Sunday, March 21, 2010

Will a leader’s guide be forthcoming for this book?

ISRAEL: Perhaps, I hadn’t really thought about it. I think the book is sufficiently clear in presenting the model and the approaches. I dare say that most pastors and church staff can take it and run with it. It’s not a lock-step model.

Q: How about a companion workbook with additional charts and forms?

ISRAEL: Only if Marty is working on it. Knowing him, he's already on it.

What hopes do you have for this book?

MARTY: It's my privilege and joy to contribute to the field of Christian education formation! I hope this book will help church leaders and members understand how Christian faith is formed in the context of congregational life and develop an intentional and effective Christian education ministry under the leadership of a Christian Education Leadership Team.

What is the Christian Education Leadership Team’s relationship, in terms of authority and power, to the church’s leadership?

ISRAEL: That’s a good question. That will need to be determined by each congregation. Most churches will not have much difficulty gaining clarity about that issue. I don’t think authority and power are the issues at the heart of the matter, though.

MARTY: Here's an example: the staff liaison and the chairpersons of the Christian Education Leadership Team should be members of, and report to, the Church Council. The CELT must be given proper authority to carry out its work of overseeing the educational ministries of the congregation. The CELT is a planning, organizing, and assessing group—not just a calendaring group. Every congregation needs a group that focuses solely on Christian education. It is difficult for a Church Council to carry out this function because of other responsibilities and functions that demand its attention, leaving very little time in monthly meetings to address the multi-faceted components necessary for effective Christian education planning. This is why a Christian Education Leadership Team is needed.

Why did you use the Christian Church Year as a framework for planning and organizing the education ministry of the congregation?

MARTY: The Christian Church Year is an appropriate formation framework for planning the education ministry of the congregation because it tells the Christian Story. This framework grounds the planning team in biblical theology and helps the team provide focused and balanced educational programming. It also provides a safeguard against planning a hodgepodge of unrelated activities and promotes church-wide conversation and shared language that supports intergenerational dialogue. Additionally, using the Christian Church Year as an educational framework helps the planning team resist the temptation to plan primarily around the secular calendar.

Is the dire state of affairs in Christian education overstated in the book?

MARTY: Some persons may think we have overstated the dire state of affairs of Christian education. After all, who we are, what we do, and what we know as Christians, is the result of our current and past experiences at church. This is true, however, research by the Search Institute has revealed a Christian education enterprise that is benign and in need of repair.

Additionally, the majority of today's church members have an adolescent faith maturity level according to developmental psychologist, James Fowler. This a a stage that is characterized by conformity to an ideology that comes from "authorities" (usually parents) with little personal reflection and internalization of those beliefs. Many Christians die at this stage (stage 3 of 6 stages, according to Fowler).

Most congregations have not helped church members advance into deeper levels of faith maturity. We do not feel that the current state of affairs in Christian education are overstated. The alarm has been sounded and congregations that are concerned about this must become intentional in addressing this spiritual formation need.

Is this a practical book or is it more theoretical?

ISRAEL: It is both, and I would not be able to say which is more than the other in the book. We tried to put theory to practice by laying out a theological understanding of the Church, a philosophical approach to education, and then offering a model for how to apply both.

Really, in the long run it does little good to be shown what to do without understanding why it is necessary to do it.

Something interesting happens when you get an academic and a practitioner together on a project. There’s an honest corrective that arises between the ideal and the real, or, the theoretical and the practical. I think the book presents a good balance as a result of our give and take in writing the book. We had some great discussions in the process, but we’re still friends.

MARTY: Hah! The quick answer is “both!” Theory (and theology) shapes practice. The first two chapters of the book lay out the theological and philosophical framework of a Christian faith community. This model cannot be used effectively without a clear understanding of this part of the book. Chapters three through six suggest how a Christian Education Leadership Team should be organized, what the work of the team is, what educational approaches congregations use and how they impact formation, and how to use the Christian Church Year in planning. The last two chapters present a practical approach for assessing educational effectiveness and lays out a process for implementing the model.

What do you mean by a “community of faith approach?”

ISRAEL: As Marty, mentioned, we start with the assumption that the nature of a congregation is that it is a type of faith community. When it comes to Christian education formation, then, a community of faith approach is more authentic, and ultimately more effective, than a schooling approach.

MARTY: The language we use is very important. It helps shape culture. The phrase “community of faith” more clearly expresses the relational nature of a congregation and its appropriate educational concerns: context, content, approach, outcome, and method. The context is the community of faith, not a classroom. The content is the person of Jesus Christ, not a creed or textbook. The approach is relational, not didactic. The outcome is becoming in relationship, not mastery of content. The method is dialogical, not instruction.

This language helps the Christian Education Leadership Team focus on the relational nature of the congregation. The phrase “community of faith” helps the leadership team keep a broader perspective in mind, leading the team to give attention to all aspects of congregational life. The phrase helps the leadership team become clear about the difference between religious instruction and formation education. All of this significantly impacts planning that leads to effective faith formation.