Photo by Noah Buscher on Unsplash
Some [seeds] fell into good soil, and when it grew, it produced a hundredfold.
(Luke 8:8, NRSV)
We all understand that the forming of one’s faith is influenced by everything we do as a church. Growth in faith is also influenced by one’s nuclear family, their particular upbringing, any mentors they are fortunate to have throughout their lives, as well as other circumstances specific to each individual and their unique lives. Thus is it easy to go about doing what we do as a church community and assume that everything we are offering will take care of the spiritual needs of our people. Yet this is not an assumption we should be making if what we truly desire for our children, youth, and adults is a healthy, vibrant, and mature faith.
It is like the sower in the parable shared by Jesus where seeds were much more likely to grow where they wouldn’t get trampled, where the birds couldn’t gobble them up, and where the soil had been prepared to nurture these seeds. This is how it is with our faith formation programming. How then can we ensure that we are properly preparing the soil for our congregations to grow in their faith?
The Faith Formation Leadership Program of the Southern New England Conference is offering its Faith Formation 101 class on April 24th — a perfect opportunity for faith formation leaders, as well as clergy and other interested local church leaders, to gather the tools and resources needed to ensure preparing good, rich soil for planting faith-forming seeds. Creating an inspiring vision; setting engaging goals to meet that vision; creating events, worship experiences, and programs to meet those goals; and researching and gathering the best possible resources will ensure that faith formation in your congregation will go beyond just hoping that it happens organically. By sowing these seeds on intentionally prepared soil, you will be inviting your people to engage in life-giving relationships with Jesus, with each other, and with their God.
Eliott Eisner, a renowned educator and researcher, proposed that there are three forms of curriculum (where “curriculum” is defined based on its Latin origin, to run a course, with a beginning and a goal to be reached):
Explicit — the intentional experiences and lessons prepared to elicit a basic understanding of concepts.
Implicit — what is learned through the relationship with the teacher, the environment, etc., whether intentional or unintentional.
Null - what is learned or assumed by what is not presented or never talked about.
This “curriculum” for the church moves us to ask:
- What kind of people do we want the children and youth in our congregation to be when they reach adulthood?
- What are we doing right now in order to prepare the soil so that they may grow in that way?
- And what are we not doing right now that, due to its neglect, will impede growth in these desired ways?
This past year has shifted our practice and understanding of how faith formation programming is presented, in ways that have stretched our traditions as well as our abilities. Without a core group of people to engage with in the church building each week, we have had to re-imagine our delivery systems, each congregation adapting and choosing the best ways to reach their people (and others!) This means that our post-pandemic programming cannot re-emerge looking like it did in 2019. But what should it look like?
The best part about engaging with the other participants in this class setting, alongside Karen Ziel, our instructor, is to examine best practices for how to nurture good soil for our seeds, and what our return to the church building will need to look like as a result. Together, students share successes (and some not-so-successful experiences), that encourage each other to evaluate the best methods for their particular congregation and its structure.
Judi Wallace, Director of Children & Youth Ministries at First Congregational Church of Guilford, Connecticut, shares that these classes “cover such a wonderful and wide array of topics…every class I took had some wonderful gems for my own learning, and in ways to teach! ”
While it is true that “everything that happens in the church is faith formation,” it is critical that we have the tools and framework that make what we do with and for our people an intentional act of love and hospitality — presenting the gift of growing in one’s faith.
I hope you will join us in learning “the art of sowing”!
Debbie Gline Allen serves as a Minister of Faith Formation on the Conference’s Faith Formation Ministry Team. She also serves as the administrator of the SNEUCC Faith Formation Leadership Program. Her passion for ministry is with children and family...