October 16, 2017

The LG’s discuss CE

It has been awhile since we have heard from our “Liturgical Gangstas.” Three of them are back today to discuss the education of young people in their traditions. Here’s today’s question:

Describe your church and denominational approach to Christian education of children and youth? Has this changed significantly over the course of your ministry? In your opinion, what are the strengths and weaknesses of your tradition’s particular approach?

• • •

Rev. Angie Gage

Within the United Methodist Church as with most denomination, Christian Education of children and youth is essential in helping to build their understanding of who God is and who they are in relation to God.  The history of education within the United Methodist church is important.  Many United Methodist churches were the first to offer basic educational classes in communities.  The idea of Sunday school originates back to the days that basic education was offered within the walls of the church.  Then on Sundays, the Sunday School would focus on educating individuals in the Bible and spiritual formation.

When I was a child, Christian education was essentially Sunday School.  We had the weekly leaflets that contained our lesson.  But the thing I was most fascinated with was this flimsy little square of black that would play our music on the record players.  It wasn’t a regular record.  I remember those records just as much as I remember the lessons, maybe even more.  I was thrilled that we used this new kind of record in class.  Because I was so fascinated by the record, I was determined to learn the songs even more.  Sunday School was a lesson, music, and a craft.  That was pretty much it.

The other essential of my Christian Education was vacation bible School.  In those days, it was like going to Sunday School all week long.  It was Sunday School with extra activities.  I went every year, but only to the Vacation Bible School at my own church.  I knew all the people teaching, all the kids attending.  It was a time to learn in fast forward.

Then there was camp.  Oh, camp was always great.  I learned how to make a God’s eye at camp with simply two popsicle sticks and some yarn.  I learned how to make a cross out of match sticks.  I think my mother still had it a few years ago.  I learned how to make friends and treat each other like we really liked each other.

So, with my childhood, the essentials were Sunday School (first and foremost), Vacation Bible School, and Church Camp.

Rev. Angie Gage, continued

When I was in college, I was teaching Sunday School to youth,  I noticed things had changed just a little.  The material actually talked about things that youth were worried about in their daily lives.  There was more interaction, more time for discussion.  It was a little more relevant to what was going on in their lives.  Sunday School was becoming more interactive for youth.  Vacation Bible School was still offered, but it now had a youth component to it as well.  Maybe we were making steps in the right direction.

Walk into a Sunday School classroom at my church on a Sunday Morning and you realize that the idea of Christian education has stayed the same, but adapted to the culture.  My last church was so into their newest curriculum, they installed wall-mounted TVs with DVD players in all of the classrooms.  No longer did we have songs on flimsy square records or cassettes.  No know we have music videos, short TV shows to help teach the lesson, and so much more.  We might still have take-home leaflets, but now they are in full color, not just three or four colors.  The leaflets include information that parents need to know and encourages parental continuation of the lesson.  The curriculum teaches the Bible while helping them to understand even earlier about how the Bible story relates to their lives today.  My current congregation has used a rotation model for Sunday School.  The children learn through interaction with the Bible story in music, story, drama, cooking, and more.  Who would have ever thought that through cooking, we can teach the Bible stories, but we can.

Vacation Bible School has even changed.  There is story, puppets, drama, recreational games relating to the lessons, snacks relating to the lessons, and so much more.  Vacation Bible school includes video and some internet connection.  Who would have ever thought it thirty or forty something years ago!  Vacation Bible School is no longer just for kids.  Now VBS has components for youth and adults.  Wow!  How exciting and innovative.  Yes, even adults can go to Vacation Bible School.

Children and youth still attend church camps, but not quite as much as they used to do.  Now, youth have opportunities to attend youth events on a grand scale.  Within the United Methodist Church, we offer an international United Methodist youth gathering every four years.  I attended with my daughter and her youth group in July of 2007.  Imagine, over 8000 youth with their adult leaders gathered in one place to worship and learn together.  I saw youth’s lives transformed.  I saw youth worship freely, as if no one was looking.  This past July, our international youth event was broken into two locations.  Youth from all over gathered in Indiana and in California to worship, serve, pray, and learn.  When I was a youth, we didn’t have big events like this.  Now we do.  Our youth have opportunities to learn beyond the traditional Sunday School and Sunday night youth.  Most youth meet at least twice a week, outside of Sunday School.  They not only focus on learning the Bible, but also in putting their faith into action.

There are many strengths and weaknesses to what we do today.  Some of the strengths revolve around how Christian education is attempting to keep up with the culture.  There is an attempt to keep up with technology and offer more studies through video and distance conferencing.  However, the cost of these become prohibitive, thus making it a weakness as well.  A small membership church finds it difficult to pay hundreds of dollars for one video.  In that case, it is easier to just use a curriculum that is not dependent upon a video.  Another strength is that the curriculum writers are realizing that people lead busier lives now and don’t’ have quite so much free time.  The weakness in this is that there is no interaction with the bible study during the week and the material is often watered down in an attempt to  please the culture.

How do we authentically provide Christian Education for our children and youth?  We have to make sure we are using theologically sound material.  If you are a part of a denomination that has it’s own publishing house, then use the materials published by your denomination.  If you are not a part of a denomination with a publishing house, research who the publisher is, who the author is and find out what their theological beliefs are.  Researching the materials we offer to our children and youth ensure that we are providing them with the absolute best education we can.  It doesn’t matter if we are providing Christian Education through Sunday School, special programs, regular activities, Wednesday night events, after school events, camps, etc.  It doesn’t matter what the venue, just make sure it is good sound material to ensure that our children and youth receive the absolute best.  As a United Methodist, I like to use materials published by Abingdon Press, Discipleship Resources, and Upper Room.  Southern Baptist have Lifeway.  The Presbyterian church has Presbyterian Publishing Corporation.  Disciples of Christ have Chalice Press.  The list goes on and on.  There are companies not related to denominations like Zondervan.  All of these provide Christian Education material of great value.  You just have to find what is right for your church.

I know that I strayed from the question, but I just have to go in the direction that I am led to go.  I see changes that have happened and am impresses yet saddened at the same time.  We offer more opportunities, but too often are offering watered down Christian Education.  I just hope that as we teach the gospel every day, we consider that what we do today has an impact on their tomorrow.  In being true to God’s calling for us to spread the gospel, we must remember that while we can offer it to them in a new culture with new technology, we shouldn’t have to present them with a Hollywood Jesus, but an Eternal Savior.  I’m Just Sayin’ (as my daughter would say).

Pastor Daniel Jepsen

Allow me to focus my response more to the youth side (rather than younger children) since I have more experience here. I will answer the first two questions by telling you what I have learned from working as a youth pastor in three churches (and now as a Pastor still weekly involved with the teens).

First, discipleship is more caught than taught. That is, it is less like an algebra class, and more like learning a trade. Kids learn Christianity and what it means to live as a Christian much more by modeling than by a class. For this reason, it is important that not only are the teens exposed to good adult role models, but that some events (for example, camps, trips, service projects, etc…) provide the opportunity for interaction with those role models.

Secondly, discipleship includes training the mind in a biblical worldview, not simply teaching random devotionals. For this reason, we work out a three-year scope and sequence for teaching through the bible, Christian doctrine and history, and Christian practices. What we want to avoid is simply giving talks on hot-button issues.

Thirdly, “program-driven” approaches are less effective than an intentional approach. A program-driven approach emphasizes a schedule of activities (Sunday school, youth group, service projects, outreaches, etc…). The goal is to get more and more kids participating in more of the activities. An intentional approach (I would say “purpose-driven” but that phrase has been hijacked) focuses on asking, “What do these kids need in order to become more like Christ, and what can we do to help?” After a few years of youth ministry, I began asking those two questions, and I turned to the New Testament for answers. I did a rather thorough study of the biblical concept of Christian maturity and especially of the Greek adjective teleios, which is described as the goal of the Christian life, and is usually translated by the words, mature, perfect, whole, or complete. After studying all the passages, I summarized them under five headings. Maturity comes from:

  • Receiving God’s word (through scripture and obedience)
  • Loving God’s family (through service and fellowship)
  • Connecting to God’s heart (through worship and prayer)
  • Sharing in God’s plan (through evangelism and mercy)
  • Suffering

I and the other leaders attempted to help provide ways for the teens to be involved in the first four of these (alas, we did not trust ourselves with the last). Sometimes this was encouraging the teens to be involved in the regular activities of the church. Sometimes it meant creating special opportunities for the teens. Sometimes it simply meant giving them a tool. Of course, it always looked better on paper than in reality.

Finally, I have learned that the affections need to be trained and not just the mind filled. C. S. Lewis notes, “Until quite modern times all teachers and even all men believed the universe to be such that certain emotional reactions on our part could be either congruous or incongruous to it—believed, in fact, that objects did not merely receive, but could merit, our approval or disapproval, our reverence or our contempt…St Augustine defines virtue as ordo amoris, the ordinate condition of the affections in which every object is accorded that kind of degree of love which is appropriate to it. Aristotle says that the aim of education is to make the pupil like and dislike what he ought. When the age for reflective thought comes, the pupil who has been thus trained in ‘ordinate affections’ or ‘just sentiments’ will easily find the first principles in Ethics; but to the corrupt man they will never be visible at all and he can make no progress in that science. Plato before him had said the same. The little human animal will not at first have the right responses. It must be trained to feel pleasure, liking, disgust, and hatred at those things which really are pleasant, likeable, disgusting and hateful. “

I have certainly seen the truth of this. Nothing is easier than to spot young people who have grown up with a great deal of Bible knowledge, yet really have no heart to worship God by a life of obedience to Him. Their mind is formed, but not their affections.

How does the Church help train the affections? Well, first we must recognize that the parents will have the most influence here. It is more important that they display an attractive, grace-filled love in the home than that they have family devotions or send their kids to Christian schools. Also, the church can help do this by facilitating modeling, as noted above. The idea of a Youth Pastor is not an unmixed blessing, but the right person in this role can serve as both a model of how to live the Christian life, and also help young people to want to do so. Thirdly, I believe music plays a crucial part. That is, music speaks to the soul and the emotions, and should be a foremost tool for training the affections. Because of that, within each church’s ability, young people should have a time and place to worship with music that is not only biblically true, but attractive and meaningful to them. I don’t mean that this is necessarily on Sunday morning. Finally, the church must preach and model grace in all that it says and does.

The biggest weakness I see in the evangelical approach is two-fold. First, often the lessons about training the emotions are not learned, and we end up with kids with more knowledge than devotion. Second, many churches are too ready to hand off education (of teens especially) to a youth pastor. As my words above show, I see a real need for adult models who will invest time in the life of the kids. So my caution here is not against the concept of a youth pastor, but the wrong use of a youth pastor. He or she cannot do this without a team of other committed adults. Unless the church as a whole owns this ministry, and enough of them show it by putting skin in the game, all of his or her weaknesses will soon characterize the whole youth ministry. Also, when that youth pastor leaves, kids who have only bonded with that minister will feel rather alone in the church, or even in their faith. Few things are sadder than a youth group centered on a youth pastor.

Fr. Joe Boysel

In thinking about the Christian Education of children, it seems to me that there are two major components to this endeavor: content and delivery. The former obviously deals with the specificity of the teaching, while the latter concentrates on the method of instruction. Let me look at this topic, then, from an Anglican perspective, keeping in mind the twofold nature of Christian education.

Anglicans, standing in the catholic tradition of the Church, have done an excellent job preserving a summary of the essential teachings of Christian faith through the Catechism of the Church (you can find this catechism in the back of the 1979 edition of the Book of Common Prayer, p.843ff). The Catechism represents a doctrinal summary of that which we believe and is framed in a “Question and Answer” (often called Q&A) style. It thus assumes a ready mind, full of inquisitive energy, as it supplies the nomenclature for important theological queries. A corollary benefit of the Q&A style is that it fosters in the student a habit of thinking about theological matters in a rational framework. What’s more, teachers and priests may easily form from the Catechism lessons on the Bible, ethics, dogmatics, and so on with logical and age-appropriate precision.

When it comes to content, Anglicans have good stuff. It’s precise. It’s unequivocal. And it’s catholic. Unfortunately, good content is not enough.

As I think about the way Anglicans have handled Christian education in America over the past couple of centuries (and much the same could be said about Anglicans on other continents over the same period as well) I have to admit that we’ve done a very poor job delivering the message to our children. We’ve had a collective assumption that children will learn all they need to know in 30 minutes a week of Sunday school, at the Communion rail, and when they’re in Confirmation classes as teens. Our major failure, then, has been to embrace a lifestyle of constant religious instruction.
Having come from a decade in an American evangelical church (Nazarene) I see a definite advantage to the delivery methods of American evangelicals. The typical program for families in the Church of the Nazarene includes an hour long Sunday school every week together with two worship services and a midweek religious scouting program. Children reared in Nazarendom are constantly being taught Bible, theology, and ethics from the cradle up.

The strength of the American evangelical churches (and the corresponding weakness of mainline churches) appears to thus be found in their respective religious fervor, which naturally translates into their approach to theological pedagogy. If only Anglicans shared the zeal of the Nazarenes (or the Baptists or the Pentecostals), I think we would find clever ways to deliver a clear, consistent, and orthodox message.

 

Comments

  1. I have mixed emotions about CE for younger people, particularly youth. I have to at least mildly disagree with the thought “If only Anglicans shared the zeal of the Nazarenes (or the Baptists or the Pentecostals), I think we would find clever ways to deliver a clear, consistent, and orthodox message.” The feeling I get from this is, “We need to be cooler if we’re going to capture teenagers’ attention.”

    I was a part of a large youth ministry (200+ high school students) that drew in large crowds with smoke machines, flashing lights, crazy games, video systems everywhere you looked, with a Gospel message as a “bonus” at Wednesday night worship services. This method began trickling over into Sunday School, in order to entice students to take part and grow “deeper” in their faith.

    What we found after years of fighting to keep up the numbers and build the next generation of Christian leaders, was that churches can’t out-entertain the world…and I’m pretty sure now that we’re not even supposed to.

    I don’t think that we need clever ways to package an orthodox message. I don’t think we need innovative programs. I think what we need are individuals to teach our youth who are fully invested in young people’s lives. Young people will only be impressed for a short while with clever ideas, because another clever idea will catch their attention before you know it. That’s teen culture. On the contrary, teen culture today has more than its fair share of adults who aren’t fully invested…parents divorce and leave kids behind. Honestly, sometimes I look at some parents of teens today, and wonder if they aren’t much more mature than their kids! “Self-centered” is the cry of our generation of adults.

    Listen, give the kids an orthodox message, for sure, but be willing to stick with them until the message sinks in. Young people need relationships that endure, that encourage them, that point out their strengths, that offer them discipline when they need it. Give them that, with an orthodox message. You don’t have to slap an “X-treme” label on the box and offer a video format to make it work.

    • I agree with your idea of an orthodox message delivered in the context of relationship. In fact, that is a pretty good definition of making disciples. But I disagree with your aversion to creative delivery methods of delivering that message. I think it goes beyond entertainment. From what I understand the creative delivery methods are all about reaching those with different learning styles (The most basic divisions being auditory, visual, and kinesthetic) and also driving the message from a basic knowledge to a higher cognitive level such as evaluation.

      If you look at Jesus teaching techniques you find that he used multiple ones and modeled what we would consider cutting edge methods (of course without the tech). He engaged the mind, he engaged the body, he engaged the senses, he told them, he asked them, he discussed with them, he showed them, etc. He really was a master teacher. We need that kind of diverse delivery today. Maybe the problems you observed weren’t from the creative delivery methods as much as they were from the message itself?

      • I’m speaking as a teacher and a mother of four, Dan. There are creative methods designed to reach students of a variety of learning styles, and then there are methods that are in themselves so extreme that no message can survive them unchanged. There have been times we’ve asked our kids after school or Sunday school what they’ve done, and they’ve said, “Balloons! Fun game! Paint ball! Chocolate!” And there have been other times when they’ve done something less “academic” — watch “Schindler’s List,” for example, or go for a hike — where they told us what they’d actually learned about the subject. Yes, different techniques are eseential in conveying a message to different people, but what Gospel message is appropriately conveyed by a smoke machine or cans of whipped cream? And how can we be sure that the student has heard the content of the lesson and not just been overwhelmed by the delivery?

        Some psychologists over the last few decades have suggested that many of the attention-deficit problems we see are actually created by the overload of “creativity” in the classroom — visual, aural, tactile, olfactory, what have you. Many children find they learn better under simpler, stripped-down conditions that are designed for learning and not entertainment.

        There’s another issue here that’s strangely ignored: why is learning not seen as entertaining in itself? It’s like trying to make food fun: Aren’t we SUPPOSED to like food? What has happened to us that we have to be given toys to eat, or to learn about and commune with God? Very weird.

        • “why is learning not seen as entertaining in itself?”

          This is such a great identifier of a root problem with education in our (U.S.A.) society.

        • I’m not advocating fluff. I believe in solid content. So if we are having problems I believe it is the content we have to look at. But at church our delivery has to be more creative than “sit down, listen, and recite back.” That was the preferred method when I went to school/Sunday school and I didn’t learned much. The majority of what I know, I had to teach myself through exploration and personal study.

          That is why I am happy that our church uses sight, sound, and multiple methods to get the message across. A solid gospel message. These aren’t new ideas. Not only did Jesus use them, so did the traditional church. They had communion, baptism, icons, stained glass, music, incense, etc.

          • Dan, I don’t necessarily disagree with you that creativity is a good thing. Form doesn’t matter as much as substance. I think my experience has seen tons of fluff in trying to capture teens’ attention. In fact, I’m surprised we didn’t have a “tons of fluff” night at some time or another.

            Creativity is good, but to what extent to we adopt pop culture to draw kids in before we’ve just become a part of the culture itself? Where is the line between counter-culture, which we’re called to be, and sub-culture?

            Interesting thoughts all the way around.

    • As a school teacher, what you said hits the nail on the head not only for CE but also in the classroom. We (education system) are constantly trying to drum up something that will “entertain” them but, often they find it totally lame. I have found that actually caring about them does wonders in the classroom. I would say knowing a Christian person caring for them in this CE setting would be much more of an impact than playing video games until their fingers go numb.

      • Yes!

      • I agree as well – I already have a large family so when I am in a classroom setting I tend to treat them as my kids. Even the troubled ones (who I tend to gravitate towards) are, nine times out of ten, looking to be heard, to sit down, make eye contact and not react until they are finished…

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Honestly, sometimes I look at some parents of teens today, and wonder if they aren’t much more mature than their kids!

      There are a lot of Perpetual Six-year-olds (never mind Perpetual Adolsecents) in sexually-active adult bodies out there. It’s kind of scary when my writing partner tells me I act a lot more “grown-up” than other Baby Boomers he counsels as a pastor. I KNOW I’m not wrapped all that tight to begin with, and I’m the Grown-Up of this outfit?

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      I was a part of a large youth ministry (200+ high school students) that drew in large crowds with smoke machines, flashing lights, crazy games, video systems everywhere you looked, with a Gospel message as a “bonus” at Wednesday night worship services.

      Why am I thinking of “Perform This Way” by Weird Al Yankovic when you say that?

      Your “large youth ministry” wouldn’t happen to be at the same church with the “Weirdest Sunday Service” video that was making the rounds a couple years ago? The Sunday service that included a gigantic Milton Bradley Game of Life stage set, Strawberry Shortcake dancing, a Mime with a Python, and some guy in a really awful lobster fursuit ranting “Come Together” by the Beatles in a style reminiscent of Shatner’s cover of “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”?

  2. Christian Education is a challenge in my Catholic CCD program. First, only about 15 percent attend Mass on a regular basis and about half not at all (and no they are not going to the rock show down the street or I’d have surely lost them by now). Second, parental involvement in their kids spiritual life is minimal – most kids parents ( I tend to have these frank conversations with sixth grade on up) do not even mention God between each CCD class. About 20 percent pray on a daily basis.

    When I do get a chance to corner the parents in a group setting I try to bring home the point that like math or organized sports or manners, it is their responsibility to help their children know God, and mentioning God/Jesus/etc in their homes combined with bringing them to Church really goes a long way in their formation. After all these kids can’t drive themselves. I get a lot of eye rolling.

    My program is not about glitz, but we do incorporate some service, group activities and chances to express their opinions of how they see things from the secular mind set. That is when it is the most fun and sometimes the most satisfying.

    My thoughts…

    • The point you illustrate is exactly what gets under my skin here at IM. Obviously the Evangelical model isn’t working as we hoped, but the Evangelical model was created as a reaction to the traditional model which also doesn’t work as we hoped. It’s seems we (myself included) sometimes become over nostalgic over the way things used to be, but it didn’t work then either. How can traditionalism be the cure for Evangelicalism when latter was developed as a cure for the former.?

      This goes for Liturgies, Catechisms, organizational designs, authority issues, etc., etc.

  3. I think the very concept of “youth group” creates a false category. Healthy teenagers should have the mental capacity and patience to sit in a room with a group of adults for an hour and discuss a book. This is dramatically against our culture, but it’s the only way that kids will make the transition to an adult level: by talking and spending time with adults who respect them and treat them as equals. Segregating people who are biologically adults and keeping them on different levels only ensures that these people will have a hard time integrating into a single adult congregation, if they ever do at all.

    Until a few years ago, I was in the aforementioned children’s and youth groups. (Good grief, Mozilla Firefox doesn’t like my use of “children’s.”) Some people said, “Well, you’re just very mature for your age,” which sounds like it ought to be a compliment but isn’t. Yes, I was, but the reason for that is that I was raised by parents who never talked down to me and didn’t hesitate to introduce me to adult things. I love that C.S. Lewis quote above. Kids learn to appreciate adult things by being told that adult things are interesting.

    If all you had ever heard of something was, “Oh, there’s the grown-ups doing their Bible study. You don’t want that. Let’s all go to Dairy Queen,” would you have an incentive to move into the adult realm of spiritual development? In church education as with school, a lot of adults often seem embarrassed to even try to introduce their material to kids and teenagers. That’s fatal. It would be far better if they were practically jumping up and down with excitement: “Hey, kids, I’m really glad you’re here today, because we’re going to talk about something really cool!” And isn’t the faith, even without PowerPoint or free t-shirts and soda, still Really Cool?

    • Kelby Carlson says:

      I’m just out of high school. I can tell you that what I got from my “Christian education”–Sunday school, youth group, teen small groups–was not very substantial in terms of doctrine or even biblical study. I made some really valuable friends–most of whom were as sick of the evangelical circus as I was–but I honestly didn’t “learn” that much there. (I have a serious passion for theology; it’s most of what I read, so I think I have a rather decent Christian education under my belt even if it is self-taught.) Now that I’m in college and looking at different religious organizations on campus, I don’t see quite the problems I did in high school, at least not in the same form. The problem is that you have a lot of people who are serious about Christianity but essentially theologically illiterate. Which means that whatever methods are being used at a younger age by-and-large aren’t working.

    • I agree with you and Damaris… kids need meat and not candy all the time. And meat isn’t always fun though we should try to make it fun when possible. The bottom line is that they need substance too, with some fun thrown in at times to break it up. its kind of like math – it can be really boring but sometimes applying it turns on the light in our brain. but in order to get there you have to already know the rudiments. Another math example – i am a big proponent of kids memorizing the multiplication tables (schools don’t seem to do this much anymore) – it gives them a good foundation and teaches them to think quickly so that they can spend brain power on the abstract (or at least the next step).

      I apply the same with christian teaching – we memorize the commandments, corporal and spiritual works of mercy, gifts and fruits of the spirit and learn how to navigate scripture. We then go into stories in scripture to bring things to life.

      We mix it up with teachers as well – some times young helps them to identify, but older shows them the wisdom of age. To top it off for my eighth grade I bring down some college youth from a nearby Catholic university who are on fire for the faith. These college youth help to tap their heart while we are feeding their intellect. Its a good mixture.

  4. Where’s Cwirla (LCMS)?

  5. Steve Newell says:

    Let’s not confuse youth or junior youth groups with education. Most youth groups are not very good at education.

    Christian education starts in the home and with the parents. A Lutheran church that I attended stress that the home is the place for faith formation and the church worked to equip parents to carry out their God given responsibility to bring their children up in the faith. Sadly, too many parents abdicate their responsibility and make it their church’s job.

    When my children have gone through Confirmation, they are already very knowledge about Holy Scripture, the Lord’s Prayer, the Ten Commandments, and the Sacraments. Thus confirmation as a review not an education.

    • Steve – Agreed 100%. In fact we shouldn’t even be separating Christian education from “secular” education when we talk about the parent’s responsibility. THAT dichotomy has probably hampered the CE of our youth more than anything else. A parent is responsible for ALL their children’s education and training. The parent should be involved in the whole process. Teachers, secular and sacred are there to support and assist us where we may lack time or expertise. Anytime we fully abdicate that responsibility to others we are bound to get our youth into trouble. When we don’t know what they are learning and aren’t helping them understand and assimilate it into their lives we aren’t doing our job.

  6. My partner was raised in a Christian church (Catholic) and he learned a great deal of theology in classes at his local Catholic school. He has stated (when being appalled by the superficial CCD curriculum his sister-in-law was teaching) that having a grade on the line made him learn far more. And of course because it wasn’t really voluntary, in the same way CCD is, the teacher could require them to read Aquinas and Anselm and not just have them discuss their feelings about the Sacraments. His sister-in-law explained that if they made it hard or dull, then the students wouldn’t come. Since the parish was already having difficulties keeping the youth in long enough for Confirmation, that was a non-starter.

    You can’t force youth to go to catechism class (unless as in my partner’s case, there’s a whole school involved). After a certain age many parents will decide it isn’t worth the battle with their offspring to make them go to it.

    On the other hand, my partner is now an Atheist, so while he can discuss Catholic theology in some detail, it didn’t take over the long term. So, yes, academics probably isn’t the only issue here.

    But one thing my partner does remember with affection is service projects. Those he definitely got something out of.

    • Faith in action – yes, there is something to be said for service projects. Kids want to do something, especially if it is adult oriented. It gives them a sense of accomplishment and that they can make a difference.

      As for being an Athiest – at least he could make an informed decision. He’s got the head knowledge but not neccesarily the heart knowledge that i also try to tie in. But then that’s a subjective call since I don’t know your partner.

      Parental attitude hads a lot to do with things. When parents adopt the ” my Billy already has so much to do for school and sports” its hard to enforce anything. Couple that with cell phones (and parents calling their kid’s cell during class time – just created a policy about that) and things get a bit more difficult.

      • He still does service projects. He does them with my Temple. He is, after all, a member (a couple’s membership isn’t that far off from a single membership) and, because it’s Reform, they don’t have a problem with mixed marriages.

        Heart knowledge? Yes, that would be a problem for him. He’s very much into the rational, logical, where’s the evidence kind of mind set. We both are. It’s interesting. We both had crises of faith, around the same time (different cause, mainly) and wound up at different points.

  7. My memories of Sunday school involve making “sheep” by gluing cotton balls to toilet paper tubes…learning to spell “Jesus”…reading four-color pamphlets (bought from some denominational supply house) showing Jesus in all his white-and-blue robed glory, and full of valuable lessons like how it’s okay to be different from others (the character in this particular story was embarrassed by being unusually tall, but managed to save a baby from a burning staircase or something)… discussing “what would you do?” if you saw someone smoke marijuana at a party… Prayer meant bowing your head while somebody talked. “Bible study” meant reading Sunday school material around the room, or some such. Confirmation class involved memorizing rote answers to fill-in-the-blank catechisms, like how God created woman to be man’s “helpmeet.”

    The actual church services were just as dismal: organ music, a choir, old people singing out of hymnals, a collection plate, the sermon…the usual, stereotypical “church” type stuff.

  8. For those who think the parents are not doing enough, I wonder if they are currently raising children? In my experience, my kids are so loaded with homework from their GATE or AP classes that every time I have broached the subject of maybe looking at the bible together, they insist that they have no time. So I am happy to have them in Sunday school and youth group, because at least it is something. Yes we do occasionally discuss things related to Christianity in the car, but I find it cannot be forced.

    My daughter hates the junior high teacher that I was told all the kids loved. Youth group seems to involve a lot of games, but I assume they learn something at some point. The high school group, however, is currently studying apologetics. This is not typical in a UMC, but we felt so strongly about our youth program that we went outside of the denomination to find someone who had both and interest and an education for youth ministries. Parental involvement is encouraged, and most of the parents help in some fashion.

    Food for thought though, I wonder if we don’t expect too much from an hour of Sunday school and perhaps a week of VBS each year. For some, being raised in the church, going through confirmation and years of Sunday school may be enough to lead them to an authentic faith. For others, there needs to be a definite point of commitment, before which all of the things taught seem rather meaningless. I read in an old book an observation that there was about a 60/40 split in who needed what. I think the mainlines seem to think CE should be enough for everyone and the non-denominational churches think everyone needs conversion. Maybe we should move a little toward the middle and learn from one another? And while we are doing that, if the churches could facilitate intergenerational contact a bit more, I think that might help.

    • I understand the whole AP thing…..

      My group of kids are 8th grade on down. I think the point of commitment in one’s faith needs to be there. In my faith expression there is sometimes the mindset currently that “if our kids are there long enough to receive their sacraments all is good” – this translates into no church in between, and once they are confirmed they are free to choose – which means they choose what their parents chose, – not to practice the faith.

      I don’t so much expect the Bible to be cracked everynight for these kids who are committed to everything under the sun (I talk from experience with my older ones), but just simple things like prayer before meals, the mention of God in the house, the rememberance of a particular day in the church calendar – just part of daily chit-chat throughout anywhere in the day. If the kids are brought up hearing it then its just part of the normal routine.

      I am trying to change this – but cultural faith (as opposed to claimed faith) can be tougher to move someone forward in (but God will see that I’m a good person mindset…)

    • I like most of Ann’s comments.

      Similar to Radagast, I teach in a Catholic CCD program, Monday nights (8th grade) and Saturday mornings (5th/6th grades). Without doubt, many children don’t get the kind of parental reinforcement they need, but, as someone who grew up in a thoroughly non-religious home, I remain impressed that there are parents who dutifully bring their children to these classes, year after year. Naive, much?

      Yet I realize the kids may see it differently. I try to keep in mind Matthew 13, the way the seed falls on certain soil. With some kids, I know I’m feeding their faith and I hope to guide them further into it; with others, I can only hope I’m providing something thay might stick in their minds and sprout later, or maybe it never will. I’m convinced that teaching young people, especially, involves a lot of evangelization and the results, long term, have got to left to God.

    • I have 3 children ages 18, 15, and 12. I know what you mean about the business of a modern teenager’s life. Like you, those discussions in the car (on the way to dance, youth group, swimming, etc.) are some of the best we have. And those talks that happen in the natural course of life are exactly how it is supposed to be.

      Deuteronomy 11:19 – Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.

      But also my wife and I have always been very deliberate about involvement in our children’s total educational experience. My educational experience growing up was so bad (I was not suited for the one size fits all approach) that I vowed my kids would not go through that. Over the years at various times my kids have gone to Public School, Home School, Private School, and now Public Charter School. We have tried our best to tailor each child’s experience to their unique needs and our resource constraints at the given time. But whatever resource we were currently using, we have always tried to be aware of and maintain final responsibility for what they learn at church and in school.

  9. Pastor Daniel’s observation that “program-driven” curricula don’t work as an effective Christian education method is something that was recently part of a workshop at this year’s Missouri UMC Annual Conference back in June. To demonstrate, the workshop leaders did the following exercise (which you can repeat with your church very easily):

    1. Take a handout from one of your recent classes or programs, and give a copy to everyone in the room.
    2. Have them closely read over the material on the handout.
    3. Now, have them wad up the handout into a paper ball.
    4. Pick a random (or not so random) person in the room, and have everyone throw their paper balls at that person.
    5. Ask, with a show of hands, how many people thought that was a fun exercise.

    If you get more than 50% to raise their hands (and, typically, everyone but the target will), then congratulations! You’ve just implemented a successful “program”!

    What they recommended instead is the very “intentional” approach that Pastor Daniel describes, with a set of classes and courses that will help a person progress from where ever they are currently on the “spectrum” of Christian belief – from the person who may not know what they believe and young children to folks who might be years into ordained ministry – to the next step on their spiritual journey.