Start with Why

I’m a member of a cohort of folks actively engaged in Christian educational ministries for local congregations. Some of us are gainfully employed to lead the educational programs for adults, youth, and children. Others of us serve (have served) by teaching at the seminary level and developing curriculum for our denomination (Presbyterian Church USA). We meet every month by Zoom conference to encourage one another in the exercise of our vocations.

At our last meeting, one of our members expressed a desire to talk about the challenges of doing church work during a pandemic and wondering if this is in fact a new normal for the church. She asked, and we all nodded, “How do we do educational ministry for a new and strange reality”?

I wonder whether we might be asking the “how” question prematurely, without first asking why we do educational ministry in the first place. Simon Sinek has famously reintroduced many of us to the “why.” In his Ted Talk, Sinek reminds us that every organization operates on three levels: what we do, how we do it, and why we do it. Further, most people can tell you what they do within an organization, some can tell you how they do it. However, very few if any can tell you why they do it, aside from citing desired outcomes, like making money. The why is caught up in words and concepts like purpose, calling, and vocation. Why do you do what you do?

Simon Sinek

Like the teacher who tells the student “what” (read this book) and the “how” (you’ll find it in the library; the English language is written from left to right and top to bottom on the page; there are several metaphorical frames of reference you’ll need to know to understand the author’s intent), the Christian educator can get caught up in the “what” (read the Bible) and the “how” (insert higher critical methods of biblical study and the like).

The “why” is the more difficult question and is seldom asked, except by honest kids who wonder why they need to read the Bible at all. If we don’t have a compelling, ready response to the “why” for Christian education, then what do the “how” and “what” matter?

What is your why? This is mine:

When my son David was a child, we had a regular bedtime routine (liturgy?). Following his bath and after his teeth were brushed, he would snuggle up in bed and I’d read a story or two from his children’s story Bible. David couldn’t get enough of the David and Goliath story. He loved the blood and guts of it, but as we would later learn, he also saw himself in the shepherd boy.

When he turned 20 years old, David was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a deadly bone cancer. Over the course of ten years, he endured six surgeries, including the amputation of his right leg, and several rounds of chemotherapy. During his first round, and before his leg was removed, David wrote a blog post about his experience. In it, he recalled David and Goliath, and likened his challenge to that of his namesake. The story gave my David courage, comfort, and strength as he faced the enemy that would ultimately take his life. That was not a small thing.

I teach people to read and understand the Bible because life is hard. I do it because the words and stories have provided me and my loved ones succor and strength, resolve and renewal. Especially now, when so many people are hurting and looking for help, the word and words of God hold promise for us all.

What is your why? Tell your story to those you teach. Let them see the Bible through your eyes, your heart. As they encounter the text, tell them what it means to you, why it matters to you.

Now let’s talk about “how.”

Advent 3: “Joy” Video Chat

The lessons focus on significant words of the season. They are arranged: 1. Hope, 2. Peace, 3. Joy, and 4. Love. However, feel free to arrange them according to the Advent practices of your congregation.

Prep

Imbed the two videos into your video conferencing software. Watch this video to learn how to share video on your Zoom call. Create two screens with the texts for Psalm 126 and 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24.

Getting Started

Welcome all guests. Conduct a brief time for introductions of new participants.

Briefly review the scope of the study and The Bible Project. Revisit expectations regarding group dynamics, such as honoring one another with respect.

Offer an opening prayer.

Prompt discussion: When you hear the word “joy,” what comes to your mind? What feelings or memories are evoked?

Digging In

Introduce the video: In this video, we explore the unique type of joy to which God’s people are called. It’s more than happy mood, but rather a choice to trust that God will fulfill God’s promises.

Watch the video.

Following the video, note key ideas, such as the prevalance of joy or happiness in the Bible; biblical sources of joy; and joy as an attitude adopted based on hope in God’s promises. 

Invite participants to offer comments and observations on what they saw and drew. Discuss: Joy is a choice. It is an attitude that focuses on the character of God and rises above circumstances. Joy is different from happiness, which depends on happenstance. Joy is possible even in the midst of sorrow and suffering. Joy is the pure and simple delight in being alive in God’s world and in serving others and rejoicing in their good fortune.

Introduce Psalm 126. Psalm 126 is a community prayer for deliverance based on the remembrance of past deliverance. It is about joy remembered, and joy anticipated.

Invite volunteers to read Psalm 126 with resounding joy in their voices. The phrase “When the Lord restores the fortunes of Zion” refers to the people’s return to Jerusalem following the Babylonian exile. We can imagine the joy the people felt upon returning to their home.

Discuss: What emotions are evoked when you imagine dry river beds coursing with water? Of farmers rejoicing as they harvest a bountiful crop in the wake of drought? How do past restorations lead people to hope in God’s present and future restorations? For what do we hope in our homes and communities? Where is God bringing reconciliation and renewal?

Invite volunteers to read 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24. Paul responds to a church that has been asking how they can rejoice in the Lord when people were dying? How could they continue to trust and believe that Jesus was “the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25) in the midst of their grieving? Paul assures them in the second coming of Christ and the raising of the dead and calls them to rejoice in their lives regardless of the circumstances.

Watch this video and try not to be caught up in the joy!

Concluding Options

1. Have members of your group recall three of the most joyous moments you have experienced together during this Advent study.

2. Discuss: 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 combines rejoicing, praying, and giving thanks. Wonder together about the relationship between the three. Can you have one without the other two? How do rejoicing, praying, and giving thanks work together in your life?

3. Brainstorm ways you can be signs of God’s joy in the world. Choose a project to live out your commitment to joy, such as collecting smiles to see how many different ones you can gather.

Prayer

O God, give us joy even as our world fills us with sorrow. Help us to live joyful lives that witness to your abiding presence and promises. Thank you for delivering good news of great joy, the birth of Jesus Christ, your son and our savior. Amen.

Advent 3: “Joy” Face-to-Face Gatherings

The lessons focus on significant words of the season. They are arranged: 1. Hope, 2. Peace, 3. Joy, and 4. Love. However, feel free to arrange them according to the Advent practices of your congregation.

Prep

Ready the videos; gather an Advent wreath with candles and matches; provide Bibles and refreshments, paper and colored pencils.

Getting Started

Welcome all guests. Conduct a brief time for introductions of new participants.

Briefly review the scope of the study and The Bible Project. Revisit expectations regarding group dynamics, such as honoring one another with respect.

Offer an opening prayer. Light three Advent candles.

Prompt discussion: When you hear the word “joy,” what comes to your mind? What feelings or memories are evoked?

Digging In

Make available paper and colored pencils and invite participants to doodle or draw as they watch the video.

Introduce the video: In this video, we explore the unique type of joy to which God’s people are called. It’s more than happy mood, but rather a choice to trust that God will fulfill God’s promises.

Watch the video.

Following the video, note key ideas, such as the prevalance of joy or happiness in the Bible; biblical sources of joy; and joy as an attitude adopted based on hope in God’s promises. 

Invite participants to offer comments and observations on what they saw and drew. Discuss: Joy is a choice. It is an attitude that focuses on the character of God and rises above circumstances. Joy is different from happiness, which depends on happenstance. Joy is possible even in the midst of sorrow and suffering. Joy is the pure and simple delight in being alive in God’s world and in serving others and rejoicing in their good fortune.

Introduce Psalm 126. Psalm 126 is a community prayer for deliverance based on the remembrance of past deliverance. It is about joy remembered, and joy anticipated.

Invite volunteers to read Psalm 126 with resounding joy in their voices. The phrase “When the Lord restores the fortunes of Zion” refers to the people’s return to Jerusalem following the Babylonian exile. We can imagine the joy the people felt upon returning to their home.

Discuss: What emotions are evoked when you imagine dry river beds coursing with water? Of farmers rejoicing as they harvest a bountiful crop in the wake of drought? How do past restorations lead people to hope in God’s present and future restorations? For what do we hope in our homes and communities? Where is God bringing reconciliation and renewal?

Invite volunteers to read 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24. Paul responds to a church that has been asking how they can rejoice in the Lord when people were dying? How could they continue to trust and believe that Jesus was “the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25) in the midst of their grieving? Paul assures them in the second coming of Christ and the raising of the dead and calls them to rejoice in their lives regardless of the circumstances.

Watch this video and try not to be caught up in the joy!

Concluding Options

1. Have members of your group recall three of the most joyous moments you have experienced together during this Advent study.

2. Discuss: 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 combines rejoicing, praying, and giving thanks. Wonder together about the relationship between the three. Can you have one without the other two? How do rejoicing, praying, and giving thanks work together in your life?

3. Brainstorm ways you can be signs of God’s joy in the world. Choose a project to live out your commitment to joy, such as collecting smiles to see how many different ones you can gather.

Prayer

O God, give us joy even as our world fills us with sorrow. Help us to live joyful lives that witness to your abiding presence and promises. Thank you for delivering good news of great joy, the birth of Jesus Christ, your son and our savior. Amen.

Advent 4: “Love” Video Chat

The lessons focus on significant words of the season. They are arranged: 1. Hope, 2. Peace, 3. Joy, and 4. Love. However, feel free to arrange them according to the Advent practices of your congregation.

Prep

Imbed the two videos into your video conferencing software. Watch this video to learn how to share video on your Zoom call. Create two screens with the texts for Deuteronomy 10:17-19a and John 13:34-35.

Getting Started

Welcome all guests. Conduct a brief time for introductions of new participants.

Briefly review the scope of the study and The Bible Project. Speak about expectations regarding group dynamics, such as honoring one another with respect. What video conferencing protocols do you need to agree on?

Offer an opening prayer.

Prompt discussion: When you hear the word “love,” what comes to your mind? What feelings or memories are evoked?

Digging In

Introduce the video: The word “love” is one of the sloppiest words in our language, as it primarily refers to a feeling that happens to a person. In the New Testament, “love” refers to a way of treating people that was defined by Jesus himself: seeking the well-being of others regardless of their response.

Watch the video.

Following the video, note key ideas such as the Greek word “agape,” meaning self-sacrificial love; the love of God and the love for one another are entertwined; we receive God’s love through Jesus and give it away to others. 

Invite participants to offer comments and observations on what they saw and drew. Discuss: Love is a spiritual practice and not something you fall into. It is through loving that we experience the love of God. You can’t love others until you truly love yourself and acknowledge that God loves you with a love beyond anything you can imagine.

Introduce Deuteronomy 10:17-19a. The covenant people are in the last stages of preparation before they enter the land of promise. God through Moses extols the people to make love the law of their new homeland.

Invite volunteers to read Deuteronomy 10:17-19a. The people were to be like the Lord who shows no partiality, accepts no bribes, defends the fatherless and the widows, and loves strangers and immigrants, giving them food and clothing. After all, they had been aliens in Egypt.

Discuss: What does love mean for the Lord? Why do you think love is focused on actions and behavior and not feelings? How does being like the Lord compare to the creation story where God creates human beings in the image of God? What obstacles do you face when trying to love others as God loves us?

Invite volunteers to read John 13:34-35. These words of Jesus follow the footwashing. First he shows them what it means to love one another and then tells them. What does it mean to live like Jesus in love, not just feel it or talk about it? How does loving one another show the world that we are his disciples?

Watch the video “Foot Washing” from Chuck Knows Church:

Concluding Options

1. Discuss: In Jesus’ time, servants washed the feet of others. When he knelt and washed the disciples’ feet, they were startled that Jesus would take the stance of a servant. What does that mean for us?

2. Discuss: What if, instead of celebrating the Lord’s Supper, the church observed a footwashing during worship services? What would giving and submitting to foot washings in a worship service say about the way we love each other?

3. Discuss: The foot washing shows us that love and intimacy go together. It’s not easy to allow someone to touch our feet, is it? Brainstorm ways you can be signs of God’s love and intimacy in the world. Choose a project to live out your commitment to love, preferably one that will outlast the Advent-Christmas seasons.

Prayer

God of love, open our hearts and hands to extend your love to all the world, starting with those who are near. Thank you for sending Jesus because you so loved the world. Amen.

Advent 4: “Love” Face-to-Face Gatherings

The lessons focus on significant words of the season. They are arranged: 1. Hope, 2. Peace, 3. Joy, and 4. Love. However, feel free to arrange them according to the Advent practices of your congregation.

Prep

Ready the videos; gather an Advent wreath with candles and matches; provide Bibles and refreshments, paper and colored pencils. Provide a pail, water, and towels.

Getting Started

Welcome all guests. Conduct a brief time for introductions of new participants.

Briefly review the scope of the study and The Bible Project. Revisit expectations regarding group dynamics, such as honoring one another with respect.

Offer an opening prayer. Light four Advent candles.

Prompt discussion: When you hear the word “love,” what comes to your mind? What feelings or memories are evoked?

Digging In

Make available paper and colored pencils and invite participants to doodle or draw as they watch the video.

Introduce the video: The word “love” is one of the sloppiest words in our language, as it primarily refers to a feeling that happens to a person. In the New Testament, “love” refers to a way of treating people that was defined by Jesus himself: seeking the well-being of others regardless of their response.

Watch the video.

Following the video, note key ideas such as the Greek word “agape,” meaning self-sacrificial love; the love of God and the love for one another are entertwined; we receive God’s love through Jesus and give it away to others. 

Invite participants to offer comments and observations on what they saw and drew. Discuss: Love is a spiritual practice and not something you fall into. It is through loving that we experience the love of God. You can’t love others until you truly love yourself and acknowledge that God loves you with a love beyond anything you can imagine.

Introduce Deuteronomy 10:17-19a. The covenant people are in the last stages of preparation before they enter the land of promise. God through Moses extols the people to make love the law of their new homeland.

Invite volunteers to read Deuteronomy 10:17-19a. The people were to be like the Lord who shows no partiality, accepts no bribes, defends the fatherless and the widows, and loves strangers and immigrants, giving them food and clothing. After all, they had been aliens in Egypt.

Discuss: What does love mean for the Lord? Why do you think love is focused on actions and behavior and not feelings? How does being like the Lord compare to the creation story where God creates human beings in the image of God? What obstacles do you face when trying to love others as God loves us?

Invite volunteers to read John 13:34-35. These words of Jesus follow the footwashing. First he shows them what it means to love one another and then tells them. What does it mean to live like Jesus in love, not just feel it or talk about it? How does loving one another show the world that we are his disciples?

Watch the video “Foot Washing” from Chuck Knows Church:

Concluding Options

1. Discuss: In Jesus’ time, servants washed the feet of others. When he knelt and washed the disciples’ feet, they were startled that Jesus would take the stance of a servant. What does that mean for us? What if, instead of celebrating the Lord’s Supper, the church observed a footwashing during worship services? What would giving and submitting to foot washing in a worship service say about the way we love each other?

2. Brainstorm ways you can be signs of God’s love in the world. Choose a project to live out your commitment to love, preferably one that will outlast the Advent-Christmas seasons.

3. Wash one another’s feet. Provide a pail, water, and towels. For those squeamish about showing their feet, wash each other’s hands. Say aloud John 13:34-35 as the group participates: I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.

Prayer

God of love, open our hearts and hands to extend your love to all the world, starting with those who are near. Thank you for sending Jesus because you so loved the world. Amen.

Advent 2: “Peace” Group Video Chat

The lessons focus on significant words of the season. They are arranged: 1. Hope, 2. Peace, 3. Joy, and 4. Love. However, feel free to arrange them according to the Advent practices of your congregation.

Prep

Imbed the two videos into your video conferencing software. Watch this video to learn how to share video on your Zoom call. Create three screens with the texts for Isaiah 9:2-7, 11:1-9; and Luke 2:8-14.

Getting Started

Welcome all guests. Conduct a brief time for introductions of new participants.

Briefly review the scope of the study and The Bible Project. Speak about expectations regarding group dynamics, such as honoring one another with respect. What video conferencing protocols do you need to agree on?

Offer an opening prayer.

Prompt discussion: When you hear the word “peace,” what comes to your mind? What feelings or memories are evoked?

Digging In

Introduce the video: “Peace” is a very common word in English. It means different things to different people. It’s also a very important word in the Bible that refers not only to the absence of conflict but also to the presence of something else. In this video, we’ll explore the core meaning of biblical peace and how it all leads to Jesus.

Watch the video.

Following the video, note key ideas such as the Hebrew word, “shalom,” and the Greek “eirene” meaning wholeness and completeness; Jesus gives us his peace; we are called to be people of peace. 

Invite participants to offer comments and observations on what they saw and drew. Discuss: “Shalom,” means “whole,” describing peace within oneself and peace between people. What is the connection between inner peace and outer peace? Can we have one without the other? How can we be people of peace without promoting compassion, justice, and unity?

Display the screen with Isaiah 9:2-7.

Introduce Isaiah 9:2-7. The covenant people are in exile in a foreign land, a condition the prophets said had resulted from their disobedience to God. Now, the prophet announces that God is extending peace and reconciliation to them through a new ruler. 

Invite volunteers to read Isaiah 9:2-7.

Discuss: What emotions do you detect in the reading? What does peace mean for the prophet? Why do you think the promise of a new leader evokes promises of peace? When have you felt that way about new leadership?

Display the screen with Isaiah 11:1-9 and ask volunteers to read aloud. What does the image of the peaceable kingdom mean to you? How does this passage express peace as the absence of conflict and the presence of connection and completion? What steps have you taken this week to make the world a more peaceful place?

Introduce the Vulcan hand greeting by watching the video below:

Practice making the Vulcan greeting with words of peace. Wonder together how such a greeting can be one of the tools for making peace. If your congregation passes the peace during worship, talk about ways to live out that greeting.

Concluding Options

1. Discuss: Where in your life do you experience connection and a sense of completion? What factors contribute to your peace? What hampers your sense of peace? How can you make peace in such circumstances?

2. Discuss where peace needs to be restored in your life and in your community. List your answers as a petition to God. Circle one thing on the list. Prayerfully consider what practical steps you or your community can take to bring connection and completion to that one fragmented place.

3. Display the screen with Luke 2:8-14 and ask volunteers to read aloud. Wonder together why the angels announce peace to the world at Jesus’ birth. How does Jesus connect you with God’s peace? What is it like to have peace with God?

4. Play and sing along to Cat Steven’s Peace Train.

Prayer

God of peace, you have promised the end of conflict on earth, yet the world is still at war. Give us the resolve to be people of peace wherever we are and with whomever we meet. This we pray in the name of Jesus christ, the prince of peace. Amen.

Advent 2: “Peace” Face-to-Face Gatherings

The lessons focus on significant words of the season. They are arranged: 1. Hope, 2. Peace, 3. Joy, and 4. Love. However, feel free to arrange them according to the Advent practices of your congregation.

Prep

Ready the videos; gather an Advent wreath with candles and matches; provide Bibles and refreshments, paper and colored pencils.

Getting Started

Welcome all guests. Conduct a brief time for introductions of new participants.

Briefly review the scope of the study and The Bible Project. Speak about expectations regarding group dynamics, such as honoring one another with respect.

Offer an opening prayer. Light the first two Advent candles.

Prompt discussion: When you hear the word “peace,” what comes to your mind? What feelings or memories are evoked?

Digging In

Make available paper and colored pencils and invite participants to doodle or draw as they watch the video.

Introduce the video: “Peace” is a very common word in English. It means different things to different people. It’s also a very important word in the Bible that refers not only to the absence of conflict but also to the presence of something else. In this video, we’ll explore the core meaning of biblical peace and how it all leads to Jesus.

Watch the video.

Following the video, note key ideas such as the Hebrew word, “shalom,” and the Greek “eirene” meaning wholeness and completeness; Jesus gives us his peace; we are called to be people of peace. 

Invite participants to offer comments and observations on what they saw and drew. Discuss: “Shalom,” means “whole,” describing peace within oneself and peace between people. What is the connection between inner peace and outer peace? Can we have one without the other? How can we be people of peace without promoting compassion, justice, and unity?

Introduce Isaiah 9:2-7. The covenant people are in exile in a foreign land, a condition the prophets said had resulted from their disobedience to God. Now, the prophet announces that God is extending peace and reconciliation to them through a new ruler. 

Invite volunteers to read Isaiah 9:2-7.

Discuss: What emotions do you detect in the reading? What does peace mean for the prophet? Why do you think the promise of a new leader evokes promises of peace? When have you felt that way about new leadership?

Invite volunteers to read Isaiah 11:1-9. What does the image of the peaceable kingdom mean to you? How does this passage express peace as the absence of conflict and the presence of connection and completion? What steps have you taken this week to make the world a more peaceful place?

Introduce the Vulcan hand greeting. by either reading this text or watching the video below: Actor Leonard Nimoy, who played the Vulcan Mr. Spock on the original Star Trek, invented a hand greeting based on a Jewish blessing. The hand forms the Jewish letter “shin,” the first letter in the Hebrew word “shalom” (the palm facing forward, thumb extended, and his middle and ring finger parted). It’s often accompanied with the spoken words “live long and prosper,” sometimes paired with the words, “peace and long life.”

Practice making the Vulcan greeting with words of peace. Wonder together how such a greeting can make be one of the tools for making peace. If your congregation passes the peace during worship, talk about ways to live out that greeting.

Concluding Options

1. Discuss: Where in your life do you experience connection and a sense of completion? What factors contribute to your peace? What hampers your sense of peace? How can you make peace in such circumstances?

2. Discuss where peace needs to be restored in your life and in your community. List your answers as a petition to God. Circle one thing on the list. Prayerfully consider what practical steps you or your community can take to bring connection and completion to that one fragmented place.

3. Read Luke 2:8-14. Wonder together why the angels announce peace to the world at Jesus’ birth. How does Jesus connect you with God’s peace? What is it like to have peace with God?

Prayer

God of peace, you have promised the end of conflict on earth, yet the world is still at war. Give us the resolve to be people of peace wherever we are and with whomever we meet. This we pray in the name of Jesus Christ, the prince of peace. Amen.

Sunday school, Yes or No?

I’ve been thinking about the problem of Sunday school as two related yet distinct realities.

It seems to me that the original Sunday school was more of a tutoring strategy than a school as we imagine it. It was a wonderful strategy for teaching street children and others how to read (the Bible). Poor children who worked six days a week could not attend day school, so Methodists created SS.

Over against the SS as a strategy is the so-called schooling model. The first half of the 20th century saw the church’s dedication to the schooling model, including teacher professionalization/certification, school accreditation, parent commitments, and so on. With a nod to the scientific method, churches adopted the broad contours of the schooling model without full-on adopting the model. In other words, the 20th century Sunday school was never a school. The burgeoning SS classrooms of post-WW II had little to do with progressive trends in education being adopted by the church. Yet today, many SS persist with little consideration of the latest advances in childhood education, with so many seeking resources for entertaining their children instead.

So as a model, the Sunday school is dead for the most part. Where the Sunday school persists, it either exists in large churches whose budgets and volunteers still prop it up or as a strategy that hearkens back to its earliest days. Some churches have found clues for the SS strategy’s fruitfulness from its early days, namely teaching children how to read. Literacy, cultural literacy, reading the times, and practicing ways to respond motivate the SS strategy. 

How might recovering the SS as strategy, tutoring children and others how to read—how to read their lives, the world, and the Scriptures—affect the church and its prophetic call?

Curriculum is Not the Problem!

It’s common these days. We look at the problems in our church’s education ministry and blame the curriculum. It doesn’t do this or that well enough, there’s no video component, it’s too hard to decipher, or it’s so easy that we’re done with a lesson in 15 minutes. So the search goes on for the new, the improved curriculum, that can’t cost too much or demand too much, but it had better be thorough in its representation of the gospel.

Curriculum is not the problem, friends. Our expectations concerning the curriculum are. If you use a curriculum produced by a denominational publishing house or one that is meant for mass consumption, then there’s no way it will please you in its entirety. Something in it won’t work for you. In fact, every curriculum developer I know expects the users to adapt and modify it for their own particular setting.

The onus is on you and me, the users. Don’t buy curriculum thinking it will solve your attendance problems or transform volunteers into master teachers. It won’t do it.

Today, it seems that churches use curricula that meet one of two criteria, aside from cost: its theological underpinning or its ease of use, which often boils down to accessible arts, crafts, and videos. If I were to choose, I would err on the side of the theological bent of the curriculum. Does it represent our theological tradition? How does it understand God? Do the interpretation of Bible stories focus more on what God does or on human actions? What view of God will the learners take away from the formative event in which the curriculum is but a tool? What understanding of the church does the curriculum convey?

If you find a curriculum that supports your theological tradition, then you might have to adapt or add activities that better engage your learners. It’s up to you and your education partners to make assessments and adjust as necessary. For example, if you locate a curriculum whose ecclesiology is on point with your tradition, but all of the activities focus on the individual’s response, you may decide to add community-based learning activities. That way the experience of community coheres with the theological point you want to make.

Let me know how I can help you and your church assess your educational and formational ministries.

—Mark Hinds

Immersion or Sprinkling?

One of the questions at baptism: immersion or sprinkling? For some people, immersion is desired because of the symbolism of being buried in a death like Christ’s. For others, sprinkling is the chosen mode because God’s grace is sufficient, regardless of the amount of water used.

It’s also an important question for your Christian formation efforts. What’s preferred? An immersion into the life of faith? Or a sprinkling, a little bit of this and a little bit of that of the faith?

I can hear it now: with the busy-ness of families today, the best we can hope for is a sprinkling. So we’ll keep on doing what we’ve always done, even though church members only appear at the church door once a month or less.

Sprinkling is the problem for most churches. It’s resulted in shrinking rosters, disconnected generations, alienated families, and the opinion that church is just another option for our consideration. It’s like being vaccinated; we innoculate people against the church by giving them a little bit of church. No depth, no breadth of practicing the way of life Jesus calls us to.

Let’s imagine immersion: Choose an event in the life of the church. The baptism of a new Christian, for example. Decide that for five weeks, you will prepare the congregation to receive the new member into the life of the church through an immersive event.

Identify the date, the Scripture for the day (maybe Ephesians 2:1-10), and select a key verse (v. 8: For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God). Next, count back four Sundays. Imagine an event or series of events that immerses your congregation, all ages, in baptism through the key verse. You’ll need a team of helpers and a space. You’ll need water, blue fabric to simulate water, water music (Handel?), a baptism hymn, white fabric to make stoles with baptism designs, and so on. You’ll need a catchy way to memorize the key verse, repeated every week, and included in the worship service as a call to worship or affirmation of faith. You’ll need construction paper and envelopes to make welcome to the church family cards for the newly baptized. You’ll need willing people to tell their baptism stories and openly reflect on the meaning of being saved by grace through faith, a gift of God. You’ll need to display all creations in a well-traveled route in your building, prepare members of the congregation, young and old, to read, sing, and participate in the worship services.

For four Sundays, you welcome all ages into the space with an invitation to be immersed in a significant teaching of the church, to practice living what it means to be baptized and belong to the church, to exercise the memory muscles of the congregation so that the words and hymns of the faith become part of who you are.

Then, on the day of baptism, celebration! The whole congregation rejoicing with the newly baptized. Words of promise, words of hope delivered in sermon, hymns, and greeting cards. Does it require planning? Yes. Effort? Yes. Collaboration and cooperation? Yes and yes. But what a payoff!!!!

Your congregation will never forget baptism or that time they practiced hospitality and radical welcome. That’s how immersion can change your church! Give it a try! And let me know how it goes.