Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Andrew Kukla is curating a series on officer training. We’ll hear from various perspectives about how churches might best equip those they call to the ministry of ruling elder for that service. How might we feed, encourage, and enable the imagination of our church officers? How can we balance the role of officers as discerners of the Spirit alongside church polity? How might we all learn how to fail — and learn from it? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!
by Virginia Callegary
Many churches employ a faith formation leader, Christian educator, or youth leader. Churches that do not have paid staff for education usually have volunteers who help keep the educational ministry of the church running. Whether paid or volunteer, the work of faith formation leader is never easy. Our voices are not magnified by the pulpit, or empowered with a vote. We are leaders in the church and yet we are not the leader of the church. Our job is expansive and vital but often undervalued, under-supported, and misunderstood.
As I was preparing to write this I asked fellow Christian educators to share one thing they would like the lay leadership of their church to know. The following are eight things that those of us involved in the ministry of faith formation want church leaders to know:
1. We can’t do it alone (and we shouldn’t have to).
Faith formation is too important to be left to one person. Clearly it’s not possible for us to be everywhere at once, though we really do try. Our work in the classrooms and youth rooms of the church is vital but our ministry shouldn’t be limited to those spaces. Teaching a class or providing childcare should not consistently keep us from attending worship, meetings, fellowship events, or mission opportunities. We need you to be the other adult in a room full of children, to provide mentorship to youth and young adults, and to share your vision for Christian education in the church.
2. Chances are that most church leaders are already involved in faith formation ministry.
If you volunteer for the church, attend fellowship events, participate in mission opportunities, and/or lift your voice in song and prayer in worship, you are already a part of the ministry of discipleship in your congregation. Why? Because we learn by doing, but that doing doesn’t usually happen alone. What better way to encourage children to follow Christ than to stand with them in worship and teach them by example how to thank and praise God with prayer, music, study, and service?
3. My job description sometimes feels overwhelming.
The work of a Christian educator is naturally ambiguous. At the end of our long list of duties and responsibilities you can usually find a bullet point that says “perform other duties as assigned.” If we’re doing our job correctly those other duties are usually “assigned by” us when we think of some new ministry we would like to try. Our job involves creativity and innovation, which usually results in a longer to-do list and more responsibilities.
4. Letting go of older programs is a reality and a necessity.
Coming up with new, creative, and innovative ideas takes time and energy. That time and energy has to come from somewhere. We should evaluate the things we put our time and energy into and let go of those that no longer work for the church or are disproportionately burdensome. This process is the key to discovering and embracing what is next for the church.
5. The congregation needs to hear from church leadership how important our ministry is.
Most people in the congregation know very little about what the role of faith formation leader entails. This is because a good amount of what we do is behind-the-scenes: preparation, organization, problem solving, etc. We need you to give us credit for the creative things that come about because of our dedicated ministry to the church. Yeah, we could toot our own horn but that feels unnatural.
6. Continuing education is very important to our ministry.
Continuing education provides time for rest and renewal, for reconnecting with the Spirit and rediscovering our call to educational ministry. Attending a continuing education conference provides even more opportunities for networking, brainstorming, and resource sharing. To make continuing education possible for us we need time off as well as a budget.
7. Yes, we know our office is a mess.
We try hard to work on it, we really do, but as soon as we get rid of one thing we somehow manage to acquire more things. Our offices are full of the many ministries we undertake in our leadership role. Instead of criticizing us, try being understanding, and maybe even offering to help. Please don’t be offended if we say no because, truth be told, we might like our office just the way it is.
8. We have been called to educational ministry.
We feel strongly about the importance of our role in the life and ministry of the church. Our job is challenging and can be thankless but we persevere because God has called us to love and serve the church in this particular way. This is not a step on the path to something else but a passion we have to walk alongside others on our shared spiritual journey.
Virginia Callegary is the Director of Christian Education and unofficial social media guru for First Presbyterian Church of Howard County in Columbia, Maryland. Her messy office helps her come up with new and creative ideas for nurturing the faith of children, youth, and adults. She is on the leadership council of the Association of Presbyterian Church Educators and manages the social media presence of the organization.