I am a religious educator — and so are you!
Each and every member of a religious community is a religious educator. As a minister, I take this truth especially seriously. We teach and learn by our speech, demeanor, and actions, by our articulation of values and vision.
What are we teaching one another? What are we learning? How are meaning and purpose entering and deepening our lives? Do we teach what we want to be teaching?
Where are the Children?
In nearly all of our congregations, children and youth spend time on Sundays in structured religious classes or gatherings with their peers. They interact primarily with others their own age, with their teachers, and with their parents. They are unlikely to come to church on any day other than Sunday.
While this formal religious education is important in helping our young people to form their own faith, it’s not enough.
We Need One Another
We — adults, children, and youth — need one another if we are to live in Beloved Community, and that means taking religious education beyond the classroom.
It means all of us greeting and talking with the 8-year-old sitting on the other side of the coffee hour table. It means younger adults learning alongside our children that elders can be keepers of community history. It means that not only is our adult village raising meaning-and-purpose-full children, but also our children and youth are raising meaning-and-purpose-full adults. It means experiencing our differences and being assured the connections between us. It means learning to stand in solidarity with one another, across age, race, class, ability, size, gender, sexuality, and any other characteristic that might separate us.
Say Something Worth Hearing
One youth said, “People seem to think that what young people want out of church is a whole bunch of stuff on Twitter and a really cool band, but what we really want is for church not to bullshit us. I mean, sure, the band is cool, but say something worth hearing and I’m in.”
Say something worth hearing and I’m in.
Children and youth struggle with the same life issues that the rest of us are tangled in. Boundaries between self and others. Dying, death, and hereafter. Injury and disability. Prejudice and oppression. Body image and sexuality. Love.
To say something worth hearing doesn’t just mean we need effective pedagogy for young people. It means we must speak about social justice with our actions. To say something worth hearing is to speak about “dangerous” topics in appropriate ways, and to trust young people to join us in doing so. To say something worth hearing is to build worship that engages the senses (and the sense) of children, youth, and adults of all ages. To say something worth hearing is to invite youth and support them in worship leadership–both planning and Sunday-morning participation.
Just how to make all this change happen is going to vary from congregation to congregation; along with other religious educators in the congregation, especially other religious professionals, I will listen, plan, and experiment so we can hear one another better across ages.
In the final analysis, to be worth hearing we must promote genuine conversation and relationship between young people and adults. My ministry has been transformed by relationships with children and youth. I hope that all of us — adults, as well as children and youth — can open ourselves to relationships, seek them out, and be challenged and changed.