Hopefully you received and read the letter about some big changes to Christian education coming to Zion. Because this is such a big paradigm shift for our church, I’m planning to take the next few months to talk a little bit more about how our board of education decided that we should consider going in this direction. This month, we’ll look at how our own leaders became interested in rethinking how we practice faith formation. After that we’ll look more at faith formation in the history of the church, and why we believe a more integrated model holds promise. I invite you to join our leaders on the journey of discovering how we can together teach the faith and pass it on from generation to generation!
It started over a year ago when we discovered a new pilot program in the LCMS called “Generation to Generation.” The program was designed to challenge the church-based education model American churches have been taking for granted for generations, and instead explore and encourage churches to develop a family-based model of education. In almost every aspect of American civic life, we trust the education and training of children to “experts.” The church has been no different. While pastors and
church leaders have decried this for a long time, the reality is that many parents believe that simply bringing their kids to church, Sunday School, and confirmation is sufficient to teach the Christian faith to their children.
The problem is that research (and the Bible!) shows that children’s knowledge of and commitment to the Christian faith generally parallels their parents’. That means that you can have the most excellent youth or Sunday School class, but if that is all the spiritual formation that a child is given, it usually has a minimal impact compared to the influence of the child’s parents practicing and talking about the Christian faith. This is logical if you think about it. Think of all the ways your parents influenced you. You can probably still remember many things they said to you that you have kept with you your whole life long. Many of their habits and perspectives on life are your own, whether good or bad. Now try to think about something a pastor or a Sunday School teacher taught you. You might remember one or two things if you’re lucky. This is not to be critical of teachers or pastors, nor to say that they don’t have any impact. It’s just that, because of the relationship of parent and child that God has set up, parents are
going to have a much larger influence in the developmental years of childhood and adolescence.
Therefore, if we are looking primarily to the church to be the primary teachers of the faith, the results will generally be marginal. If we equip and empower parents to teach and model the Christian faith, the impact on their children can be truly transformational.
When we first heard about Generation to Generation, many of our leaders had already been thinking about ways to encourage and involve parents, so this resonated with us and seemed like the right direction to go. However, we also know that the inertia of church life can be hard to break. It’s hard to convince parents we need to do something different if our program looks largely the same.
That’s when we discovered “intergenerational” ministry. A growing number of churches are beginning to resist the trend to segregate everything in the congregation by age, and instead bring adults of all ages as well as children together to learn and serve in Christ’s church. This is not to say that grouping by age
is always inappropriate. But it should not be the dominant way that church life is experienced by kids or adults. We learn a lot from people that are different from us. And perhaps by bringing kids and parents together in church, we can model and foster faith conversations that will extend to family and home life as well.
In addition to these factors, our board of education recognized that it is getting harder and harder to find teachers and leaders for a traditional Sunday School program. It seems to get more challenging each year, and the Sunday School model relies on having a large contingent of dedicated teachers each and every week. We believe and hope that by placing the emphasis for teaching on the parents, we will also
have a more sustainable faith formation model for the future. In most cases, every child has two built-in teachers, dad and mom!
We know this is a big change, and big changes are hard. We also must acknowledge that we are still learning and very new to what we are doing. We are quite sure there will be growing pains and mistakes made along the way. But we also know the fastest way to improvement is by trial and error, and we look forward to making positive changes going forward. Our goal is not simply to implement a new program, but to change our culture of teaching the faith. That will take time and effort from our whole church.
We welcome feedback, questions, and concerns. We also welcome your help! Let me know if you’d like to be involved in this discussion, or in helping in any capacity with our Wednesday night education. Thank you for your support and prayers!