Saturday, May 30, 2009

Learning Together

Fortunately it doesn't happen very often anymore, but I was awakened at 3:50 a.m. by a phone call from Wright-Hennepin Security with a message that a motion detector at church had set off an alarm. Every time that's happened since we arrived almost four years ago the problem has been invisible. We assume a bat or something. We are very thankful for those who made this happen less often by installing screens in the bell tower!

Anyway, it's a beautiful morning, I'm awake anyway, so I thought I'd begin, now at 5:30 a.m., to jot down a few thoughts coming out of Thursday evening's YDT* Focus Group meeting. Several of us who care about kids, Christian education and discipleship are getting together to discuss possible changes in our YDT* program. We'll meet once more soon, but it looks like changes will be limited to (1) a possible move of our high school youth meetings to Sunday evening, (2) a possible "request for confirmation" that youth wishing to be confirmed would sign prior to preparing for Affirmation of Baptism (don't worry, this won't be hard to do!), (3) and a possible curriculum revision including a return to "memory work" as a part of YDT.

Some who have grown up in the Lutheran church would be surprised to learn of a possible "return" to memory work. After all, isn't "memory work" or "learning by heart" an important part of the youth educational program here at every Lutheran church? If the pastor isn't doing that, what's he doing with our kids?

Some of those present at Thursday evening's meeting talked about how important memory work has been in the lives of people they know. They spoke about how a Bible isn't always at hand and that knowing Bible verses and sections of the catechism are helpful in every day life. One individual mentioned Herbert Loddigs, a missionary pastor I remember from my childhood. Pastor Loddigs talked about a time when his Bible was taken away and he needed to rely on what he had learned by heart. Another group member talked about still singing songs she had learned in childhood that actually quoted Bible verses.

I want to thank those members of the group who spoke for reminding me of how precious it is to have God's Word "hidden in our hearts." The question is the when, who, where and how of this learning. Because the middle school and high school years are times of growing independence, the only helpful way I can think of to move back to doing "memory work" at those ages is to have significant positive incentives for their work. That's how our Sunday school and 5th-6th grade programs (and Christian children's programs such as Awana) get kids to learn!

If a group of church members would be interested in building an attractive program of incentives, that would be wonderful! "Enforcement" by the pastor--such as "you can't be confirmed unless..." generally just drives kids away.

For better or for worse, my philosophy is to help the kids want to be in church, to help them want to learn. So I put the emphasis on what I hope is an engaging, conversational, relational style of teaching with help from adult guides who love God and like kids.

For better or worse, I tend to be more interested in their "hearts" than in their "heads." I do want them to learn, especially to use the Bible and the Catechism as textbooks. I do want them to think and talk together and with their parents and guides. I keep track of their "Home Bible Studies" and "Worship Note" participation. I let their parents know regularly how they are doing and invite them to set the standards for their own kids.

For better or for worse, I have a really hard time being the "enforcer" in kids lives (other than my own kids!). I believe I should be their pastor first and their teacher second. First and foremost, I think I need to be someone they want to learn from if they are going to want to learn.

I'm still learning, and I appreciate the work the YDT focus group is doing. A couple of pieces that would be helpful to look at if you're interested are "Our Calling in Education" from the ELCA and the article "The Catechism in Christian Education" (pdf) from Luther Seminary's "Word and World" periodical. (Click the colored words for the links). Please take some time to learn from these documents and your own experiences, and then share your comments or come to the next meeting--time and day still to be determined--let Nate or me know you're interested and we'll let you know when it will be.

Please let me know what you think. I know I'm far, far from an expert, and some weeks I just don't do a good job, even though I give it my all.

Time for men's Bible study... I may as well go... I'm already awake and here at church.

*YDT means "Youth Discipleship Training" - please use the link near the top right of this blog page to learn more--click on "Youth YDT."

1 comment:

  1. What does it mean to be confirmed? I suspect if you poled a random group from ELC you would find several different answers, with a common theme, to affirm that one believes in the baptism, and perhaps in greater sense, the teachings and beliefs of the Lutheran Church.

    While we were discussing confirmation I was reflecting on my own confirmation a few years back. I went to confirmation classes because my parents told me to. I knew that I would go through confirmation because my parents expected me to (and would be greatly disappointed if I didn't.) However, as I went though the process, I realized that this is what I truly believe.

    Our ELC youth will come to confirmation for a variety of reasons. Each person that comes through the program will have a unique family situation, a unique view of life, and a unique relationship with our Lord Jesus. Our job ("our" means every adult member of ELC) is to find these young people where they are, nurture them, teach them, and help them establish their own relationship with Christ.

    If we have to have a passing grade to have a relationship with God we will all fail. That's the great thing about grace. You and I don't deserve it. But it's there anyway. Freely given out of Jesus' desire for that relationship.

    The same is true for our confirmands. Each one has their own walk with God. There needs to be a lesson plan. There are certain things we want them exposed to, and this is good. And let's remember that each one has their own walk.

    By the way, we have some truly remarkable young people in our church. They will be taking leadership roles in our church in the next few years and we will be fine.

    Tim Robbins