Planning and Organizing for Christian Education Formation

Planning and Organizing for Christian Education Formation

December 3, 2018—At the heart of much of what is wrong with the educational program in many churches today is a continued failure to understand the unique corporate nature of both faith and Christian education formation. And while there is increasing interest in the idea of “formation,” few congregational educational leaders seem to actually understand what “faith formation” is and how to plan and organize an educational program with that orientation. Many churches have changed staff titles and program names, incorporating the term “formation,” but few have made essential changes from traditional pedagogical models of education. In effect, they’ve not only kept the old educational wineskins, but they’ve also not been able to discover new wine. The result can only be the perpetuation of a benign educational program that makes little difference in the lives of those who participate.

Congregational educators–clergy, program staff, and lay leaders–need to understand how faith is formed in a community of faith in order to plan and organize an educational formation ministry that is congruent with the nature of church as community of faith. The educator Morton Kelsey once suggested that Christian education may be more effective if it used religious principles in teaching Christianity.(1) . This is the issue that Galindo and Canaday’s book, Planning for Christian Education Formation: A Community of Faith Approach addresses.

The authors contend that lacking a theological framework to inform educational planning in the congregation as a faith community, most congregational leaders will rely on educational approaches that are not congruent with how faith actually develops in a corporate faith community context. In other words, in order to be effective, Christian education must use educational approaches congruent to its nature and purpose.

To that end Galindo and Canaday are advocating a different way of approaching the Christian education ministry in the local church. The Christian education formation approach takes seriously two realities in congregations. First, congregations are by nature communities of faith, but they are organized in institutional forms. Therefore, congregations must give responsible attention to the realities of making it possible for members to “be in community” while being responsible stewards of their institutions.

Second, when it comes to educating in faith, formation, more so than schooling, is what brings about spiritual growth for individuals and communities of faith. The term Christian education formation represents an approach that takes those, often paradoxical, realities into account without denying either. Traditional congregational approaches to Christian education have tended to use, almost exclusively, educational (and overwhelmingly didactic) models and methods for educating in faith. Galindo and Canaday argue that while education is both important and necessary, it is limited in its ability to address the dynamics of how faith is formed. The growing interest in spiritual formation, and its attention to the dynamics of faith formation, offers a more hopeful way for congregations to help their members grow in faith in their context.

This book will help church educational leaders address the following questions: Does your church know how Christian faith is formed? Does your church have an intentional process for developing an effective Christian education ministry? How do you determine what contributes to and what impedes effective Christian formation in your congregation? Who makes that determination? What informing theology guides your church’s educational practice? Do you know the difference between a program-centered approach versus a community of faith approach to Christian education?

In her seminal book, Fashion Me a People, Maria Harris helped redefine the concept of curriculum.(2) A central message in that book is that we are what we do. Therefore, our understanding of Christian education, and the way we plan the educational program of the church, will determine the extent to which we can help persons be formed into Christlikeness. The premise of Planning and Organizing for Christian Education Formation: A Faith Community Approach is that congregations, by their nature, are authentic communities of faith. Therefore, congregational leaders need to plan and organize the ways of learning for the congregation congruent to its nature. The framework provided for planning Christian education formation from a faith community approach includes the following:

  1. The use of the liturgical Christian Church Year as an organizing framework for planning and designing formational educational programs and events
  2. The organization of an effective Christian Education Leadership Team
  3. The creation of effective administrative and organizational processes and structures
  4. The assessment of the theological and cultural context of the congregation’s practices in light of the community of faith perspective
  5. The use of appropriate educational approaches congruent with corporate, communal, and individual faith formation.

This practical book will become a handbook for you and your church leaders as you strive to plan an effective Christian education ministry for community and individual formation. The principles identified in the book will help your educational leaders move beyond being uncritical consumers of educational products that perpetuate ineffective “educational” programs that are not congruent with the nature of corporate and individual faith formation. You, and your educational leaders, will gain a new lens that will allow you to minister more effectively in your unique educational leadership roles.

Assumptions and Premises

Here are the assumptions and premises that inform this book’s educational approach:

In this book Galindo and Canaday offer one model for planning and organizing the ministry of Christian education formation in a congregational setting. Our expectation is that your church’s educational leaders will build on the model as appropriate to your context.

The book consists of three parts. Part I provides an orientation to the perspective of planning for Christian education formation in the congregational setting. The chapters in this part will provide the theological framework for understanding your congregation as an authentic community of faith. This foundation will help you and your educational leaders to re-focus the congregational Christian education enterprise in your church from programs and schooling models to the communal and formation model.

Part II of the book consists of the “nuts and bolts” about planning and organizing a Christian education formation program from a faith community approach. In this section you will examine the following topics: the organization and work of your leadership team, how to create a program structure using the Christian Year, and selecting the most appropriate educational approaches to meet your educational goals.

Part III will address two critical areas of educational practice. First, you will learn about the important practice of educational assessment. Chapter 7 will provide a model for how to conduct formative assessments for your Christian education formation program. Second, you will learn how to address the issues related to changing your congregation’s culture and practice for moving toward the community of faith approach to Christian education formation.

(1)Morton Kelsey, Can Christians Be Educated? Compiled and edited by Harold William Burgess (Birmingham, AL: Religious Education Press, 1977), 9.
(2)Maria Harris, Fashion Me A People: Curriculum in the Church (Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox, 1989).

Israel Galindo is Associate Dean for Lifelong Learning at the Columbia Theological Seminary. He is the author of the bestseller, The Hidden Lives of Congregations (Alban), Perspectives on Congregational Leadership (Educational Consultants), andLeadership in Ministry.

Galindo contributes to the Wabash Center’s blog for theological school deans.

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