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Christian Education is transformational of souls and systems

A congregation that contends with all the usual challenges churches in North America face affirmed the following values as part of a Christian education renewal initiative:

  • Children have their own innate spirituality and sense of God. In fact, children may well understand some of the mysteries of God better than their seniors.
  • Children have a natural curiosity about God and a sense of the sacred.
  • Children and youth are part of the worshiping community, and need to be included in as many different ways as possible within that community.
  • Questions, even and especially difficult questions, must always be welcomed and not silenced.
  • Church and church school should not be boring! The stories of the Bible and our faith are as vibrant, action-filled, suspenseful and beautiful as any other story written for children and youth.
  • Childcare, even for the youngest of our children, when provided within the church should be oriented toward faith and worship. The toys and playthings provided ought to help children explore and imagine the church, Bible stories, and the mysteries of God.

The congregation chose a curriculum* focused on learning biblical stories thoroughly in a worshiping context. The approach was in line with the stated values and the program is effective and loved by the children; time spent talking about the Bible at home with parents has increased while incidents of difficult behavior, boredom, and missing parents during church school have all but disappeared. The unexpected result of the program was the effect that it had on the wider congregation.

First, the insightful, difficult, often moving questions the children raised ignited a new interest in learning and in deepening the faith of the leaders. The teachers had to re-examine their own faith as children raised issues that were theologically uncomfortable. The teachers did their own studying and became more confident in their knowledge and faith and more comfortable with questions that did not have easy answers.

Second, strong pastoral bonds grew between the teachers and children and their families. The pastoral concern spilled over into the congregation. Incrementally, new pastoral bonds formed within the congregation and some old bonds were strengthened and refreshed. The congregation’s relational system and decision-making processes were changed for the better because of what was happening in church school.

When Christian education is effective it transforms lives and builds faithful, dynamic, confident, cohesive communities. These are some features that can be incorporated into program planning that nurture transformative Christian education:

  • encourage comfort with mystery and ambiguity
  • be intentional about building pastoral features into educational programs
  • add a worshiping component to all educational events
  • encourage generations to learn together
  • be prepared to depart from the curriculum and lesson plan to allow unexpected and important conversations
  • be playful – Jesus was creative and playful when he taught and used the Bible
  • ensure that Christian education space is a safe space to raise questions, experiment with ideas, share important feelings or aspects of life and faith
  • discuss the “so what” of lessons and how insights shed light on personal and congregational situations or inform decisions
  • find ways to share what the group has learned with and in the weekly worship gathering

*After some research, the congregation selected the Young Children and Worship program, pioneered by Sonja Stewart and Jerome Berryman, as its new education initiative.

Contact a Presbyterian Reformed Educational Partner (PREP) representative, listed under CONTACT US, for more information about this topic or other articles in the e-newsletter archives.

Article by Ian McDonald, Associate Secretary for Canadian Ministries (The Presbyterian Church in Canada)

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