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Brock, Timothy W. The Role of the Congregation on Christian Education as Christian Spiritual Formation, Review and Expositor, 98. Summer 2001, 369-393

 by Dr Alex Tang

In this article, Brock, a Minster of Education of the First Baptist Church of Huntsville, Alabama reviewed two assumptions of Christian education and spiritual formation. They are firstly “Christian spiritual formation is the overarching goal of and key organizing principle for Christian education ministry’ and secondly, “the ongoing participation in their shared life of the congregation is the primary context for the processes associated with spiritual formation’ (p.388-389).

Brock derived these two assumptions from the literature, primary from the works of Seymour and Miller (1982) and Suzanne Johnson (1989). Seymour and Miller in their book, Contemporary Approaches to Christian Education, describe 5 different approaches in understanding Christian education[i]. These approaches are listed below.

  • Religious instruction where the mainly activity is the transmission of the religious information done in the context of the classroom.
  • Faith Community is used to describe the creation of a community where a member can be nurtured to learn and develop his or her faith.
  • Spiritual development is the various modalities that can be used so that a person can grow in maturity in Christ.
  • Liberation is the process in which the person and the congregation are allowed the freedom to become who they are to be in Christ.
  • Interpretation is the process where the members’ perspectives (their life stories) are connected to the Christian perspective (the Christian Story).

Johnson, in her book, Christian Formation in the Church and Classroom, found that these approaches to be inadequate[ii]. She found spiritual development too dependent on psychology, liberation too influenced by feminism and that faith community as Christian education should not be the end but is a means to an end. That end goal is spiritual formation. According to Johnson, spiritual formation is the dynamic lifelong process of becoming and being Christian. Her approach to spiritual formation is to merge the Christian story narrative into the context of a Christian community. The community delivers three “deliberate activities” of worship, praxis and instruction. It is in this mixture, she contents, that spiritual formation takes place, not educational programs.

It is a discussion of these three ‘deliberate activities’ that form the bulk of Block’s paper. A congregation that can have these activities should have certain characteristics. These are (1) the right type of congregational climate, (2) an ordering of time in their annual calendar and (3) a certain dynamic in their worship.

Drawing on the research of the Search Institute, a congregation should have an ecology conducive to spiritual formation. Characteristics of this ecology are:

  • Warm ecology
  • Nurturing ecology
  • Thinking ecology
  • Intergenerational ecology
  • Hospitable ecology
  • Assimilation ecology

In the ordering of time, Brock has in mind the reintroduction of the Church Year of festivals, celebrations and significant church events that reminds members of God’s work in their lives and their church.

Worship should be a significant event and be the “work of the people.”  The liturgical and instructions should be significant contributors to spiritual formation as is the sacraments (communion, baptism).

Brock has integrated Johnson’s thinking into his Baptist background. Recognizing that “traditional Baptist churches’ practice religious instructions as their main mode of Christian education, Brock suggested that more emphasis should be place on the shared life of the congregation as an “implicit curriculum”. Hence the emphasis on ecology, Church Year and worship. He has developed a short questionnaire to assess the level of these “deliberate activities’ in the congregational life.

This is a good paper, strengthening Johnson’s argument for “deliberate activities” in the shared life congregation of her model. However, Brock did not give his own definition of spiritual formation and Christian education in his paper. As a result the reader is often lost in his discussion because he seems to be using other people’s definitions. It is not clear which section is about Christian education and which is about spiritual formation.

               

                                                                                                                                     Soli Deo Gloria

 

| posted 4 April 2006 |


 

[i] Jack L., Seymour, “Approaches to Christian Education,” in Contemporary Approaches to Christian Education, Ed. By Jack L. Seymour and Donald E. Miller (Nashville: Abington Press, 1982)

[ii] Susanne Johnson, Christian Spiritual Formation in the Church and Classroom (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1989).

 

               

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