Encouraging Learning in Our Congregations

When my oldest child gets to first grade there are certain competencies he is expected to master. He will need to spell his name, color within the lines, and exhibit a modicum of good manners. When he gets to second grade the ante will go up, and so on, and so on.

And when he comes grows into an adult and comes to church he can forget about all that, because at church we only expect people to show up when they feel like it – once a month seems about right. And we thank them for doing so – which sometimes has followed a form of begging them to do so.

It is becoming clear that this is not a helpful strategy.

The Church possesses an educational heritage that has seen more rigorous times when it comes to the formation of its members. And it is high time we re-claim it.  In a day and age when people are no longer pressured to join a faith community like they once were – and many, if not most, are coming to church figure this ‘God thing’ out – we do well to  not only meet them with a well-reasoned understanding of what it means to be a Christian, but to offer them a logical and practical way to grow in their faith.

Let me be clear at the start that what I’m commending is not a rule-based, Class A Christian vs. Class B Christian – in fact I don’t even like this word ‘competency.’ What I’m suggesting is that this whole idea be framed in the notion of gracious invitation – that wherever someone is on their spiritual journey, their faith community is poised to aid in ways that go further than, ‘you figure it out on your own.’  Instead, what would it be like to have in place a framework, using mentors, small groups, and competencies and expectations set by the student – though the congregation would have some suggestions and, again, a gracious invitation to help them along?

The Anglican Communion is onto something with their establishment, and continued work on something called Ministry Grids. These are essentially recommended core competencies that meet people where they are in their journey with God and God’s Church – from baptism to maturity and renewal. As local church leaders we need to do some noodling around this document and look for ways we might encourage learning in our congregations.

In my parish, St. David’s Episcopal Church in Southfield, MI, we are thinking and praying about launching something like St. David’s 101, 201 and 301 in the fall of 2014. We are thinking about a blended learning model for the congregation – a combination of online courses from ChurchNext and small group discussions that come about as students self-identify areas of interest and pursuits that keep with their understanding of how the Spirit is leading them.  Should we ask learners to come up with their own curriculum (what do you want to learn?) or should we set the curriculum? We’ll probably do both.

What would it look like for the Church to get more involved in the spiritual development of each individual parishioner, and can you help us think along these lines with what you’re doing in your community?  Suggestions welcome!

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