Friday, June 8, 2012

Christian Education. What are we doing?

For a long time I have been pondering our (the church’s) strategy and beliefs about Christian Education. If astute “church shopping” parents asked the minister (or children’s/youth ministers) what their child of age 3 will be taught over the next 15 years, I suspect they would not get an entirely satisfactory or comprehensive answer. I imagine that even the best of our leaders would struggle to articulate what they “teach” children from the ages of 3 to 18, or of what their Christian education comprises. This is not a pointed criticism, but rather a feeling of inadequacy in myself, to really to get to grips with how we understand and effect “Christian education”.

I’m entering my last week of sabbatical at Cambridge University and at lunch today fellow student Phil asked me if I had achieved what I set out to do. “No” I said. I explained my frustration in not finding answers to what Christian education really is. I’ve read lots of good books (and had a great time of reflection, rest and recreation, so I’m not complaining), but reading copious books on the necessity of nurturing children’s spirits and inviting them to belong and participate in the community of faith, is “preaching to the converted”.

With this Phil says: “Have you read Thomas Groome?” and whips out a 600 page tome which is looking far too good by page 12!

“I am convinced that the learning outcome of Christian religious education should be more than what the western world typically means by “knowledge”; that it is to engage the whole “being” of people, their heads, hearts and life-styles, and is to inform, form and transform their identity and agency in the world,” says Groome in Sharing Faith.

Yes this is what I’ve been looking for!

“My hope is to broaden the philosophical foundations of Christian religious education beyond epistemology and people’s ways of “knowing”, to embrace ontology and people’s whole way of “being” as human in the world,” says Groome.

“Knowledge is valid, however the incarnational principles that stand at the heart of Christianity demands a pedagogy that is grounded in and shapes people’s “ontic” selves – their identity and agency in the world. Our aim is not that people just know about justice but that they be just etc. An ontological turn in our pedagogy encourages educators to engage and inform, form and transform, the very being of people in the world.”

Why did I wait seven weeks to meet Thomas Groome?

Groome suggests that Christian Religious Education shares three characteristics:

Firstly he believes it is a transcendent activity that encourages people to interpret their lives, relate to others and engage in the world in ways that reflect their faith.

Secondly he thinks it is an ontological activity in that it engages and shapes people’s ways of being and influences their behaviour with God, self, others and the world.

Thirdly Groome suggests that Christian education is a political activity. (Greek Politike = the art of enabling the shared life of citizens). The knowledge one gains through instruction influences how one lives as social beings.

I’m concerned by some church’s emphasis on individual salvation. I sense that some of our leaders measure their success by how many children raised their hands to accept Jesus as their personal saviour at a given event. Don’t get me wrong. I love to hear that children have chosen Jesus as their friend and Lord. However I think our role as Christian educators and mentors is to help children understand what this really means and how their Christian faith is a lifelong adventure that can transform their lives and the world they live in?

“The focus of Christian faith is that people are to effect in history the values of God’s reign, love and justice, peace and freedom, wholeness and fullness of life for all as demonstrated by Jesus,” says Groome. “Such values cannot be lived outside of the public realm. The notion of “private” Christianity is a contradiction in terms. Christianity demands what God wills. Fullness of life for all on every level of human existence: personal, interpersonal and social/political.”

Watch this space……

1 comment:

  1. I really admire you for being so focus on teaching children about christian education. God Bless and continue the good work!