Eight Things Your Christian Educator Wants You to Know

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.

Faith Formation Resources

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Sarang Kang and Lynn Turnage are curating a blog series on faith formation. We’ll hear from various people who are involved in faith formation personally, professionally, and perseveringly. How has your faith been formed? How has your faith formed you? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

To close out our series on faith formation, we asked folks to tell us about their favorite faith formation resources.

As we close out our June blog series on faith formation, we want to hear from YOU: what faith formation resources have…

Posted by NEXT Church on Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Here’s what they said:

  • Illustrated Children’s Ministry: both it and Praying in Color “tap into some quality activities/lessons for multiple age ranges.”
  • Vibrant Faith: has been “particularly helpful in…continued learning as an educator.” The group aims to connect faith leaders to generate “adaptive change in Christian faith formation.”
  • APCE Annual Event: the yearly gathering of the Association of Presbyterian Christian Educators
  • Storypath: a blog hosted by Union Presbyterian Seminary that connects children’s literature to scripture. “Being able to search by topic, Sunday in the church year, or scripture makes it so user-friendly!”
  • Faith Inkubators: an organization that strives “to make home the primary inkubator of faith for disciples of all age by replacing classroom models of education with parent-involved small group models.

Have other resources to add? Share in the comments!

Why We Should Pay Attention to Brain Research

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Sarang Kang and Lynn Turnage are curating a blog series on faith formation. We’ll hear from various people who are involved in faith formation personally, professionally, and perseveringly. How has your faith been formed? How has your faith formed you? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

This post was originally shared on the Association of Presbyterian Church Educators blog.

by Holly Inglis

Why should the church pay attention to brain research? With everything else happening in and around us, why should we attempt to understand and apply scientific research about the brain? What difference would it, could it make? Consider these scenarios:

  • Catherine, age 10, has attended Vacation Bible School for as long as she can remember. She tells her mother that she learns more at VBS than she does at Sunday School. Why?
  • The youth group has just returned from their mission trip to help rebuild homes in a part of the US recovering from a natural disaster. During their presentation in worship, several youth tell how this experience was transformative and made them feel closer to God. Why?
  • A worship service last summer focused on all the mission and service ministries of the church. But more than just talking about each of those ministries, individuals from the congregation were visibly present at the front of the sanctuary engaged in the ministry. There was bike repair happening, communion being prepared, small flower arrangements created from the Sunday morning arrangements in the Sanctuary to be delivered to homebound members. Months after this worship service, many people continue to comment that it was one of the most meaningful services they can remember. Why?
  • This year’s stewardship campaign was more successful than any in recent years. The stewardship committee was puzzled because everything was the same as usual: pledge cards, sermon series, personal phone calls. The only difference were the “moments for generosity” that were shared right before the offering was received each week. Individuals from the congregation told personal stories of ordinary acts of generosity that had great impact on their lives and on their faith. Many of those stories were quite touching. Could this have made the difference?

We want to believe that what we do in the church and in our various ministries make a difference and have a lasting impact on students. The greatest impact we can have is not merely by imparting wisdom or knowledge but by gaining a better understanding of how learning occurs and how learning can be reinforced and become part of the long-term memory of individuals, impacting not only their thinking and reflection in the current setting, but their actions and behavior in settings beyond the walls of the church. If we become more aware of the way our brains learn and remember and if we are able to make some shifts in what we teach and how we teach, we may have a greater likelihood of being agents of transformation for those who participate in our ministries.

Let’s look at the answers to the questions posed in the scenarios above as a way to understand some of the implications of brain research for the church.

  • Why does Catherine learn more at VBS than she does in Sunday School? Brain research indicates that repetition is important to learning and the formation of long-term memory. Most traditional Vacation Bible School experiences meet daily for several days and for several hours at one time. Songs are repeated, often with associated movements. Themes are repeated and reinforced through Bible stories, crafts, games and even snacks. Several senses are engaged intentionally and brain research indicates that the more senses we engage the greater the likelihood that the information will stick. The use of visual props and decorations enhance the excitement and experience for the participants and once again, brain science tells us that vision tops all our other senses and is a top priority for our brains.
  • Why are mission trips, retreats, and similar experiences so often transformative for the participants, particularly for our youth? Part of the answer may lie in the fact that the participants in these events are often physically moving, whether that is working on a job site, working on a challenge course, walking or hiking, or playing games. Exercise boots our brain power. Then there are the emotional connections that are made during these experiences. Emotion is the glue that makes memories stick. Regardless of whether the emotions we experience are positive or negative, our brains retain items of information that significantly engage one or more of our senses and evoke strong feelings.
  • What made the mission and service oriented worship service so memorable? First, there was something visual for participants to watch while people were talking. More of our brain is used to process visual information than other kinds of information, like auditory. Unless your worship services are unique, most of the content is auditory. Because there was something visual for worshippers to focus on, they may have paid more attention. We don’t pay attention to boring things. Emotions were also aroused as stories of the impact of these ministries were shared. Remember emotional memories last.
  • Why was the stewardship campaign more successful this year? There could have been many factors, but the fact that the one additional element was the Moment for Generosity stories, tapping the emotions of the listeners and interjecting something unexpected into the worship service, thereby grabbing the attention of the listeners as well. There is one more thing that may have affected the outcome of the campaign – mirror neurons. We learn by watching what others do and while the worshippers did not see the individuals directly engaged in acts of generosity, as the individuals described their experiences, the listeners’ brains were making pictures of what they heard, so in effect they did “see” what was being described, as if they were present.

For the most part, this is not new information. Taking the time to apply these principles to areas of ministry outside the Sunday School classroom can be somewhat challenging, but holds the potential to be literally and neurologically transformative.

To put what you’ve just learned into practice in your own setting, give this article to others and plan to discuss the implications. Come up with your own scenarios and ask the “Why?” question for yourselves.

Additional Resources

The Synaptic Gospel: Teaching the Brain to Worship by Christopher D. Rodkey (University Press of America), 2012

Sticky Learning: How Neuroscience Supports Teaching That’s Remembered by Holly J. Inglis, Kathy L. Dawson, Rodger Y. Nishioka (Fortress Press), 2012

Implications of Brain Research for the Church by Allen Nauss (Lutheran University Press), 2013

Brain-based Worship by Paula Champion-Jones (WestBow Press), 2014

Brain Rules by John Medina (Pear Press), 2014 (original edition 2007)

Brain Rules for Baby by John Medina (Pear Press), 2014

Brain-Savvy Leaders by Charles Stone (Abingdon), 2015

Holly Inglis is a Certified Christian Educator currently serving as the Associate Pastor for Nurture at Palms Presbyterian Church in Jacksonville Beach, Florida, where she implements whole-brain strategies in worship and education. She is also president of the Association of Presbyterian Christian Educators (APCE).