Christian education and formation is a crucial building block for our growth as healthy, mature Christians. There are a number of different small group settings in which Christian formation occurs. Through Christian education, we invite people and communities of faith to be transformed as they are inspired and challenged. As a leader in the ministry of Christian education, you have a vital role to play in the faith development of other members of your congregation. This Guideline is designed to help equip you in leading this ministry group in your congregation.
This is one of the twenty-six Guidelines for Leading Your Congregation 2017-2020 that cover church leadership areas including Church Council and Small Membership Church; the administrative areas of Finance and Trustees; and ministry areas focused on nurture, outreach, and witness including Worship, Evangelism, Stewardship, Christian Education, age-level ministries, Communications, and more.
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Guidelines for Leading Your Congregation 2017-2020 Christian Education
Plan for Lifelong Faith Formation
By Diana L. Hynson
CokesburyCopyright © 2016 Cokesbury
All rights reserved.
Begin with the End in Mind
As we plan for ministry, the starting point is our mission: making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world (see 120 in The Book of Discipline). The process for fulfilling our mission is described in 122:
We make disciples as we:
proclaim the gospel, seek, welcome and gather into the body of Christ;
lead persons to commit their lives to God through baptism by water and the spirit and profession of faith in Jesus Christ;
nurture persons in Christian living through worship, the sacraments, spiritual disciplines, and other means of grace, such as Wesley's Christian conferencing;
send persons into the world to live lovingly and justly as servants of Christ by healing the sick, feeding the hungry, caring for the stranger, freeing the oppressed, being and becoming a compassionate, caring presence, and working to develop social structures that are consistent with the gospel; and
continue the mission of seeking, welcoming and gathering persons into the community of the body of Christ.
To better remember and understand this process, it might help to think in terms of H.O.P.E.:
Hospitality (seeking and welcoming)
Offering Christ (inviting people to explore their faith and commit their lives to God through Jesus Christ)
Purpose (nurturing people in living their faith through the means of grace)
Engagement (sending people into the world to address the needs of our communities)
We live in a world desperate for hope, for purpose, and for meaning. This core process describes how disciples come together for worship, learning, and reflection, and then go to live as Christ's representatives in their families, workplaces, schools, and communities.
The core process describes the elements needed in an intentional plan for discipleship. Ask yourself: "What is our plan for making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world? How do we interpret our plan to our congregation? How will we offer hope?"CHAPTER 2
The Purpose of Christian Education
Education is as natural a part of life as breathing. From the day we are born, we are learning. As babies, we explore our fingers and toes. We are taught our ABCs and how to tie our shoes. We discover what we like to eat and what we don't. We learn to approach the world from a standpoint of trust or mistrust. And we go on from there. Life is about learning, growing, adapting, and learning some more. It follows, then, that we must be taught the ABCs of our faith. That, simply stated, is the role of the ministry of Christian education, although there is more.
Form, Inform, and Transform
All of life's experiences serve to shape us into the people we are and will become. The baby who learns basic trust is formed in a very different way from the child who doesn't. The teen who easily learns life's tasks has a distinctly different path from the teen who struggles to grasp those lessons. Whatever happens (or doesn't happen) has an effect on our character, values, decisions, and behavior. As Christians and as teachers or leaders in Christian education, we carry tremendous responsibility and opportunity to forge values and behaviors that are biblically based, theologically sound, and faithfully lived out. We endeavor to form people as Christian disciples for the transformation of the world.
The ministry of Christian education and formation is a teaching ministry. Content — facts, dates, explanations, maps, meanings — is central to this ministry. It's important to know the who, the what, the when, the how, and why of our faith as it is recorded in the Bible and beyond. It is hard to live by the words and life of Christ if we have not read or learned them.
However, information, no matter how crucial, cannot carry all the weight of Christian education ministry. Knowing about God, Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, and the Christian tradition is just a part of the whole. Knowing God through Christ, with the help of the Holy Spirit and the saints of the church, is what takes us from being biblically literate students to being mature disciples who actively love God and neighbor. Knowing and experiencing lead to transformation.
While it is true that all of life shapes us, we are not necessarily formed with the values and principles of faith that God desires. As we learn and develop in God's grace, we are necessarily changed — transformed — as we grow into the likeness of Christ. Becoming Christlike is the ultimate goal for the well-formed, informed, and transformed Christian disciple.
A Biblical/Theological Foundation
For John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, there was no holiness except for social holiness. One learned and cultivated one's relationship with God and then went out to love and serve God and neighbor. Holiness of heart and life includes both knowledge and vital piety. We call the distinctive gift of the Wesleys for making meaning the Wesleyan Quadrilateral: Scripture, tradition, reason, and experience.
Grounded in Scripture
Of the above four filters, Scripture is primary. In discerning the meaning of a portion of Scripture, making a decision, devising a course of action, or focusing one's values, the first step is to examine the Bible. Each text can be weighed against other texts so that nothing is simply pulled out of context.
Faith formation is mandated in Scripture. The Proverbs, for example, have numerous short, pithy sayings praising the virtue of wisdom and learning, starting with the first one. "Wisdom begins with the fear of the LORD [meaning the righteous life], / but fools despise wisdom and instruction" (Proverbs 1:7). While wisdom is to be valued, it is not an end in itself. "Hold on to instruction; don't slack off; / protect it, for it is your life" (Proverbs 4:13; see also Proverbs 2–3).
We would expect the Wisdom literature (Proverbs, Job, and Ecclesiastes) to champion learning, but this mandate is also found elsewhere. Deuteronomy 6, for example, is part of the address of Moses to the people of Israel, who have just received what we know as the Ten Commandments. This lengthy discourse by Moses, giving over to the people what God has commanded him, is not intended simply for the immediate hearers, but for their children and their children's children. These statutes and ordinances have a purpose.
You must carefully follow the LORD your God's commands along with the laws and regulations he has given you. Do what is right and good in the Lord's sight so that things will go well with for you and so you will enter and take possession of the wonderful land that the LORD swore to your ancestors....
In the future, your children will ask you, "What is the meaning of the laws, the regulations, and the case laws that the LORD our God commanded you?" tell them: We were Pharaoh's slaves in Egypt. But the LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand'" (Deuteronomy 6:17-21).
God's instruction is practical (the laws and regulations that describe the righteous life); lifelong (telling your children in time to come); and life-giving ("the Lord brought us out ... with a mighty hand").
The Old Testament foundation is reinforced in the New Testament. The most prevalent witness is Jesus — the master teacher and storyteller. The ultimate point of most of the parables is to draw a portrait of the kingdom of God — what it looks like and the character of those who will inherit the kingdom. Yet many, if not all, of the parables are open-ended, leaving room for the hearers to work with them in their own minds, drawing out the lessons meant just for them. Lessons we work out for ourselves are the ones we remember most.
We are forgetful, though, and Jesus prepared his first disciples and us for that eventuality. In his last, long conversation with his intimates, Jesus promised them support: "I will ask the Father, and he will send another Companion, who will be with you forever. ... The Companion, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I told you" (John 14:16, 26). The entire Godhead — Father /Creator, Son, and Holy Spirit — is involved in providing us with wisdom and knowledge and in empowering us to teach and nurture others in the faith, so that we may have life.
Informed by Tradition
Tradition refers to the long history of God's action in the communities of faith and through the history of the church. Tradition includes language we use to express our faith, symbols, rituals, stories, and sacraments. As United Methodists, we share the broad Christian tradition with other Christian groups. We add the history and tradition specific to the Methodist movement and the Evangelical United Brethren.
Practices that help to mold Christian character and to cultivate a relationship with God are referred to as spiritual disciplines, ordinances, or means of grace. Wesley mentions several means of grace in his rules for the covenantal groups he organized:
the public worship of God;
the ministry of the Word, either read or expounded;
the Supper of the Lord;
family and private prayer;
searching the Scriptures;
fasting or abstinence.
(See "The Nature, Design, and General Rules of Our United Societies," 104, in the Discipline.)
Enlivened by Experience
Experience refers not only to one's own experience but also to the witness of others' experiences. Through experience, we hear God speak through Scripture and tradition. We recognize, acknowledge, and celebrate God's love and grace in our lives. We discern how our faith applies to our daily lives, and we learn what it means to be a disciple.
We use experience to interpret Scripture for today's context. Our experience intersects with Scripture and tradition in ways that help us identify our understanding of who God is, who we are in relation to God, and what we are called to be and do as God's people.
Confirmed by Reason
Reason is that God-given gift of thinking critically and working out decisions thoughtfully. In facing the challenges of everyday life, we use our reason to consider how God is active and present and what our response should be in order to be aligned with God's will.
Reason allows us to ask questions, explore alternatives, and integrate new information and experience into our perspectives. Reason assists us in testing our assumptions and determining their validity in light of Scripture, tradition, and experience.
The Quadrilateral and Christian Education
Wesley believed that, together, these aspects of faith (along with others that involve service and peace with justice) would give the Christian — particularly the novice Christian — structure, focus, and practice in the things that cultivate the faithful and spiritual life. Each is valuable in its own right, but together, they help the Christian disciple to develop a well-rounded relationship to God through Christ that cares for both the soul of the believer and that believer's participation in church and society.
As a leader or teacher in Christian education, you will want to instill in your teachers and students the importance of being knowledgeable in the Scriptures and the Christian tradition and being skilled in interpreting experience thoughtfully.
Christian Education and Vital Ministry
The term Christian education is often considered to be synonymous with Sunday school. Sunday school often conjures up an image of an old, not-so-effective classroom model of delivering content. Vital ministry engages the whole person — one's thoughts, one's values, and one's actions. When teaching and learning the faith is effective, people experience the presence of God through Jesus Christ in their small groups, worship, service, and their homes. They are listening for God's call, discovering their gifts for ministry, and living their faith wherever they find themselves.
Much has been said about vital ministry, often referring to the lifespan or health of the congregation as a whole. Christian education and formation is intimately involved in the vitality of a congregation as it transmits the faith, tells our corporate story, gives us insight into how to live and what to value, and transforms us into the image of God. When Jesus said to his followers, "Don't be afraid, little flock, because your Father delights in giving you the kingdom" (Luke 12:32), he was telling them in the most caring and compassionate way that God wants abundance and wholeness for all of us. Christian education and transformation is one ministry that helps us understand the kingdom that God envisions and how to live in it. As beneficiaries of that grace, we share it with others.CHAPTER 3
You have consented to assume a leadership position, perhaps with great eagerness, perhaps with some trepidation. Now it is time to get started. This Guideline will give you basic information about the ministry, what needs to be done or considered, and how to dig in. Most of the topics here have links or books for more information. Be sure to check the Resources section.
What Are My Responsibilities?
Your responsibilities will probably include planning and visioning, working with teachers, handling administrative details, and more. Clearly, the extent of your particular work depends on what position you have assumed. While these teams or positions will be defined and identified by local churches in their own way, this Guideline will be helpful for you if you are
the chairperson of the Christian education team
the church school superintendent
the leader of small-group ministry (also see Guidelines: Small Group Ministry 2017–2020)
the leader for a specific age-level (there are separate Guidelines for you)
the staff member related to Christian education.
If you are in a small-membership church, you may fill all of these functions as well as teaching (also see Guidelines: Small-Membership Church 2017–2020). If your church has some or all of these positions, you automatically have ministry partners. You will want to clarify with them how these responsibilities are divided and handled.
This Guideline is written mainly for the role of the education chairperson, because that position has the broadest range of responsibilities. This Guideline is suggestive. You will not be expected to do everything that is covered here. However, the more you know about what could be done, the more complete your ministry of education will be.
A job description may seem a bit formal or unnecessary, but it is important for several reasons:
You need clarity about what you are expected to do.
If expectations are in writing, there is no confusion.
Clear expectations help you evaluate the education/formation ministry and your leadership.
When everyone has the same understanding, you lessen the risk of disagreement, lack of follow-through, unclear goals, disappointments, and unexpected problems. You increase the possibilities of effective and efficient leadership, ministry satisfaction, and problem solving.
If you need to develop your own list of responsibilities, read this Guideline and whatever other resources help you. Ask your predecessor how he or she organized, administered, and led. (Don't just repeat what he or she did without being sure that is the best way to go.) Live with the ministry for a while, work with your team, and then codify and record the responsibilities.
Lead the Ministry
Leaders analyze what is happening currently, assess what is missing or needed, and look ahead. Ideally, you will both manage the ministry that is and anticipate the ministry that could be. As you anticipate that future, you can plan strategies and goals that will get you there.
This list will be customized for your church, but you may expect to
lead meetings of your team to plan and assess what is happening and what needs to happen;
lead efforts to create education and formation settings for people of all ages;
establish a plan for identifying teachers and small-group leaders;
support teachers so that they are equipped personally and spiritually to continue in their class or group;.
arrange for substitute teachers or group leaders;
explore curriculum options, order curriculum and supplies;
work out and manage a budget;
identify, promote, and monitor the necessary policies, procedures, and Safe Sanctuaries® guidelines, including arrangements for background checks;
communicate the accomplishments, opportunities, and needs of this ministry;
evaluate the overall ministry and the various events, classes, and teachers.
As a designated leader, you are also a member of the church council, representing the broad area of Christian education and formation. Ideally, the goals and strategies of the education/formation ministry support, and are supported by, the other ministry areas.
You are not and should not be alone in your Christian education leadership, even if you are in a very small-membership church. Whether you are the chairperson, Sunday school superintendent, and only teacher all rolled into one, you are not, and should not be alone. One person should not be guiding the entire course of Christian education or making unilateral decisions about curriculum, events, or other programming.
Excerpted from Guidelines for Leading Your Congregation 2017-2020 Christian Education by Diana L. Hynson. Copyright © 2016 Cokesbury. Excerpted by permission of Cokesbury.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
ContentsBlessed to Be a Blessing,
Begin with the End in Mind,
The Purpose of Christian Education,
Form, Inform, and Transform,
A Biblical/Theological Foundation,
What Are My Responsibilities?,
Mission and Vision,
Assess Your Current Ministry,
Teachers and Team Members,
Forming a Team,
Care and Nurture of Teachers,
Evaluation and Measurement,
What Are Measures?,
Teaching and Learning,
UMC Agencies & Helpful Links,