Sunday, March 21, 2010

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.

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