(Note: A slightly different version of this post was published at 7 am on the new Christian Education resource blog HOPE4CE: A Place Where Innovative Ideas and Lesson Plans Can Be Shared For Christian Education)
I recently returned from the NEXT Church Conference, held March 16-18, in Chicago, and once again it nourished my soul and heart for ministry. Worship services, presentations and workshops (regarding innovative ministry and discernment about what works and what doesn’t) as well as opportunities to connect with friends and colleagues filled me with hope for where the PC(USA) and its churches are headed in the foreseeable future.
While the conference didn’t explicitly talk about the best Christian Education models or ministries (which relate to me as an associate for youth at the church I serve in Georgia), the various leaders, teachers and presenters faithfully teach Christians about what it means to be the body of Christ and to do God’s work in the world—to (according to this year’s theme) go “beyond our walls, our fears and ourselves” to encounter God’s transforming grace. Also, Christian Education is about being creative in the ways we tell the good news of God’s love, and the act of imagining and sharing ideas is the essence of the NEXT Church movement.
Worship in particular is so moving, inspiring and thought-provoking (with liturgy, prayers, music, preaching and visual art) that it is impossible not to remove your shoes because you are standing on holy ground like Moses.
For the closing service on Wednesday, the representation of a bird was hung from the ceiling of the sanctuary. The piece is made mostly of strips of paper (taken from old hymnals) upon which we wrote our prayers earlier in the week and tied to a make-shift chain link fence that symbolized the things and fears that hold us back.
The bird soaring high above exemplified how God knocks down our walls and sets us free. During the service, these words (written by the Rev. Shawna Bowman who also created the art piece) were offered to help us connect the meaning of the flying bird:
Grounded in the grace of God
Our love takes flight
Not beyond one another
But beyond ourselves
Beyond our fears
Beyond our own limitations
God’s blessing infuses us
God’s spirit blows us
God’s strength emboldens us
God’s beauty beckons us
Out into the day and the night
Out into the world beyond these walls
To be the people of God
In the world God created.
This poetic and prophetic piece reflected a profound statement made the previous evening by writer/dreamer/theologian Diana Butler Bass who said during a presentation on Christianity’s “Great Awakening:
The best part about being human is that history is ours to make and we make that history with God.
Diana’s wisdom, closing worship and a workshop I attended earlier in the week–“Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast” by the Rev. Jan Edmiston–stirred up many questions about how we might discern the role of Christian Education in a faith community of the 21st century world :
–What kind of history are we making with Christian Education and what stories are we telling that feeds people’s hunger to know about their faith and beliefs?
–What does Christian Education look like when it’s beyond ourselves, our fears and walls?
–What does Christian Education look like out in the world God created as opposed to being in a church building or classroom?
–What is God’s strength and beauty moving us to do differently, unexpectedly, creatively, and imaginative with Christian Education?
— What cultural shifts are we willing to make to keep Christian Education relevant and viable ministry that nurtures and emboldens others to be the body of Christ? (This question and the subsequent ones are adapted from questions that Jan Edmiston posed concerning general ministry).
o What does Christian Education look like if we focus less on attendance at events, the building to house classes and the cash it takes to run programs? What does CE look like if we focus on doing the ministry in the surrounding culture and neighborhood of the church?
o What if we move a church school class or youth adviser training from the church parlor to a coffee shop?
o What if we move from doing CE events at the church to attract people (like VBS or a Fall Festival) and send people out into neighborhoods to do VBS or host a Fall Festival in the town square or community center?
o What if we ask more questions about our purpose for doing a certain CE program and event and whether people are passionate about participating or comfortable with failing or afraid of trying something new?
o Who is being spiritually nourished and what relationships are being nurtured by CE? Who is being transformed to become more faithful? Who is being impacted?
o How can CE better nurture faith and discipleship that carries over into every aspect of our week and lives, beyond Sunday mornings and the Wednesday evening supper and Bible study?
These questions must be wrestled with and answered so that the people of God can faithfully educate Christians on how to live fully in Christ, so that we can all take flight into the wildly creative imagination of what God has for us next.