Christian Education in the Small Membership Church
Karen B. Tye
Chapter Five Review by The Mustard Seed
“When we take a careful look at it, there is a lot at hand in terms of resources that can help us do the work of educational ministry in the small membership church. It is all in how we look at it.” (p. 69)
The topic of resources may seem overwhelming or discouraging to a small membership church, but we'll focus on three categories that are already available to us: people, space, and curriculum. Let's embrace and utilize what we know we have within our own parishes, and also learn about the resources available through the Antiochian Orthodox Department of Christian Education (AODCE).
“We overlook the human resources and the role they play in Christian Education. Rather than overlooking them, we need to see that people are the most important resource we have.” (p. 70)
Recognizing and acknowledging the importance of our brothers and sisters in Christ within the parish in regards to Christian education is an important step; so, what else should we consider about them? We need to determine how this human resource blessing can be best used within our ministry. And to determine how to best engage people in the most helpful ways, we'll look at three clues that are especially helpful in the small membership church: teachers and leaders are called, we should use a team approach, everyone has gifts to share.
1. Teachers and leaders are called: “There are those within our small membership church who display a deep love and respect for others, who have a passion for the gospel and for sharing it, who love to learn and invite others to love learning too. All of these are key qualities for those who teach and lead.” (p. 71) Once a teacher answers the call to teach within your Christian education ministry, be ready to support them by providing resources for the task, which we’ll soon cover more in-depth. Also, let them know that you value their time. “If the conventional Sunday school format on Sunday morning does not work in your church, you don’t waste a teacher’s time trying to make it happen. Instead, thought is given to doing education in other ways and helping those called to teach to use their gifts appropriately in different contexts.” (p. 71)
2. Use a team approach: The author reminds us that Christ used a team approach in His work through the disciples, sending them out two by two (Mark 6:7). Likewise, we should never attempt to do this work alone. “Working as a team, the small membership church recognizes that everyone is a vital resource in the ministry of Christian education.” (p. 72)
Everyone has gifts to share: Church schools need people resources in addition to teachers. Often, parishioners feel that they have nothing to offer to Christian education because they are not called to be teachers. “Too often we look at what we can’t do rather than focusing on what we can do.” (p. 72) Remind them that we all have a gift to contribute to the work of education within our parish and no gift is too small in the eyes of God. Endless opportunities exist.
AODCE People Resources
The AODCE supports church school directors, teachers, parents, and all who participate in the work of Christian education at the local level. Each diocese within the North American Archdiocese has a Diocesan Coordinator available to assist parishes in organizing a church school and training its staff. Church school directors have a direct line of support through an AODCE associate who is focused on serving the needs of directors. Support is also available for the Creative Arts Festivals at the parish level. For more information, visit www.antiochian.org/christianeducation.
“Space of any kind is a resource if we are able to see the possibilities in it. Our goal is space that is alive and conducive to being, playing, studying, praying, and working together.” (p. 73)
Space can be in short supply in a small membership church, but let’s focus on quality over quantity. Almost any space can be transformed into a workable area for Christian education with a little vision, a little creativity, recycling/upcycling, a little paint. Small spaces can be made functional and inviting. The author gives an example of how a single classroom was transformed into a one-room school environment by adding a painted wall mural, placing a small platform in a corner for dramas and role plays, creating a craft area in another corner with a table and chairs, and using a remnant of carpet on the floor to define a story-telling area. When planning how to best use your space resources, first consider an area’s physical space, which is “its possibilities and limits, its condition, and the ways in which it facilitates our educational work.” (p. 74) Secondly, we should give equal consideration to emotional space, “the feelings and attitudes people experience in a particular environment.” (p. 74) Basic cleanliness and furniture/structures in good repair is the bare minimum. Invite students into an environment with sights, sounds, smells, and textures that will excite them and stimulate learning. Welcome them with warmth and care, and provide boundaries for “a sense of security, letting us know what we can count on in this space.” (p. 76)
“There are some intentional and deliberate steps we can take that help us think through our needs, review the resources out there, and make good use of them…We take time to think about our congregation and what we want in the materials we choose. “ (p. 78)
It is important to not feel trapped into thinking that because of limited financial resources Christian education ministries of small membership churches must settle for whatever curricula they can find and afford. It is important to remember that curriculum materials don’t teach; people do. Space teaches, too. This is why we’ve already discussed that people are your most important resource and preparing a proper space for learning is another critical step in building a healthy, productive educational ministry. Now, with that having been said, there are ways to explore various curricula and discover which resources best fit your parish’s needs.
1. Get samples of the materials you are considering and spend time reviewing them.
2. Make the review process a team effort with the leadership of your educational ministry.
3. Explore the use of Orthodox Christian children’s literature as a curriculum resource.
4. Receive an introduction to several popular curricula options plus corresponding order forms and recommendations for usage on the Curriculum page of the Antiochian Orthodox Department of Christian Education: http://www.antiochian.org/category/christian-education/curriculum.
5. Request feedback on the pros and cons of specific curricula from church school directors and church school teachers through the social media pages on Facebook dedicated to these types of discussions: https://www.facebook.com/OrthodoxChristianChurchSchoolDirectors/ and https://www.facebook.com/orthodoxchristiansundaychurchschoolteachers/.
6. Access a full list of Orthodox Christian education resources on the Antiochian Orthodox Department of Christian Education website: http://antiochian.org/online-resource-list-parents-and-teachers
7. Download a full manual for church school directors from the Antiochian Orthodox Department of Christian Education with a dedicated chapter to curriculum and resources: http://www.antiochian.org/sites/default/files/csdmanual2011.pdf.
8. Once you’ve chosen curriculum, ensure that staff and volunteers are properly trained on how to use the materials.
9. Supplement your lesson plans with church school activities found on the Antiochian Orthodox Department of Christian Education Pinterest page: https://www.pinterest.com/aodce/
10. Evaluate how the curriculum is working. On a regular basis, check with teachers, parents, and youth and ask for their observations. We don’t wait to evaluate until a problem arises.
Further Reflection (p. 80-81)
- How do you currently find the teachers and leaders you need for Christian education? What have you learned in this chapter that helps you rethink this?
- Gather a group of people committed to Christian education in your church and take a walking tour of the Christian education space(s).
· Look at the physical conditions. Where is there a need for cleanliness and repair? Who will be responsible for this?
· In what ways does your space reflect hospitality, openness, and safety? What could be done to enhance these qualities even more? Who are the people in your parish who can help make this happen?
- People are the most important resource in Christian education.
- Every parishioner within a small membership church has a gift to share as part of the educational team. Even the smallest gesture can make a difference.
- Space is a resource, not a problem. By taking care of the physical space and devoting attention to the emotional atmosphere, an enjoyable learning environment is formed.
- Curriculum resources are an important tool for Christian education. We must take time to review and select the right materials for each of our unique small membership churches. The next step is to properly train teachers and volunteers, then continually evaluate how the curriculum is working within our educational ministry.
We will review the final chapter and postscript of “Christian Education in the Small Membership Church,” which will cover several of the author’s guiding principles for establishing a successful Christian education ministry within your parish, much like a concentrated summary of all the topics we have studied in greater detail in previous chapters.