Published in Connections Magazine (Nov/Dec 2014)
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faith and family
The gift of Christian Education and Faith Formation
by Marcus J Carlson
Thanksgiving is a wonderful time to celebrate our many blessings with family and friends. Christmas is a joyous time, a time of sharing, family and celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ, Emmanuel, God with us. The season that lies ahead serves as a wonderful reminder of the many gifts we have and the gift of family. There is something about the holiday season in particular that renews my focus on giving my very best to my own children. Many parents wish to give their kids a better life than the one they had. Regardless of our experience or perspective, parents recognize that the call to be a parent is the greatest gift we will receive and for most of us the greatest challenge we will face.
We make many promises as parents, to ourselves, one another and to our children. When we choose to have our children baptized, we make a commitment to bring them up in faith and the congregation in turn makes a commitment to be a part of that process. Much in the world has changed, and the very nature of childhood and adolescence is dramatically different than in the past. While this can be a difficult reality to face, the core needs of our children and adolescents have not changed. Much like education, our approach to Christian education in the lives of our children and adolescents deserves some examination. So often, we farm the education of our children to the school system or we do it alone. The same can be said of Christian education. Many times we expect the church to do all of the Christian education in the lives of our children and adolescents, or we simply go it alone as parents. In both cases, these are unhealthy approaches to education. In our highly individualistic culture, we have lost sight of the value, nature and power of community. Healthy community, especially healthy adult community may be one of the greatest needs of our children and adolescents today.
One of the challenges our families face is the Christian education and faith formation of our children and adolescents. As a parent, I know I have tremendous responsibility for my children in this way. I also know that it is not a call or task my wife and I are meant to do on our own. As a pastor, I recognize that the church has an obligation to be a part of the Christian education and spiritual formation of all those in the church and our community, especially our children and adolescents. The truth is this endeavor is a partnership, a partnership we all participate in. Christian education and spiritual formation, especially in the lives of children and adolescents is a community endeavor. The children and adolescents, parents, congregation, community should all come together to care for the children and adolescents. So often we do not take this call seriously, offering the minimal to our children and youth, relegating their formation to a lower priority to other church ministries and programs. Conversely, we often move to the other extreme and focus on programming and activities as our sole means of Christian education and spiritual formation. Rarely do we consider what it means to partner with and equip parents in the spiritual formation of their children in a healthy and effective way.
It is easy to recognize that the world is more complicated for our children and adolescents than it may have ever been. It is perhaps more essential than ever that the church rethinks its approach to the Christian education and spiritual formation of its children and adolescents. What’s not need are more programs, activities or a more rigid approach from the past. While it may be easy to pass off sole responsibility to parents under an often misguided principle that parents are the only, primary or lead source of discipleship in the lives of their children and adolescents, faith is meant to be lived out, expressed and experienced in community. This is one of the core purposes of the church. Relationship with the triune God, one another and the world is at the center of our faith. So often our approaches to Christian education and faith formation, especially in the lives of our children and adolescents are anything but relational.
At Christmas, we celebrate the greatest gift to the world, Jesus. The coming of Christ is more than a miraculous event, the source of salvation and an example of how to live within the Kingdom of God (this is all quite important and more than enough!). The coming of Christ to earth in Bethlehem is most certainly a powerful event, a world changing moment. As I think about Christmas, the life of Christ, and the Christian education and spiritual formation of children and adolescents, one word comes to mind. Incarnation. God in the flesh, God with us, God walking amongst us, becoming one of us. The Word become flesh and living among us. It is all language we are familiar with, but in the midst of familiarity, the pressures of life and the trappings of the holidays, we must look to the incarnation. The incarnation is certainly the greatest gift we have been given. It is also an invitation and model of relationship, with God, one another and the world. It is the primary model of ministry and discipleship. Jesus, the Son of God, the Messiah, Savior and Christ came to be with us, desires to be in relationship with us and walks with us.
As we think about our children and adolescents, we look to this Christ and seek deeper relationship with God and our children and youth. As they seek Christ, we walk with them in relationship, pointing them to a deeper, life-giving relationship with Jesus. As we think about the Christian education and spiritual formation of our children and adolescents, we should look to the incarnation. As we celebrate family this holiday, we have the opportunity to renew our commitment to them. As we come together this Advent season to prepare for and celebrate the coming of Christ, we can reclaim our call as a community of faith to partner together in the care of our children and adolescents. This Christmas season, we can offer a gift to our children, adolescents, families, churches and communities: a reminder of the power of an incarnation, but also a renewed commitment to the education and spiritual formation of our children and adolescents.