Christian Education in the Small Membership Church
Karen B. Tye
Chapter Four Review by The Mustard Seed
“…carrying out educational ministry in the church cannot be reduced to a step-by-step process and…there are no guarantees!” (p. 55)
How do we do Christian education? When considering the “how” of doing Christian education, we must think and reflect on the issues we’ve already addressed, such as who are the people we educate, where does education occur, what is our concept of education and how does that concept shape what we do. This is when the clues as to “how” to organize Christian education within our own parish start to appear. These clues will likely be unique to your own parish. Additionally, the author outlines five basic qualities along with two vital capacities, plus the use of story and ritual as essential components to doing Christian education in the setting of a small membership church. The five qualities are: experiential, reflective, relational, inclusive, and integrative. And the two capacities are imagination and improvisation.
- Experiential – “We learn best when our whole selves are involved, when we see, speak, listen, move, smell, touch, and taste…Whether our setting is the Sunday school, the worship service, or an event in the life of the church, we need to think about how we invite the whole person into it.” (p. 57)
- Reflective – “Experience alone isn’t enough…The brain can take in only so much material before it needs to reflect…Reflection involves head and heart, both thinking and feeling…Building in opportunities for reflection on both thoughts and feelings is vital to education…The small membership church already knows that numbers are not the most helpful measuring rods for success. So it doesn’t matter how much we cover in a lesson or how long the sermon is. It is more about how well we come to know and understand what we’ve heard and done.” (p. 57-28)
- Relational – “Education is rooted in relationships…The small membership church is rooted in relationships too…What we need is to be intentional about this relational quality of the church and to build on it in important ways when we organize our educational ministry.” (p. 58)
- Inclusive – “By its very nature, the small membership church lends itself to an inclusive Christian education…We include all ages together to do something. Such a perspective frees us from having to look like the larger church with its multiple classes, separate youth groups, and long list of group-specific activities.” (p. 59)
- Integrative – “The small membership church needs to recognize that everything we do is educating and become intentional in working toward a holistic approach to its educational ministry. Planning church school, worship, and the various congregational events should be seen not as activities separate from one another but rather as all being a part of the educational work of the church.” (p. 60)
Now we should consider two capacities that are key to learning and can be quite helpful in planning and doing education in the small membership church. Fortunately, we all possess these capacities, even if we have to dig deep to discover our natural abilities. These capacities are imagination and improvisation. “Part of the work in learning to do education in the small membership church is recognizing, nurturing, and using these capacities. They provide vision and energy to see all the opportunities and possibilities for educating present in the small church context.” (p. 60-61)
- Imagination – “[A] small variation in the routine can be exciting and wake up those brains that have become less alert because of routine…Invite as many people as possible to help you imagine. New eyes can see things that familiar eyes miss…Welcome curiosity and questions…Too often we think education is about answers when it is the questions that are critical. Learning to ask questions and explore possibilities engages the imagination and helps us see, learn, and discover new ways.” (p. 61-62)
- Improvisation – “Improvisation is the capacity to act and to create in the moment in response to what is in one’s immediate environment…It can be very useful in the small membership church to help us take what we have and create educational ministry out of that, rather than worrying about what we don’t have and getting stuck in our complaints. Improvisation calls for attention to the moment and what is going on now. It asks that we take inventory of who we are, what we have, and think about the possibilities present in all of this.” (p. 63)
Lastly, after working through the qualities and capacities, we come to story and ritual. As Tye writes, “Small membership churches are places of story, and there are important stories to tell...How do we do education in the small membership church? We tell stories...Rituals are an important part of this storied process too...The way we begin our church school class, the prayer said before a meal, and order of worship we use, the way we pray in church, the devotional before a committee meeting – all of these are examples of rituals in the life of the church...Helping people see the stories represented in our rituals is a vital educational task.” (p. 64-65) Reading the author's words about story and ritual should resonate with us as Orthodox Christian educators. Ritual is a familiar, comforting, and natural part of Orthodox worship. Sharing the stories (Biblical and historical) represented in Orthodox rituals with students opens the door to learning our rich history and to deepened knowledge and understanding of the Faith.
Further Reflection (p. 66-67)
Engage in a brief writing exercise:
- Write the following on a piece of paper: “My church is...” Then start writing, putting down whatever comes into your head. Write for five minutes. Do not edit or worry about things like spelling or grammar. Just write!
- Make a list of the characteristics and qualities describing your church that are mentioned in your writing.
- Compare your list to the five qualities discussed in this chapter: experiential, reflective, relational, inclusive, and integrative. In what ways do the five qualities describe your church? In what ways is your church different?
- How are the qualities you've listed for your church influencing the way educational ministry is carried out there? How might you imagine doing it differently?
- While there is not a one-size-fits-all-small model for how to do Christian education in the small membership church, there are necessary components that must be included in order to maximize the efficacy of our efforts so that the desired result (firm knowledge of the Faith) within our students can be achieved.
- Christian education must be experiential, reflective, relational, inclusive, and integrative.
- Educators will discover new opportunities for education when we tap into our abilities to imagine and improvise.
- Connecting rituals with the stories that they represent will lead students to further comprehension of the Faith and why Orthodox Christians do what we do in the ways we do.
Now that we've covered the Who, Where, When, Why, and How of Christian education in the small membership church, we'll move on to the important topic of resources, specifically “people, space, and curriculum materials.” Discussion will focus on how to best use these resources and how the Antiochian Department of Christian Education (AODCE) can support our efforts through available resources on the AODCE website and social media sites, training opportunities, and curriculum materials.