My sense of adult religious education is that it can be a garden of delight, as well as a classroom of classical learning. Students teach and teachers learn. We share our experiences together as adult learners. We come together in small groups — intimacy —to consider the largest, deepest questions of our lives —ultimacy.
As small-group ministry, adult faith formation happens in covenant groups, in classes of all kinds, in social justice work, in work teams or committees, and in informal conversations during coffee hour. Our task as religious leaders is to create spaces for that formation, that growth and evolution, to happen. The minister’s job, I believe, is not only to lead, not only to make space, not only to model, but to empower others to share what they know and what they have experienced.
As an experienced adult religious education teacher and longtime educator, I know the importance of community in educational environments. I know that faith formation happens because we are all in it together. In order for adult religious education to work well, it must function at least as much to build community as it does to impart information.
Finally, I believe that adult religious education is a ministry of the church, not a “program.” We are all ministering to one another —those who bring casseroles to bereaved families, those who care for infants, those who plan worship, those who teach and share in the classroom, those who participate in social justice events. And so when looking over classes or experiences we offer in the church’s adult faith formation ministry, I will ask, “Does this align with the identity of the church?” “Will this bring us together toward wholeness as individuals and as a congregation?” and “Where does this fit in the overall mission of the congregation?”
We can all be learners. We can all be teachers. We are all religious educators, whether we know that or not. Let us step together into deeper wholeness, in intimate settings, considering ultimate questions.