Christian Education and the Role of the Family and Church
What is Christian Education?
Lawrence O. Richards defined Christian Education as the process by which the body of Christ is brought to its fullest potential in its goal of Christlikeness. The process is concerned with growth accomplished through interpersonal relationships in order that the Church is identified with the love of Christ.
According to Thomas Groome, Christian Education, “…must raise the critical consciousness of Christians. It must enable us to be aware of, to affirm, and to be thankful for, how Christian our community is already. But it must also question, critique and bring to consciousness the not-yetness both in our community and in the world, and call us forward toward being more faithful Christians in response to the kingdom.”
Goal of Christian Education
Christian Education involves much more than the transfer of knowledge. According to Richards, the ultimate goal of Christian Education is to stimulate and support the believer’s growth in Christlikeness. It is a process of personality and character transformation.” Richards indicated that the Church is a community of faith designed to transfer that faith through sharing of lives. If the Church fulfilled this role as assigned by Christ, education and evangelism would be natural outcomes. Christian Education, therefore, serves as an evaluation tool that constantly seeks to help the Church to keep relevant and to renew itself to carry on the work of Christ.
Christian Education and Lifelong Learning
The Church understands that Christians are called to engage in lifelong learning, especially of God and Christ as revealed in Scripture, by the power of the Holy Spirit. In the renewal of Baptismal vows and the Confirmation liturgies we make a commitment to continue faith formation using the word of God, the services of the church, sharing in fellowship and through prayer. Our response to the question: “Will you continue in the Apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and in the prayers?” is a resounding “I Will”. We as individuals make this commitment. This commitment to faith formation has to be undergirded by the availability of appropriate resources and methodologies to support us. We will now look at some of these.
Methods of Christian Education
Christian Education must utilize methods that focus on people, not facts to assist believers in achieving the goal of Christlikeness. Head knowledge (cognitive awareness) often remains in the head, affecting little or no change in a person’s behavior. As Richards says, “We must begin to raise the question of whether we are communicating life or isolated beliefs. This personal, relationship-oriented context transfers more effectively in a non-formal learning approach. Non-formal learning settings are shared life settings in which ideas, beliefs, and feelings are communicated.
According to Richards, “To communicate faith-as-life means that faith’s lifestyle, as well as faith’s content, need to be learned and that these need to be linked as they are being taught.”
Positives of Sunday School
According to Kay Llovio, regardless of congregational size, the Sunday School class holds the greatest opportunities for fellowship and friendship. Small sized classes facilitate bonding between class members. Within this type of adult class, the common quest of sinners striving to Christlikeness removes social, economic, and marital status barriers.
Inadequacy of Sunday School
Although many parents do not realise it, Sunday School for one hour per week is totally inadequate to be the sole period of instruction for their children. Llovio posits, that at best, factual knowledge is learned, but most likely, only in limited portions. Instead the Sunday School hour should—as should the worship service— stimulate the congregation to pursue their own educational opportunities and to incorporate an evangelistic lifestyle as an expression of their increased faith. It therefore means that further learning for both children and adults must take place in other organized sessions such as Bible Studies and in the home.
Adult Sunday School and the Christian Home
The interpersonal relationships necessary for the transmission of faith are most readily available in the home. One would therefore expect that most Christian education would occur in the home however this is not the case. Llovio points out that because Christian parents often feel inadequate to teach faith to their children in a society where experts and specialists abound, many have relinquished their teaching role to others who they think are better qualified for the task, without realizing that this is often not the case.
William Barclay writing about the early Church stated:
“The Church was far more concerned with the transmission of life, not facts. As the early Church saw it, the school is at best only an adjunct to the home. It is the parent who is responsible for bringing the child into the world, and it is the parent who is responsible for bringing the child to God. The child is the gift from God to the parents, and the child must be the gift of the parent to God.
Llovio contends that there is importance to God using the analogy of the family to describe his relationship with humanity. It represents the place where love and growth ought to abound. Additionally, it refers to learning through relationship rather than from formal lessons. Through scripture we learn that God is our Father and we have become joint-heirs with Jesus. However, Llovio states “God has not labeled Himself our Sunday School Teacher, but our Father.” God wishes to be in relationship with humanity, rather than to be our tutor.
How can Parents Share Faith?
Llovio outlined some steps that parents can use to share faith with their children.
1. Of utmost importance in nurture is that parents know what they believe and live their beliefs to the fullest.
2. All points of the person can be touched by sharing life with them; and the best opportunity to share lives is in the home. The amount of time spent together should be quality time with a conscious effort to transmit positive thoughts and actions consistent with beliefs in God’s Word.
3. Parents need to communicate their love in a natural manner; contrived situations will not accomplish the purpose.
4. A love for the Word of God must be reflected in the parents’ behavior for the child to model. Parents must both read and live by the Word of God unlike what was demonstrated by those who listened to the prophet Ezekiel but did not do as he instructed (Ezekiel 33:30-33).
5. By their words, parents have the opportunity to help children differentiate between fact and fancy. To exhibit faith is not always enough. Parents have the responsibility to reinforce their actions with conversation and direct communication.
Just as daily events are discussed in the home, God’s Word should be shown to be relevant to daily living. Parents need not only a strong personal relationship with God but a living, active faith.
Role for the Church – Teaching in Non-Christian Homes
Not every home is a Christian home. How does the Church assume responsibility for the unattached Christian, one without a home support system? Richards advocates faith nurturing processes.” These include:
1. Communicating a sense of acceptance and belonging
2. Drawing the learner into the community as a participant in those activities through which Christian faith is experienced and expressed
3. Building faith-modeling relationships between members of the community
4. Encouraging interaction with the Bible so that instruction becomes the interpretation of life
5. Encourage the exercise of choice, so that personal commitment to the lifestyle of faith can be made.
Ultimately, the Christian home and the Church must exist as nurturing communities.
Religious Development in Children
When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child (1Corinthians 13:11)
Ministry to children and young people presents special opportunities, responsibilities, and challenges. Much about Christianity and the Church seems to be for adults. How can we share the ideas and teachings in such a way that it is engaging and meaningful for children and young people?
Theories of psychological development can offer useful clues about what children are experiencing as they grow and develop and how they may respond to faith. To these we now turn our attention.
Jean Piaget’s studies on how children develop in their thinking from infancy, through to the emergence of near adult style of adolescence provide landmarks that can be useful for identifying the methodologies that children may best respond to. According to Piaget, children think initially through their bodies as they learn how to navigate the world (sensorimotor 0-2). Then between ages 2 – 7, they learn through their feelings and imagination. Concrete understanding occurs between ages 7-11, however this involves very basic and literal reasoning.
Christian Education programmes that convey religious thought through physical movement, imaginative representation and use the immediate context are more likely to engage the developing child until they are able to grasp abstract concepts.
Spiritual life and infant psychology
Infants are far more sensitive to their experiences and environment than was previously thought. They develop a sense of self and can distinguish others very early. Even in infancy, key issues for building faith begin to be engaged. These include intimacy, dependence, personhood, and trust. Therefore, parents should consider how they relate to their children at the start because it may have an impact on their general and spiritual well-being later in life.
Spiritual life and preschooler’s psychology
Preschoolers enjoy knowing but are unconcerned about how they know things. In western cultures they do not make a distinction between religion and everyday life. However, this may be different in other cultural settings where everyday activities are deeply connected to religion. Children are, however, very curious and open to knowledge and to relationships, including about God.
The preschool child’s limited vocabulary, understanding, attention, and knowledge make it difficult for them to express their religious ideas and for others to recognise that they have them. However, they can become overwhelmed by emotions and of a power that is mysterious, transcendent and personal. Using names such as God and gestures used in worship such as kneeling, silence, dancing, may facilitate the development of these growing feelings.
School children – concrete psychology
How many of us have experienced the frank comments that school children will make? They are able to identify and will ask questions but have not yet developed the skills to censure their comments which can range from awkward to very embarrassing. Their openness and desire to discover, drives them to make meaning of all that surrounds them and their experiences. They develop the ability to compartmentalize information which can impact their attitude to religion which they may see as for Sundays only. This can be offset by the engagement with religion in other spheres such as the home. According to Watts et al., “The child’s perception of his mother’s religiosity is the single biggest influence on his own religiosity.”
Children are naturally drawn to offer religious responses such as praise and thanksgiving. They see prayer as a continuation of life and will give thanks for the things they have and their experiences. They, however, need to be taught how to offer their thanks for Jesus and more complex religious experiences. Prayer should be kept very simple for very young children, because they are still novice language users. Using one or two-word prayers and gestures and silence can extend their prayer time.
Application: Telling Bible Stories
Children are drawn to Bible stories. The ability of a story to connect feelings and images and create meaning make them very attractive to children. They can readily place themselves into the story and, using their imagination, can escape reality and experience the transitional place created by the story. This allows children to safely reflect on their reality through the lens and safety of the story which can make it a useful tool to learn what is going on within them.
Christian Education syllabi that teach faith using the many stories of the Bible offer an attractive option for the engagement of children. Parables are particularly useful as a rich distillation of life and ideas. Since children readily take to stories, it is often unnecessary and unhelpful to attempt to explain stories to them as a platform or teaching point. They can discover layers of meaning for themselves.
Faith Development in Adolescents, and Young Adults
Young people have to deal with the social, emotional, and physical changes associated with growing up. Issues of identity become important during adolescence. Anxiety and distress may occur when there is too large a gap between self-concept (how I see myself) and idealized self (how I would like to be). Girls are more at risk because they are more likely to be influenced by media images.
At the onset of puberty, adolescents lose child status but have not yet acquired full adult status. This can arouse ambivalent feelings. They may feel liberated because they no longer look like a child and have increased responsibilities. However, they experience deep frustration when their emerging adult characteristics are not enough for them to be treated as such.
Note how the emerging physical sexuality of adolescents is exploited by elements within the society who give them the false idea that they are now adults. This can lead to rejection of those playing the parent role who may still be referring to and treating them as children.
Adolescents have a need for group conformity even as they struggle to be recognized for their individuality. Teenagers can identify their own values, direction, feelings, and plans more explicitly than before. They organize these into a system where logic and argument are their prized and, seemingly infallible tools. They, however, need to learn to use these skills and require the freedom to practice and the support if things go wrong. This is where families and Church can either help or hinder, facilitating independence or squashing it.
For the majority of teenagers, the teen years are not an emotional war zone. The expectation that it will be often leads to behaviour that can pathologise and bring about the unwanted result. Imagine Parent A saying to Parent B that they are having no problems with their young teen. Parent B responds that it is just a matter of time, and that to get ahead Parent A should start watching their child more closely. So, Parent A then goes ahead to pry into their child’s things rather than engaging in conversation, and a conflict develops. Parent A now has the problem that Parent B spoke about – but brought it into being by their action.
Unfortunately, many churches have very low expectations of their young people. This can lead to a policy of providing a ministry that either entertains them or is so watered down that it loses its authenticity. Church becomes little more than a club with no Christian title or purpose. When ministry is overly protective or geared at distracting young people from the realities of the world; such as drugs, abuse, and conflicting views by encasing them in church activities, their growing needs would not have been met. The young people fail to develop survival skills in decision making, independence and responsibility.
Young people have a psychosocial need for independence. However, this can obscure the development of dependable relationships with adults. Youth programmes that separate young people from the general congregation can suggest abandonment, rather than support for their emerging independence. The young person does not learn how to work with adults. Additionally, many adults harbour negative assumptions about young people such as exaggerated fears about their developing antisocial, and anti-authoritarian tendencies and they do not engage them, but rather practice actions that isolate them.
Many churches separate young people from the general congregation assuming that peer relationships offer a reliable basis for religious nurture. However, Young people tend to underestimate their peer’s religious beliefs. They may be reluctant to speak up about their own beliefs, which they fear their peers will deem to be conservative and goody-goody. In a world where prominence is made about secular views, young people may find it difficult to engage discussions about faith matters. Having adults with whom to discuss these issues can reduce their misconception that ‘no one else is religious.’
Adolescents and Confirmation
Our current usage of Confirmation and other rites that mark an autonomous decision in faith can ignite tension between the need for relationship and the adolescents need for freedom and identity. Confirmation suggests conforming to the community’s faith tradition. However, it can also become an opportunity for a young person to express their independent voice in faith, affirming what others did at infant baptism. Those who wish to avoid developing independence may simply utilize the conforming aspect of confirmation, while others may become overwhelmed by the independence aspect of it, viewing it as too adult a decision for them to make.
Implications for Faith – In search of a master story
The creation of a unifying ideology or worldview is the goal of the young individual. James Fowler posited that there is a shift from the story mode to the mastery story mode in the adolescent years. The master story mode pulls together the various parts and weaves a narrative that has greater meaning. It reflects the adolescent’s application of their emerging intellectual skills to a variety of issues including religious faith, churchmanship, political, environmental and ethical causes.
As young people become aware of their own mental processes, they come to realise the there are limits to knowing and that there are things which are logically impossible to know. This can be important for the engagement of the unknown in faith.
Self-awareness and vulnerability
As young people’s self-awareness develops, they recognise the ways in which they are not at the center of things. They become aware of being at the edge of knowledge, power, adulthood, and physical and sexual maturity. Faith can provide a source of support for those who feel marginalized. They feel comforted that they have a place at the center of God’s concern. However, the message is unconvincing for many young persons and can lead to increased negative attitudes towards religion as they move from loving to punitive images of God.
The Church is often viewed by disaffected youth as a barrier to spirituality and concerned with controlling thoughts and impeding free thinking. The organisation is cast as the enemy against which individuals must struggle. The Church’s strength of identity, its power and status, and confidence of purpose is at odds with the uncertainty of the individual. Young people should not be shielded from opportunities to see that churches and clergy have their own areas of vulnerability and self-doubt. When the Church accepts some of the criticism levied at it by young people, it allows for reflection on ways in which the Church has lost sight of its own limitations and sense of humility.
Adult Faith Development – Putting away childish things
The developing adult can be distinguished from the adolescent by their ability to think in abstract terms and craft a master-story based on concepts and principle that employ powers of logic and reason to most topics. This methodology is appropriate for thinking about religion which requires understanding abstract meanings, wrestling with complex ideas and pulling together the principles for living.
However, sometimes, there is a mismatch between the individual’s everyday approach to thinking and their approach to religion. There is a fear about questioning religion. Adults who apply adult thinking to religious ideas may feel guilty about having doubts, questions and alternate worldviews than what they learned as children. Alternately, some who question faith may feel that the literalistic religion of their youth was stronger and more real than what they have now. This creates a conflict which can cause the individual to retreat to the safety of unquestioned faith or become a driver for religious development.
Stages of Psychosocial Development and Religious development
According to Watts et al., religious development is concerned with a growing relationship with God, involving significant and ongoing personal transformation. Religious development is often spurred by features in the individual rather that being the result of church action. These features may be critical life issues that cause the individual to question where they are in their faith and provide the opportunity to embrace a new stage or level. Before anyone can offer assistance to the individual to negotiate the emerging faith issues, they need to be able to identify when the life issues are likely to occur. Development theories to which we now turn, provide some useful clues.
Erikson’s Stages of Development
Erik Erikson’s model of eight stages of development categorizes the individual’s lifespan based on social issues. According to Watts et al., Erikson’s main message is that our development depends on how we resolve conflicts at each stage:
Positive resolution strengthens the personality for the ongoing journey through life since the outcome furnishes the personality with a new virtue at each stage (hope, will, purpose, etc.). Unfavourable resolutions scar the personality and destabilise future development. The outcome is characterized as a kind of pathology (withdrawal, compulsion, inhibition, etc.).
The model offers useful clues about the spiritual issues an individual may be concerned about based on how they have negotiated stages in the past and the pathologies they may have developed.
James Fowler’s Stages of Faith Development
Fowler identified a development pattern for faith. Using life and faith stories, Fowler observed six types of faith-perspectives among people ranging from 4 to 80 years. A first pre-stage when faith is undifferentiated may be classified as a seventh stage (0). We can use this tool to identify the challenges that accompany the engagement of people’s religious development.
Fowler’s seven “stages” are not as distinct as they may seem. The transition from one stage to another often takes place gradually. Usually, it depends upon a variety of personal and social circumstances in addition to chronological age. It is possible — in fact, likely — that individuals may incorporate aspects of more than one type, particularly during periods when they are growing from one stage to the next. As a general rule, Fowler’s stages are sequential, and individuals move from one to the next along the continuum outlined by Fowler. However, in any given stage, circumstances may cause individuals to return to elements of previous stages. Personal images of God, which may seem to be quite distinct in each stage, in reality, usually contain aspects or characteristics of two or more different types.
Despite these cautions, the concept of faith development remains useful. It tends to confirm the impression individuals have that their faith has grown and changed, that it continues to change, often in response to particular circumstances in their lives. The information presented here is a composite of key characteristics of the stages in faith development identified by Fowler and others.
Cautions and Limitations
1. There is no exact correlation between age and faith stage. Chronological age is not equivalent to a ‘higher’ stage of faith.
2. The tool does not indicate a person’s future faith journey – that is, persons do not necessarily grow into each stage. At best, it offers a way to make sense of the changes we observe in ourselves upon reflection as we see similarities in our faith history. The tool only suggests what growth could be like – not what it should be.
3. The tool is not to be used judgmentally. Each stage has gifts for the Church. Faith development is not about being better than others, but adaptation in pursuit of what is personally best and authentic.
4. Care must be taken when attempting to apply the stage characteristics to individual faith journeys. It may be difficult to find a stage corresponding to the subtleties of one’s own faith. At best, it is a generalization tool. The sharp demarcations will not necessarily fit each individual; instead, there will more likely be a sense of continuity and gradual unfolding.
Application of Fowler’s Stages of Faith
Ministers can always make use of information for learning. However, the method applied by Fowler is very useful for individuals. Persons can be encouraged to reflect on their faith, looking for the ways that it has changed and how these changes are connected with their life events. Understanding the nature of each stage can help persons identify what they need to develop within their stage. Each stage requires different inputs. These coherence forming features are outlined below.
Stage 1 Intuitive – Projective faith develops using emotion-laden images
Stage 2 Mythic- Literal faith develops through the use of narratives
Stage 3 Synthetic – Conventional faith develops through interpersonal relationships (experienced and through reflection through the scriptural lens)
Stage 4 – Individuative – Reflective faith develops in the use of argument
Stage 5 – Conjunctive faith develops as persons reflect on paradoxes
An application of this information would be to provide more opportunities for interpersonal connections such as fellowship and Jesus stories that show how to interact for an individual who is at Stage 3 – Synthetic faith where the coherence forming features encourage interpersonal relationships.
If our people are at Stage 3 and we insist on preaching and teaching at the ‘theological level’, that is, using the coherence forming feature of argument which is more suitable for Stage 4 Individuative faith, there will be a disconnect between what they want for their level and what we are offering, leading to dissatisfaction. Their faith needs would not have been met.
There is a caveat. Always adhering to the coherence giving feature of a stage can feed a ‘dependency habit’ and prevent growth. Persons can become stuck in a rut. If they are at Stage 4 and are constantly fed critical analysis – arguments, they may find it difficult to move into a more experiential joyful engagement of faith because they have become hooked on the significance of ideas. Communities need to recognise that intellectual faith is not the end stage and should not elevate it as such. The ultimate stage is an experiential or active engagement faith.
How to get persons to engage with new faith coherences
As we observe congregants, we may notice that they are transitioning. They seem dissatisfied with what they have always done. Our goal would be to challenge them to move to the next development stage, however, they may not be prepared to accept the coherence method to get there. One option would be to use their current coherent method to teach the issues contained in the next stage.
Therefore, for an individual at stage 2, narratives were used to teach about faith. That individual may become dissatisfied with the literal imagery and want something more. As we seek to introduce them to stage 3, conventional faith, we may realise that they are not yet ready to use reflections on interpersonal experiences. We could use faith stories about interpersonal experiences, such as what Jesus has to say about how we are to live together to ease them into the stage. They would still be able to use the coherence method with which they are comfortable, while growing into a new faith stage.
How do church communities deal with outlier individuals?
Church communities often display a modal stage of faith development. While most members may fit in this stage, there may be outliers, those who do not fit the faith stage exhibited by the general congregation. These persons may feel pressured to conform to what the majority believes or fear ostracism. They fear being considered too juvenile in their faith or that they are ahead of everyone else. They become more vulnerable to group pressures when they are ripe for personal growth.
Persons in transition may feel as if they are losing faith, but they are simply growing and need to be assisted in their growth, which can be a messy process. Some members of the congregation may desire to tidy the transitioning individual to get them in line. While others may want to sweep them away because they are disrupting the harmony of the group.
The ability of the congregation to support and affirm persons with their differing faith stages will have an impact on the overall growth of the community and on each individual. As transitioning individuals experience developmental differences, a lack of support from their congregations can cause them to leave because they no longer fit in. Alternately, they may leave faith because they cannot handle the issues that accompany the transition occurring within them. Congregations that can celebrate their differences and work through the mess of transition would have created the environment for growth to occur.
Special Note: Faith Development in Women
Women’s religious development may diverge from what seems to be the norm. In Fowler’s model, the move from stage 3 (interpersonal dependence) to stage 4 (self -styled autonomy) is premised on ego development by Robert Kegan (1982). At stage 4 there is a move to recognise a ‘self in my own right’ and disengage from others. This is typical of men but does not necessarily work for women.
The period of interpersonal development stage 3 may be elongated and more complex for women. At this stage, women are more likely to be investing in their relationship roles and interpersonal domain. Rather than looking to stand apart as an independent, self-sustaining individual (stage 4) – women are investing in their roles as wife, mother, adult daughter. They pass through a phase of ‘probing commitment’ (searching or seeker), even as they remain loyal overall. They may exhibit a ‘tested commitment’ phase from which they emerge with greater self-awareness.
It has also been observed that women appear to embrace stage 5 before they act on stage 4 – autonomous faith. The later seeking of autonomy may be related to them placing their loyalty to family relationships before their own needs. This implies that for women opportunities to express their relationship issues, their desire for more or deeper faith (seeker or searcher phase), and the avenues to test their faith commitment, to feed their faith, and to apply themselves will provide them with the tools to grow in faith.
John Westerhoff’s Theory of Faith Development
John Westerhoff defined faith as “a way of behaving which involves knowing, being and willing.” He described four styles of faith; experienced, affiliative, searching and owned faith. The styles were not an indication of quality of faith but a reflection of the faith the individual is currently experiencing. He used the analogy of a tree’s growth rings to describe how faith grows starting with a single ring. Although small, it is whole, therefore, there is nothing wrong with any stage of faith, but they have the potential for growth. Faith cannot be given to another but can grow through the sharing of life and experiences as described below.
According to Westerhoff, our first experiences of Christ are not mental/dialectic but affective. At the preschool and early childhood stages we hear the word of God expressed in one form or another and we respond to the experience associated with the words. We respond to the hope, trust, assurance that the words invoke in us. The whole experience of the words, and the example modeled by those around us can influence us to want the faith experience. Therefore, those at experienced faith require other faithing selves to provide the nurturing environment to help them in their stage.
In this faith style, groups of faithing selves in the childhood and early adolescent years interact with others in an accepting community which has a clear sense of identity. They need to participate in the life of the community. They need to be active to create a sense of belonging and to know that they are missed when they are absent. The community affirms the gospel story from their unique perspective and style of worship. While faith is experienced enactively, it is next experienced in images and stories through the community’s story.
At this stage the affective faith is reviewed with logic and reasoning of the maturing adult mind of late adolescence and young adulthood. The community’s faith story is critically assessed toward to development of a religion of the mind. This requires study, theological engagement, and moral thinking about the faith story. The searching soul will experience doubt and will want to experiment. This is also a period of struggle and the initializing of commitment as persons start to engage their faith through advocacy and social action.
This describes the conversion experience. It is a period of illumination and enlightenment. It describes the accomplishment of the full potential of faith growth in an adult. Here the individual strives to not only experience faith but has wrestled and deepened their personal faith experience. They are now ready to bear witness through mission when they put their faith into action. Here they will engage liberation and advocacy movements as an outworking of their profession of faith.
According to Westerhoff, the styles are presented to help us to understand our faith journey or pilgrimage and for us to seek out the experiences and resources that we need to sustain and expand our faith.
He opined that no single educational programme can cover any single group, because individuals who are at the same stage will respond in different ways as they seek to meet the needs of their stage. One person may seek further exposure to Bible Study and more involvement in the life of the church as they seek after answers in searching faith, while another may shun established religion and choose an advocacy group to work out their faith needs at the same level. However, we can use the ideas to help to craft experiences to help persons move from one style to another and to review what we offer to persons at different ages.
Rite of Transition
Westerhoff noted that the church offers confirmation to persons who are entering their early teens. Confirmation is a personal commitment to discipleship rite. It is however placed at a time when individuals are in their seeking phase. The church is asking the individual to make a commitment, but the person is in their questioning, doubting, experimenting phase, when they are least likely to want to commit to something that they are just trying to understand.
Westerhoff recommended that a new rite for young teens be developed. It would recognise their need to question and wrestle with their faith issues. The liturgical celebration could be held on St. Thomas Day to encourage the questioning and wrestling process. Confirmation preparation could then be moved to early adulthood, when the individual would have engaged some wrestling and questioning and begun committing themself through advocacy and other personal vocation.
Westerhoff also suggested ways in which the faith needs of different groups could be directly targeted:
1. For preschool children, Westerhoff suggested more shared faith experiences with those who are trying to be Christian. They can learn the word of God through those experiences.
2. Baptism could be used as an initiation into the styles of faith. Pre-baptismal preparation could help those in experienced faith.
3. First communion could become an initiation into affective faith.
4. Children and early adolescents could benefit from an inter-generational ministry focused on the arts. The wider context for this would be a belonging community where the story is expressed, known and owned.
5. A ritual for those in searching faith that will encourage intellectual enquiry, interpretation and commitment.
6. Spiritual life retreats and interactions between searchers and those with owned faith could help both groups.
7. Confirmation could be offered to young adults. An extensive and intensive preparation should be developed for this initiation into owned faith.
Westerhoff and the other development and faith theorists have offered suggestions for the identification of the stages of faith of individuals in our local congregations and proffered ideas to meet their faith needs. We can use the information to formulate our programmes and methods of engagement. However, faith formation will not effectively occur only through programmes but rather through the relationships that are formed and nurtured in the home, church and community to help individuals seek after a deeper experience of faith.
Westerhoff reminds us:
“The challenge facing the church is in the bland, unconverted, ignorant lives of its members. Until adults in the church are knowledgeable in their faith, have experienced the transforming power of the gospel, live radical lives characteristic of the disciples of Jesus Christ, no new curriculum, no new insights on learning, no new teacher-training programs, and no new educational technology will save us.”
Barclay, William. Educational Ideals in the Ancient World. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book, 1980.
Groome, Thomas H, and John Wiley & Sons. Christian Religious Education: Sharing Our Story and Vision. San Francisco, California: Jossey-Bass A Wiley Imprint, 2007.
Llovio, Kay. “Toward a Definition of Christian Education: A Comparison of Richards and Westerhoff.” Christian Education Journal 5, no. 2 (1984): 15–23.
Richards, Lawrence O. A Theology of Christian Education. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Ministries Resources Library, 1987.
Watts, Fraser N, Rebecca Nye, and Sara B Savage. Psychology for Christian Ministry. London: Routledge, 2006.
Westerhoff, John H. Will Our Children Have Faith? San Francisco: Harper San Francisco, 1976.
October 23, 2020
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