ attention. After all – we need to be fun! (Is that what Jesus calls us to do?)

Some denominations put more emphasis (read: staff and funding) in the area of support and resources. Despite budget cuts in all denominational and publishing areas, the ELCA still sets the bar in making education a priority. The Presbyterian Church is not far behind. And I would give kudos to the United Methodist Church. Something they have in common is their high regard for educators in their churches. They have standards for professional Christian educators and they make sure they are compensated and recognized for their expertise. They require continuing education – and then offer vehicles for obtaining the CEUs needed each year. As a denomination, the Episcopal Church continues to pass the buck, if there even is one for education.

Gone are the days when Mom stays home to take care of the kids and volunteer 40 hours at church for the Sunday School, Women’s Club, Altar Guild and Rummage Sale. Mom (or Dad) is lucky to have the time to volunteer an hour or two on Sunday mornings to teach or lead youth group (forget about the time to plan ahead). And the leadership in many churches fail to recognize that the paradigm has shifted about how we learn, what it takes to put a quality program that is holistic together, and the necessity to move away from the clerical model in which “Father knows best” (and I don’t mean Dad).

As Phyllis Tickle says in The Great Emergence, we are living in the midst of a new reformation. She quotes Bishop Mark Dyer as saying every 500 years the church has a rummage sale, and now is the time for us to clean out what’s been laying around. What do we need to get rid of? What do we need to re-energize and invigorate. What do we need to do that is authentic, creating a new paradigm?

At the 2009 General Convention, the Episcopal Church endorsed two resolutions that did not get much publicity after the initial press releases. For many, they were resolutions supporting what we thought we already believed in. For others, it was a celebration of a time long in coming, when mission and formation were at the center of who we are as a Church. Fourteen months later, I wonder how many leaders (bishops, priests, deacons and laity) remember these statements?

The Charter for Lifelong Christian Formation and Education

This is an intentional opportunity for the entire Church to engage in conversation about how God invites, inspires and transforms us through education, liturgy, service and mission.  Read more here.

Five Marks of Mission

Adopted throughout the Anglican Communion, these are areas we are called to live out in our teaching, practice, and everyday living.

  1. To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom
  2. To teach, baptize and nurture new believers
  3. To respond to human need by loving service
  4. To seek to transform unjust structures of society
  5. To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth

One of the events I participated in this summer was a “symposium” sponsored by Episcopal Divinity School. I have a previous post about this event sharing what trends this group of educators saw in the Church. Another area of energy focused on the needs of Christian educators. This list was long, and frankly, depressing. Educators have a passion for their work and ministry and continue to soldier on, despite oft-times being powerless in a clerical system, marginalized in leadership settings and structures, and asked to do more with less.

All of this has been reinforced in my travels this year. Listening to the volunteer and paid Christian educators it is obvious they are committed to this ministry. They seek resources and connections. They desire more communication from their “national” church staff. They desire more support from bishops and other judicatory leaders as well as their congregational pastors and governing boards. They desire seminaries to offer courses for laypersons as well as practical tools for ministry to those who aspire to ordination. And it’s not all about money. It’s about respect and collegiality.

If the Church is to have a future, we need to focus on the mission of Jesus Christ. We need to understand what it means to be formed in the image of God. We need to create safe communities for conversations on difficult issues. And if we support educators by offering local training, resources, support and validation we will be able to help all ages articulate their faith in a multi-cultural, post-post-modern world. Living out documents like the Charter for Lifelong Christian Formation and the Five Marks of Mission will be central foci for what we are to be about.

I’m probably preaching to the choir here.

  • Any ideas how we can move forward?
  • How are you supported (or not) in your formational ministries?
  • Your thoughts?