Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Will Our Children Have Faith: Reviewing a 'Classic'

'Will Our Children Have Faith' is not a new book by John H. Westerhoff, III. It was first printed in 1976. I inherited it from a mentor and have found it a very brave critique of Sunday School Culture. You will find much that is challenging in it such as:
To be Christian is to ask: What can I bring to another? Not: What do I want that person to know or be? It means being open to learn from another person (even a child) as well as to share one's understandings and ways. To speak of schooling and instruction leads us in other directions and to other conclusions. Should we not ask: Is schooling and instruction in a Christian community necessary for education? Or is living as a Christian with others inherently educational? If we attend to being Christian with others, need we attend to to schooling and instruction? By focusing on schooling and instruction we have ignored these issues and questions that are so important for Christian faith. (17)

Westerhoff is criticizing the 'Sunday School' model for trying to take a public school model and apply it to teaching our children faith. In so doing we focus more on creating or finding curriculum, training teachers, training 'experts' in Christian Education, etc. Is applying so much attention to these matters we have placed time, energy and financial resources in a model that simply does not work. In placing so much attention on who will teach my children and what book will they buy and use we are ignoring the most important question, which leads to the most effective teaching model; how am I living my faith with my children? We do not need curricula and classrooms, we need parents and other adult Christians to devote time and effort to their own faith formation and to creating and maintaining relationships with the youth of the church, so that these youth see the adults learning, growing and practicing the faith.

We are trying this to put some of this critique to good use at my church. While we do still have the standard sunday school class on sunday mornings before worship, we are now also planning our second 'Christian Family Nurture Project'. For Lent we are going to focus on Communion in worship, in a special adult study and with the children of the church. We are going to bake bread to use in communion, and go out together to visit various church members and take communion to them. The plan is that not only will we be talking about what Communion means, but showing the children what Christians virtues it shapes in us, such as; forgiveness, generosity, and hospitality. The point is not to simply teach information, but together to practice the faith and to create strong inter-generational relationships.

What else do you think we could do to focus less on Sunday School and focused more on living the faith concretely with our children?

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