“Scripture teaches me to speak to my children at home and away, every morning and every night, about the fact that loving God comes first in our lives.”
Christian Formation at Church
Over the past fifty years, we’ve seen the professionalization of Christian formation and a proliferation of curricula and programs to teach the faith. These developments have provided more dignity to Christian formation workers and more options to parents facing the critical task of raising our children to know and love Jesus Christ, a welcome change. But there is one unfortunate side effect: a person would be forgiven for believing that Christian formation happens in a church building, as part of a formal program, taught by a trained leader, and nowhere else.
Encouragement from Scripture
“Glory to God from generation to generation in the church, and in Christ Jesus for ever and ever…” reads Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. The sixth chapter of Deuteronomy makes clear who is responsible for the transmission of the faith from generation to generation: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise.” (Deut. 6:5-7)
The Role of Parents
Talking with parents over a decade or so of Christian formation, I’ve learned that many bring their children to church because they don’t feel qualified to teach them the faith. They entrust them to the programs of the church because they believe that by doing so, they are raising them to know and love Jesus Christ . . . or at least to “be a good person.” As a professional Christian educator, with a Master’s of Divinity degree no less, too often I have believed that my job is to meet these parents’ expectations: to provide curricula and program that will give their children a half-hour or an hour of Christian formation, once a week. After all, that’s how Christian formation works . . . isn’t it?
Recently, statistics about the loss of members in mainline denominations and conversations with the youth of our church have caused me to think again. It’s become clear to me that the way we do Christian formation isn’t forming the next generation of Christians to understand the importance of weekly worship of God and participation in the life of the church. I’ve begun to wonder if the way I treat parents is part of the problem. Because I know I’m expected to produce a volunteer-taught Christian formation program for a half-hour to an hour a week, too often I look at parents as potential volunteers. I don’t look at them as people who are entrusted with the sacred responsibility of forming their children into Christians over the course of childhood and adolescence.
I’m also a parent. I know how much it matters to me that my children have a dedicated time of Christian formation with their peers on a weekly basis. I want that program to continue. But if I’m honest, I also want more resources and more fellowship to make my home a place of Christian formation . . . to bring my heart more in alignment with God’s Word and the work of the Holy Spirit in my life . . . to help me grow in faith as a mentor to the next generation.
Scripture teaches me to speak to my children at home and away, every morning and every night, about the fact that loving God comes first in our lives. In an era when the professionalization of Christian education is considered normative, I wonder how I can shape a church culture that empowers and encourages every parent in this critical task. And I wonder how many others are with me in feeling like this is both ancient territory and new, uncharted ground.