Tag Archives: Sunday School

The Curriculum Challenge = The Sunday School Challenge?

var73Many of you know that every 18-months or so I conduct a curriculum survey. I began the practice during my tenure as Children’s Ministries & Christian Education Coordinator in the Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut as a means to determine what curricula was being used in congregations in the diocese as well as learn what needs churches and their leadership had that I might be able to offer assistance. When I was called to a new position as Christian Formation Specialist for Church Publishing in 2007, I continued the practice, only offering it church-wide and across denominations.

Perhaps more than anything else, I’m known for the curriculum charts I produce every Spring that gives an overview of a growing list of curricular resources: their theology, publisher, content, format, cost, age-level, and more – all in a handy-dandy multi-page chart. Now my survey results are also looked at with interest. They aren’t scientific, and any true statistician would find all sorts of flaws in my process. But I believe over the years I can see trends. And I hear from real people with real joys, concerns, and questions.

About six months ago I was contacted by Christian Century (the only print magazine I now subscribe to). They were interested in an article about what types of curriculum are being used in mainline churches today. They were interested in what their editorial board were surmising was a greater interest in Godly Play. Would I be able to write a piece? Wow. What an honor.

So, many drafts and edits later, my article has appeared in the February 19, 2014 issue of The Christian Century. I knew it would be coming out soon, but didn’t quite know when. Until I got my bi-weekly e-mail of the issue via e-mail yesterday, listing all the articles. Volume 131, No. 4 is entitled, “Theologians in Residence.”

Read my article:

What Reaches Children? The Sunday School Challenge.

I didn’t choose the title, but perhaps it does speak to the issue facing our church today. I invite your to post your responses on the space offered on The Christian Centuries website / Facebook page and join in the conversation!

The Episcopal Christian Educator’s Handbook

CEHandbookIt’s been years in the making as I’ve been culling through file folders full of handouts, worksheets, lists, and post-it notes. Coming early November, my latest book, “The Episcopal Christian Educator’s Handbook” should be arriving in Cokesbury’s warehouse and hopefully in Amazon’s stockpile (but one never knows with Amazon).

It was fun to assemble and quite a challenge to determine what to include and what to leave out. Trying to make it ‘light’ but informative and useful, as well as categorized in a way that would make sense to a volunteer Christian educator, I had to lay out the page titles on my dining room table before submitting my final draft for publication. Continue reading The Episcopal Christian Educator’s Handbook

Children in Worship: It’s More than Having Coloring Sheets

Some excellent ideas from a Presbyterian pastor on how to make worship more inclusive for children (and adults). A comment in a response to her article really struck me, “The one thing I would be very cautious about is the language that is used for why children are not in the sanctuary during the sermon. For the past 50 years or so we have been telling children they can’t be in worship because the sermon is “boring”, or other such language that says they won’t enjoy it. Then they get into middle school or high school and suddenly we think they are going to magically enjoy being in worship. But they’ve been told for the past twelve or more years that they won’t enjoy it, they won’t have fun, they won’t learn anything, that they will be bored. And then we wonder why we lose them.”

Read Theresa Cho’s whole posting from her blog, “Still Waters” here: Children in Worship: It’s More than Having Coloring Sheets.

Christian Formation is an Art, not a Science

This past week all (fill in the blank) seems to have broken loose with the release of the proposed triennial (2013-2015) Episcopal Church budget. Facebook has been a-flutter, blogs are bouncing from site to site as each builds a case for re-evaluating how numbers were assigned various departments and ministries. And yes, I have added to the mix with my opinions in a variety of forums.

It is about how we can best do the mission of the church, which is ultimately reconciling all to God through the re-creation of a whole and holy world. Whether it is from the “top down” or from the “grassroots,” I believe how we become followers of Jesus Christ involves Christian formation. Not Sunday School. But formation.

I’ve been traveling this past week, and upon my return attempted to attack the piles of paper on my desk to sort through what needed to be recycled – either into the bin or my files (no, not the round one on the floor). I came across this editorial which I had torn out of a past issue of The Christian Century. It was an article that captured my attention, and one I thought might come in handy for further thought in the future. It seems now is a good time to share it.

John Henry Newman, the recently beatified English cardinal, said that the church is shaped by the dynamic interaction of three elements: worship, theological reflection and institutional governance. As he saw it, these three activities work in creative tension. Left to themselves, each sphere becomes corrupted: worship tends toward “superstition and enthusiasm,” theology towards “rationalism,” and governance toward “ambition, craft and cruelty.”

Those churchly iniquities are common enough. Those who walk away from church might be categorized according to what wounded them the most: the rigidity or chaos of the liturgy, the sterility of the theology or the character flaws of the leaders.

Yet Newman’s scheme omits one element that is crucial in the life of the church: people skilled in the everyday practices of faith. If a church does not form people who live in Christ and display some measure of forgiveness, compassion, hospitality, care for the Earth, solidarity with those who suffer and perseverance in distress, then no liturgy or theology, however rich, and no governance system, however inspired, will save the church.

In recent decades, Protestants have adopted the Roman Catholic language of “formation” to draw attention to this dimension of faith. Though it is still rare to find a Protestant congregation advertising for a “director of Christian formation,” the concept has become clear enough: the church’s goal is not to pass on information about the Bible or doctrine, as important as that is, but to form people whose lives embody the good news of God’s love encountered in Jesus.

The resources for faith formation have grown enormously in this period, both in number and in variety, yet the task remains somewhat elusive. In part that’s because everything the church does – from arranging the nursery to welcoming new members to organizing potluck dinners – is formative in some way. Churches that succeed in formation tend to be ones that artfully use all aspects of church life – committee meetings as well as formal instruction programs – as opportunities to deepen and extend people’s faith.

Formation is elusive also because one can never predict how it will happen. Why does a particular Christian practice catch people’s hearts and lead them to incorporate it in their hearts and lead them to incorporate it in their lives and articulate its Christian meaning to others? Encouraging formation is an art, not a science, and the result is always bound up in the mystery of grace.

So formation is a matter of grace. In his article “Faith forming faith,” Paul E. Hoffman describes how a new Christian’s commitment to hospitality unexpectedly shaped the witness of an entire congregation. The moment could not have been planned. Yet, as Hoffman shows, the groundwork for it was laid by an ongoing program of adult formation. Formation comes by grace, as do all good things. And – to quote Norman Maclean in A River Runs Through It – “grace comes by art and art does not come easy.”

In The Episcopal Church, intentional Christian formation just doesn’t happen. It takes a community. It takes engagement with our Baptismal Covenant and all that those promises mean in our daily lives. It is one thing to recite what we believe, it is another to learn how to reflect upon on beliefs according to what is developmentally appropriate.

Several visions have been studied and shared in recent times about how The Episcopal Church can continue to live into being a Church that embraces the ministry of all the baptized. One is the Charter for Lifelong Christian Formation. Read how the Standing Commission on Lifelong Christian Education and Formation recommends the Church continue on this path on Building the Continuum. Join the conversation.

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.