“I’m a religious educator—I have been for more than 30 years—and so I tend to think in terms of memory cues. In a Christian context, that often means thinking in threes: the three persons of the Trinity, the three days of the Triduum (Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection), even the three days Jonah spent in the belly of the whale!
There is so much change happening in the world around us, so much that is uncertain, so much that provokes conflict and disagreement. Religious education in such spaces has to be a dynamic ever-evolving process. There is no one curriculum, or even one clear recipe, for how to proceed. Instead, I name three tasks for my students as they ponder what it means to nurture Christian faith as a pastoral leader.
The first task is “to ignite.” Christian education, indeed religious education regardless of the community of faith, is a process of igniting curiosity and wonder. There will be no learning that lasts unless the people involved have questions. How can we speak of God in a world that is in so much anguish? Why does God hate certain groups of people? How can worshiping God feel so boring? I hope you can already see that there are many different responses to these questions—I believe, for instance, that God does not hate anyone, let alone specific groups of people.
Yet these questions are very real for people growing up in the U.S., or even coming to the U.S. from other contexts, because they are provoked by the representations of religion that abound in popular culture. Before someone ever enters one of my classes, or walks through the door of a church, they have been immersed in religious education. Much of what we do in this era is to challenge the misconceptions of such learning, the false stories that float around us, and invite people into deeper wonder about the world in which God continues to reveal God’s self.
We, pastoral leaders, must practice our faith and, along the way, learn through our questions, our confusions, our missteps and our failures. In doing so we can delight in the love and hope that God plants deeply in our lives, if we but listen.
The second task is “to curate” authentic and appropriate resources for responding to that curiosity. As a seminary professor, I am surrounded by colleagues whose scholarship is both deep and wide. They are a constant and continual source of wisdom for such questions. Many people outside of seminary, however, have no idea where to find such wisdom, or how to evaluate the various kinds of information that are available on the internet. A large part of the task of religious education these days is curating resources that are well fitted to specific contexts.
The third and final task of this triad is “to practice,” because deep learning demands embodied practice. Helping parents recognize that they are the primary source of faith formation for their children, for instance, can mean helping them learn basic prayers for meals or the art of offering a blessing at bedtime. Supporting adults, indeed supporting entire congregations, in discerning how God is calling them into the world, or what it means to have spirited Christian faith in a world of many vibrant faiths, or how following Jesus is a path through brokenness and sorrow to life and healing—these are practices that demand a profound willingness to listen deeply. They are also an invitation to do justice, to love kindness, to walk humbly with our God who meets us in our pain.
We, pastoral leaders, must practice our faith and, along the way, learn through our questions, our confusions, our missteps and our failures. In doing so we can delight in the love and hope that God plants deeply in our lives, if we but listen.”
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