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.

Why did you use the term “Christian Education Formation?”

ISRAEL: “Formation” has become one of those things I call, “ideas people fall in love with.” By that I mean they are quick to embrace a fuzzy romantic notion but don’t often really understand what it is. But formation is, rightly understood, the most authentic framework for fostering growth in the Christian life and discipleship. So, we wanted to promote it, but we didn’t want to abandon the legitimate place of rigorous educational principles that are appropriate to use in the congregational context. My contention has been that one of the reasons Christian education is so ineffective in congregations is that so much of what they do is so removed from the field of education as to not be educational, and too often, there’s not much that’s authentically “Christian” about it, either.

MARTY:Yes, early in our conversation we decided to intentionally link the terms “education” and “formation” as a way to dispel inadequate notions about education that exists in most of today’s churches. The word “education” carries baggage from years of inadequate practice. Christian education for most churches is defined as what happens in Sunday School and a few small groups. This is a narrow understanding of Christian education. Given the fact that persons are shaped by all aspects of congregational life, we linked the word “formation” with the word “education” as a way of suggesting a broader perspective that reflects how persons are effectively educated in a community of faith context.

The church has used a secular education model (a schooling model) that is primarily didactic in nature. How we teach at school has become how we teach at church. But the church is not a school. It is a community of faith. Therefore, the way people are educated in faith must be congruent with the relational context of the congregation. This distinction may seem subtle, but is really isn’t. A community of faith approach is more about forming persons into Christlikeness and leading them toward obedience to a person—Jesus Christ, as opposed to just being “educated” in the technical sense—that is, learning facts. Therefore effective Christian education is relational and formational by nature. The term “Christian education formation” is a presentation of new language that congregations will grow into as they use this model.

How easy is it to implement the planning process presented in the book?

ISRAEL: Well, I suppose that depends. It’s not rocket science, but it isn’t necessarily easy either. Marty’s chapter on how to bring about change from a former (programmatic) way of doing Christian education and embracing a community of faith approach hints that, for one thing, change can be a slow, if not difficult, process to bring about under certain conditions. The book lays out the process clearly enough, but every congregation will need to adopt the model to its context and to its own capacity to make changes.

MARTY: That's right, Israel! Planning is not an easy process. It takes time and involves consistent, hard work. But it's worth it! Israel It is essential for the team to study the content in the book and work slowly to understand and implement the approach. The team will be tempted to “do something quickly.” It is best, however, to resist this temptation. The book includes an appendix that presents a formal startup plan. The plan may be modified based on the culture of the congregation. Some congregations may be able to skip some steps that other congregations will not be able to do. So the ease or difficulty of implementing this approach will be different for each church.

How might a Christian education leadership team or committee use this book?

ISRAEL: This is one of the main focuses of the book. One of the most common problems in the churches we work with is that of a dedicated and committed group of people willing to provide a meaningful educational ministry in their church, but they lack understanding about how to organize themselves into an effective group. Also, many of these groups lack a practical framework for planning and so too often flounder in putting together one activity after another, or, purchasing one curricular program after another, with little attention to what is most effective in actually helping their congregational members grow in faith.

MARTY: What I see too is many staff Christian educators taking sole responsibility for planning the education program and ministries of the church. It is often easier and quicker to do that, but this runs counter to the Christian educator’s responsibility as the resident educator of the church! In the book’s approach the Christian educator is not responsible for planning, in detail, and carrying out the educational ministries for the congregation, nor bailing out church leaders who do not effectively carry out their responsibilities! The Christian educator is responsible for empowering church leaders and members by enlisting, resourcing, teaching, training, equipping, and encouraging church leaders and members to carry out their ministries! The work of educating in faith is too large a task for any one person to accomplish. The Christian educator needs a Christian Education Leadership Team to give intentional and regular oversight to all of the ways the congregation is being educated in faith. This book provides a structure and process that the Christian educator needs and will follow in order to be effective in his/her work.

Q: Can you give me an example of what that might look like?

MARTY: As said earlier, when most leadership teams meet, they fall into the trap of planning the calendar, giving reports, dealing with problems, and occasionally evaluating events. But there is rarely enough time left at the end of the hour for visioning, brainstorming, planning and assessing. Many groups attempt to address planning, visioning, and assessing needs in a yearly planning retreat. A yearly planning retreat is a good thing, but these functions cannot be addressed effectively at an annual planning retreat. These are ongoing functions that need attention throughout the year. The central purpose of the Christian Education Leadership Team is to address these functional needs in monthly meetings. The CELT will use this book as a guide for that purpose making sure that attention to all areas of congregational life are considered.

How might a pastor use this book?

ISRAEL: We hope many pastors avail themselves of the resources in this book. The reality is that in many cases the pastor is the sole staff member of a congregation, and therefore, needs to be the primary educational leader for the church’s educational ministry. But it is also true that most pastors likely have not had sufficient training in rigorous educational theory and practice to know how to plan or organize an effective educational ministry program for the church. Much less will most of them know how to assess whether their efforts and their church programs are effective. This is a critical issue for small congregations who so often fall into the trap of trying to emulate and reproduce programs from larger congregations. The irony is, as the book points out, that small churches have within themselves all the resources to provide an effective educational ministry.

MARTY: The pastor is central to the effectiveness of this community of faith approach. Given the fact that the educational curriculum is “the course of the life of the church,” as Maria Harris, wrote, and that worship is one of the most effective forms of educating in faith, the pastor cannot be isolated from the Christian education efforts of the church. The book will educate some pastors towards a greater understanding of Christian education—how people are effectively educated in faith in congregational life; the structures and processes that bring about effectiveness; why it is imperative for the Christian Education Leadership Team to have the pastor’s support; and how critical it is for the team to be given authority that is commensurate with their responsibility in order to effectively carry their work.

Other pastors will find this model refreshing and helpful to his/her vision for the church and leadership of the church, because the Christian Education Leadership Team will participate in vision-casting, brainstorming, collaborating, planning, and assessing—all vital functions of effective congregational leadership. I think pastors will quickly realize how important this team is in comparison to other church leadership teams, such as Church Councils, that often do little more that calendaring and reporting.

Can this planning approach work in a large church?

MARTY: The model in the book is based on fundamental principles of educational planning and organization. Therefore, the size of the church does not detract in any way from the effective use of the model. The leadership team will be smaller or larger depending on the organizational needs of the church. For example, a smaller congregation will have a Preschool/Children’s Coordinator on the leadership team, whereas as larger church will have a need for a Preschool Coordinator and a Children’s Coordinator on the leadership team. The processes for educational planning and organizing are the same for congregations of all sizes.

ISRAEL: Yes, Marty is correct, size isn’t really the issue here. The book presents fundamental and universally applied principles of organization, planning, and assessment that are suitable to all educational enterprises. I used these principles when I was a church educator. I now used these organizational, planning, and assessment principles and practices as dean of a theological school.

Is the planning approach workable in a small church?

ISRAEL: In a real sense a small church is the ideal place to start with this planning approach and with the organizational structure of an educational leadership group. What happens often is that churches outgrow their structures and try to re-organize in the midst of chaos and pressing changes. Putting this structure and planning process in place while the church is small in numerical size is ideal because both are adaptive and can expand as the church’s needs grow. There is no need to reinvent the wheel or re-organize the leadership structure as the church grows.

What is the planning approach presented in the book?

ISRAEL: There are four components to the approach we present in the book. First, we urge congregations to take a community of faith approach to how they plan the Christian education formation program in the congregation. Second, the planning flows from an integrated structure through the Christian Education Leadership Team organization. Third, we present the use of the Christian Church Year as a natural and theologically informed framework for planning church education programs. Lastly, we include an important component not usually found in most congregational education programs, namely, a process for assessing the effectiveness of the church educational ministry.

MARTY: Also, the book advocates a collaborative, team-based, planning approach led by the lay leaders of the congregation. The purpose for the Christian Education Leadership Team (we call it the C.E.L.T., but it doesn’t’ matter what a church calls this group, “committee,” “team”, whatever) is to give oversight to all of the educational components of congregational life giving attention to needs for planning, budgeting, and ministry assessment and encouraging integration of ministries, cooperation, and collaboration.

Q: What about the role of paid staff, then?

MARTY: Oh, staff leadership remains an important part here. A clergy staff liaison serves on the leadership team along with the lay leaders who represent the program ministry areas—preschool, children, youth, adults, Sunday School, training, etc.

An interview with the authors of Planning for Christian Education Formation

In these first few blog entries the authors of Planning for Christian Education Formation: A Community of Faith Approach (Chalice Press, 2010), Israel Galindo and Marty Canaday, will answer questions about the book. Here are the first two questions and their responses:

Q: What motivated you to write this book?

ISRAEL: I’ve been wanting to write this book for several years. It contains in large part the answers to the questions I am asked most by congregational leaders seeking help for their church education program. The timing was right when Marty became available and willing to work on the book with me.

MARTY: During a series of conversations we compared notes and realized that there was a “top ten” list of questions we received about how to plan an effective Christian education ministry from pastors, educators, and seminary students. It was clear to us that the congregations most of these leaders served did not have an intentional process for educating persons in faith, an understanding of how to do so, or a leadership team that was giving appropriate to educational planning issues beyond general calendaring. Eventually we decided to produce a resource to address these issues.

Q: So what are those common issues that you address in the book?

MARTY: The book addresses the following common congregational problems and issues: “Lone Ranger” leaders, lack of organization, silo mentalities, lack of coordination and cooperation, lack of framework, lack of planning, lack of evaluation, and an inappropriate (and ineffective) educational approach to faith formation.