- I’m just too busy right now. I really don’t have the time.
- I know nothing about the Bible, I’m not qualified to teach.
- I have never done this before. I wouldn’t know where to start.
Instead of being thwarted by these replies, suppose we framed teaching as an opportunity. Suppose we reminded congregants of the rewards of spending time with children. You will build relationships, you can express playfulness and creativity, and you can grow your own faith by connecting to sacred story and practicing simple prayers. Faith Formation is for all ages! Yes, personal growth happens in worship, but active participation in children’s ministry gives your adults opportunities to grow in new ways.
We can help volunteers to gain confidence and move to what John Westerhoff calls “owned faith,” by offering discipleship development in small bites. For example, demonstrate a ritual for lighting a candle, create an attitude of attention to God, and offer a repeat-after-me prayer. For many newer leaders these teaching experiences are stepping-stones to a stronger faith.
Faith formation brings joy and purpose.
Begin with an invitation. Encourage reluctant adults to wade in and go deeper in faith. Often folks are looking to the paid professional to take all the responsibility, but it takes a village! If we are true to our baptismal covenant, we remember that the entire congregation pledges to love the children and support the parents in the journey. Remind volunteers that everyone can participate and that there is great joy in helping build up the community of faith. Name that teaching is holy work.
You are enough; you have gifts.
As leaders we need to allow time and space for deep listening. Setting up individual conversations, offering some questions for discernment, and then listening carefully is time well spent. What are your hopes and dreams, what are your skills and interests, where is your passion, how can you serve God? These are some of the questions we ask confirmands to consider as they think about discipleship, and they are useful for adults as well. If we take time to hear their stories, and help them speak their faith, we can help adults to define their own values and beliefs. We will discover amazing gifts and talents in the process.
You are not alone.
Remind your volunteers of God’s presence. When questions arise, encourage them to respond with curiosity and openness to the Holy Spirit. That‘s a good question, I wonder what God has to say about that? Shall we listen together? Invite the congregation to pray for teachers and children. Create a culture of collaboration. Connect new teachers to experienced leaders, perhaps in a mentoring role. Many of our congregations are initiating intergenerational opportunities and celebrating learning together. Adults don’t need to have all the answers. Children have deep spirituality to share, and it is exciting to explore faith together.
We can help our congregations by offering a compelling narrative that articulates the transformative power of faith formation. We can provide our volunteers with a variety of entry points and build lessons around their skills. We can outline finite tasks for limited engagement so even those with busy schedules can participate in meaningful ways. We can initiate a group brainstorming process that generates energy and ideas for making the story of God’s love come alive. We can offer space for debriefing and reflection, giving helpful feedback.
This kind of accompaniment and spiritual development is a priceless gift to the adults in our churches. As Faith Formation leaders, we are all about planting seeds and watering the garden of faith for children. Why not for adults as well? By nurturing the adults in our congregations, we will cultivate relationships that will bear good fruit for our volunteers and our programs.
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Debby Kirk serves as leader of the staff team that provides resources for the work of nurturing disciples of all ages in the local church. Her area of focus is youth ministry. Contact her for: Faith Formation Communities of Practice Confirmation ...