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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.

A Public Moral Framework

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Jeff Bryan is curating a series reflecting on the 2018 National Gathering in late February. You’ll hear from clergy, lay people, community leaders, and others reflect on their experiences of the National Gathering and what’s stuck with them since. How does the “Desert in Bloom” look on the resurrection side of Easter? What are your own thoughts of your National Gathering experience, or on what these reflections spark for you? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter

by Amanda Pine

In an age where every church worker has a blog, the questions: “Who are you?” and “Who do you want to become?” reign supreme in the public leader’s mind. Like it or not, every person employed by a church becomes a public persona of that congregation; thus, the establishment of an unwavering moral framework becomes imperative to an individual’s presence – both in person and virtually. Jonathan Walton’s keynote at the NEXT Church National Gathering helped me to envision how a moral framework might be created, for those behind the curve.

Define Your Moral Framework- How do you guide your behavior? How do you know the difference between right and wrong? When you are solving a problem, on what basis do you make your decision? When you define your moral framework, lead with it. Make it a part of your sermons, your blog posts, your newsletter articles, and any other communication that you can think of. The more often you reiterate your thought process, the better. People may not agree with your moral framework, but they will understand where you are coming from.

Know You Might Be Wrong- Walton indicated that every preacher has to deal with public disdain and contempt. However, it may not always be because you’re speaking truth to power in love and you have such a strong prophetic sensibility. Sometimes, the disdain and contempt comes because we’re just jerks. Acknowledging that your moral framework is not infallible is an important step to overcoming our inner jerk – and recapturing the humility that comes with ministry.

Take Critique Seriously- Along the same lines, church leaders hear both praise and contempt on a weekly basis. Perhaps, as a response to a sermon, a newsletter article, or something that they posted on their Facebook wall. Respond to critique with the same love that you would speak truth in any other circumstance. Just as you hold those in power accountable, the congregation should hold their leadership accountable.

Know the Slide- Every moral framework, according to Walton, should slide based on the situation that one finds themselves in. For example, if part of your moral framework is that you partner and advocate for the most vulnerable group of people, that may change based on the space you find yourself in. While the moral framework itself does not change, who you align with in a particular moment might shift. Be attentive to such changes.

It seems to me that a public moral framework prevents an individual from getting caught in the trap of partisan politics. They can transcend allegiance to a particular side, and more effectively listen to those that they serve. Furthermore, no one is caught off guard thinking that the leader aligns with them on every issue. The development of a moral framework is a great place to start for those feeling called to boldly proclaim the truth.


Amanda Pine is director of Christian faith formation at King’s Grant Presbyterian Church in Virginia Beach, VA. A graduate of Union Presbyterian Seminary, Amanda has previously served churches in Newport News, VA, and Chesapeake, VA. She is passionate about social justice, community issues, and is an avid learner. Amanda and her husband live at the Virginia Beach oceanfront with their two cats, and are expecting their first human child in June.

A Living Time Machine

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!

by Christopher De La Cruz

Last year on the holiday the United States commemorates the signing of the Declaration of Independence, Christian rapper Lecrae posted the following tweet:

 

The response was swift: “Done supporting you bro. You make everything a race issues lately instead of a gospel issue.” “this is boardline unpatriotic… maybe thank a veteran rather than tear people apart.” “super disappointed with your tweet. Pics like this divide instead of brining unity.”

Lecrae, a black man, wasn’t saying anything incendiary or radical. He didn’t really say much of anything. All he did was force people to remember a part of our country’s history many Americans routinely forget.

The Church at its heart is a people who live to remember. Like siblings joyfully flipping through an old family photo album, we go through Scripture and recall God working through the lives of Moses, David, Ruth, David, Paul, Lydia, and, of course, Jesus. The Sacrament of Communion is literally a ritual of remembrance, given to us by the one who died for all.

At our worst, the Church becomes a museum, desperately trying to save relics for people to fondly gaze at – but not participate in. At our best, however, the Church is a living time machine, bringing lessons from the past and hope from the future and molding it into the present.

We live in a time and a place where remembrance is glossed over in favor of the ever-changing “now.” The United States has always prized itself as a nation on the frontier, rejecting the kings, wisdom, and ways of the moldy past in favor of America’s imperial-ish liberty. Our streets are paved with gold (paved over the blood and land of its native people), built by Africans shipped like cattle from their home and placed in shackles like prisoners. Human beings became objectified bodies, whose family bonds, friends, and cultures – in other words, whose memories – were erased all for the utopian now of the American dream for some.

In America today, we are perpetually transformed by the re-“now”-ing of our minds. Our phones text us news alerts that drag us always to the “now” – ironically, a “now” somewhere else that prevent us from fully appreciating the “now” in front of us. Our obsession is productivity. Our coping mechanism for our society-inflicted anxiety is “mindfulness” – a useful tool that I myself use, to be sure, but it is telling that our emphasis is literally thinking about nothing else but the present.

The prophets of the Old Testament, though, never allowed Israel to forget. Remember the Israel who saved you from Egypt? And now you oppress the poor and forget the needy?

Jesus always wants us to remember. Grounding us in a specific past historical event – the birth, life, death, and resurrection of a Palestinian Jewish Messiah – is how Jesus teaches we are to live as new creation.

Being transformed by the renewing of our minds doesn’t mean flushing every memory away. Even Jesus’ resurrected body carried his scars. The NEXT Church should be a church that remembers. We should be a Church that recalls the good news of the gospel and shares it. We should be a Church that isn’t afraid to remember sins that its people has yet to repent from, sins of the nation the Church resides in, and even its own active part in that sin.

The Church by definition is a body whose roots extend far beyond the spirit of the present age. I pray that the NEXT Church remembers to remember, even as it adapts.


Christopher De La Cruz is the Associate Pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Jamaica. Follow him on Twitter @cdlc.

Love Letters: The Intentional Practice of Remembering Baptisms

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!

by Vickie Caro Dieth

In a family where juggling meetings and appointments and practices and laundry and meals is no small feat, it’s easy to forget things… especially when they happen only once a year. Luckily, my children were born on New Year’s Eve and Valentine’s Day, so their birthdays are easy to remember. The anniversaries of their baptisms? Not so much. The time of year is helpful, as one was baptized on Mother’s Day and the other, the first Sunday in Advent. But remembering the actual dates of their baptisms has been difficult for me and I’m most grateful for the reminders my phone gives me each year as the days near.

When my first child was born, my husband orchestrated what has become one of the most significant faith-sharing events for our family. Unbeknownst to me, he asked friends and family to write letters to our child about her baptism. As he collected the letters, he put each one into its own manila envelope, sealed it, and slipped it into a notebook where they would all be kept together.

In his planning, my husband requested enough letters to allow for one letter to be opened every year on the anniversary of our daughter’s baptism until she reached the age of confirmation. In the spring of this year, she completed our church’s confirmation process, and we read the last letter.

Some years we’ve done better at honoring the day than others. Some years there were cupcakes and some years the letters were read a few months late. But every year we’ve read a new letter.

It’s always a fun surprise to open one of the letters. I was never told who was asked to write to my daughter, and several years and two moves later, my husband doesn’t remember who responded, but they were all significant members of our own faith family. There were notes from the pastor who led the service and the elder who poured water into the baptismal font. My father’s letter shared his appreciation for the congregation that promised to nurture his granddaughter in her faith in God. There were letters from members of the youth group and their families. Some people chose to include pictures of themselves so she would know who they were. Each message spoke of the gift of belonging to the family of God.

Pastors and church educators are often telling us, “Remember your baptism,” but in a denomination that baptizes infants, this can be difficult to do. We encourage parents to share with their children the stories of the big day, but sometimes the family luncheon afterward or the heirloom gown worn by the baby claims the bulk of the memories, rather than the theological significance of the event. I am grateful for this collection of letters that reminds us of the promises made the day our faith community recognized Christ’s claim on our daughter. It is my prayer that it will help her make connections between her baptism and the day she claims the Church’s faith as her own.

I don’t really know what this notebook means to my daughter. She only knows or remembers some of the people we talk to her about. But to me, it is one of the most special gifts she will ever receive. Each year when we gather around the book of letters, we laugh and we remember. Each year we get to learn a bit of someone else’s faith story. Those who contributed took the time to reflect a little about their own faith and what it means to welcome a child into the church family. In their letters, people shared with our daughter their adult faith. The fact that she doesn’t know some of these folks reminds us of the universal nature of the baptismal vows we make. And every time she opens the book, my daughter is reminded that there has never been a time when she hasn’t been part of a faith community, that there are people other than her parents who love her, and that she is a child of God.


Vickie Caro Dieth is a Director of Christian Education and ruling elder at Christ Presbyterian Church in sunny Tallahassee, FL. Her doctoral work at Columbia Theological Seminary addressed teaching emotional intelligence as a tool for faithful discipleship. She is married to Rev. Danny Dieth and they have two daughters, Hannah and Abby.  

Adult Education Topics/Curriculum

Our May 2017 Church Leaders Roundtable focused on adult faith formation. Some of the conversation centered around education topics and curriculum. Here are the resources roundtable participants shared.

While there are many excellent resources available for children’s curriculum, it can be difficult to find resources for adult education. Here are some options of curriculum or class ideas vouched for by Presbyterian congregations:

Curricula

  • Disciple Bible Curriculum – an intensive study requiring daily work by class members.
  • Feasting on the Word – follows the Revised Common Lectionary.
  • The Wired Word – Simple article about a current event that can be sent out by email. It includes scripture as a lens from which to read the article and questions for conversation.

Topics/Ideas

  • Try flipping the script: rather having topics on theology or scripture, frame classes around questions people are wrestling with in life and bringing wisdom from tradition and scripture to that topic.
    • One way this has been done is having big boxes in the narthex where congregation members can put in their questions that pastors will tackle over the length of the class. Examples of questions could be:
      • Inclusive language: why call God father not mother
      • We believe Jesus is way, truth, life. What does that mean for other religions?
      • Why different bible translations? Why are the words different?
      • Preparing people to talk about death and dying.
  • Spirituality of Conflict from the Corrymeela community in Ireland can be used for a Sunday School class. It is lectionary based, but you must be willing to read the lectionary through the lens of conflict. It’s also free!
  • Faith & Film series – select films that could be explored through a theological lens. Invite people to watch the film during the week and then have a class discussion on Sunday.