Nurturing/ Teaching Courses
Spiritual Formation for SHALOM;
a model for a curriculum for Adult Christian Education for Holy Light Church (English), Johor Bahru, Malaysia
by Alex Tang
Holy Light Church (English), Johor Bahru is a Presbyterian church, part of the English Speaking Presbytery (ESP) in Malaysia. The theological stance is neo-Calvinism with a healthy mix of Arminism. It is led by three pastors, elders, deacons and lay ministry leaders. The Senior Pastor has been with the church for 30 years. Key ministries are worship, nurture, mission, the Boys’ Brigade, children and youth ministries and fellowships.
The church has a membership roll of 435 members but at the Sunday service, the attendance averages 350 persons, inclusive of children. The members are mainly English educated middle class Chinese. There are a large number of professionals. There is a good mix of young children, youth, middle age and older adults. The ladies slightly outnumber the men. The level of commitment is good with many attending church service and activities regularly. A large number are involved in the cell groups. This paper will be limited to a curriculum of adult education only. It is tailored mainly to people between 18-60 years old, English educated middle class Chinese of both sexes.
2. Desired Outcome/ Learning Objectives
The general aim of the curriculum is to nurture disciples of Jesus Christ with informed mind, hearts on fire and contemplatives in action. The theological basis for this aim is to make disciples (Matt.28:19), with Christ-like character (Gal.4:19; Rom.8:29), restoring the image of God in them (2 Cor.4:4) and producing a people of God (Rom.8:29).
The specific aims of the curriculum can be summarized in a model, Spiritual Formation for SHALOM. The word SHALOM in this model is used both in the sense of the Hebrew word and as an acronym for Story, Heart, Action, Learning, Oneness and Maturity. The word shalom was chosen because it encapsules what Christian education is all about. Joldersma (2004, xiii) unpacking Wolterstorff’s vision of ‘education for shalom’ writes, “Shalom means people living in right relationships with God, themselves, each other, and nature- and taking delight in such relationships…Shalom is an ethical community where all the members have a full and secure place in the community”. This model uses shalom as the goal of Christian education and also as an acronym for its key features.
The key features and educational goals of this model are summarized in the table below:
Spiritual formation is defined as knowing and loving God, knowing and loving ourselves, knowing and loving our neighbours and living in the daily presence of God. This knowing and loving is grounded in the love of God the Father, the completed work on the cross of Jesus Christ the Son and the sustaining influence and power of the Holy Spirit. Spiritual formation is done in the context of a community of faith. Thus spiritual formation includes the pedagogy of Christian educational methodology and the transforming power of the Holy Spirit.
This model has the integration as suggested by Harkness (1998)
· Community orientated rather than individualistic,
· Life-centered rather than school-based,
· Transformational rather than exclusively informational,
· Life-long rather than packaged and concentrated especially into the years of childhood and youth, and
· Equipping people for service, both in the church and in society.
The contents of this curriculum can be divided into 5 general categories (see appendix 1).
(1) to understand Scriptures,
(2) to understand our Christian Faith and Heritage,
(3) to develop a Christian worldview,
(4) to equip Leaders for Ministry,
(5) to transform their lives into Ethical Christian Living at the personal, family, church, workplace and the community level.
It will be planned so that in every year at least one or more courses, workshops, studies or seminars will be developed for each of the 5 categories. It is estimated that it will take 10 years to complete the content of this curriculum.
4. Learning Environment.
This curriculum incorporates formal, informal and ‘hidden curriculum’ learning. It approaches learning as a community. The approach can be divided into 3 groups: large, small and individual; recognizing that spiritual formation can occurs in these groups and often overlaps. (See appendix 2). Thus the community must provide the correct environment and employ the means of grace for spiritual formation to occur. It is in community that we are safe and able to grow in a holistic way (Palmer 2004, 25-29). The Acts 2 church is a fine example of a Christian community in action (Acts 2:42-47). In such a nurturing environment, a Christian can grow to maturity and bears the fruit of the Holy Spirit. It must be recognized that growth is not constant but sporadic and depends much on choices, age, gender, and life circumstances. The curriculum also recognizes that that there are stages to our spiritual growth (Hagberg and Guelich 2005) and also different people approaches God differently (Thomas 1996). There is no ‘one size fits all’ formula. Hence, there are so many options available in the curriculum. Members are encouraged to participate in the learning of their choice and needs. Growth occurs most often in times of uncertainty and stress such as in life events, loss and pain. It is in such times that we learn to let go of our illusions and turn to God for help. It is during such ‘teachable’ moments that the Holy Spirit acts causing a spiritual transformation or metanoia.
5. Teaching Methods, Resources and Conducting Learning Sessions.
The curriculum incorporates all the various pedagogy in large, small and one-to-one sessions. Teachers for formal courses are from the congregation itself and also invited from other churches and seminaries. The laity is directly involved in the teaching and a culture of ‘learning from each other’ is incorporated.
Teaching resources are developed by members of the congregation though sometimes commercial curriculum packages are also used, especially in cell groups. Locally produced study materials are more relevant (Tisdell 2003).
For formal learning, there are the pulpit ministry, courses on various subjects, seminars, workshops and conferences. For informal learning, there are church celebrations, sacraments, cell groups, special interest groups and prayer groups. Counseling and spiritual directors are available. Mentoring and modeling is especially emphasized as ways of learning (Collinson 2004).
6. Encouraging Appropriate Responses
People are encouraged to attend. There is no compulsion. There is however emphasis that we are on a spiritual journey and that we are life long learners. Teachings programs are advertised well in advance and often explained after the church service. However, recognizing that many people are busy, this curriculum is coordinated with other church activities that no one is expected to attend more than 3 church programmes a week (including the Sunday service). At the end of every year, the leaders and congregation are invited to give their feedback and asked on what topics they would like to learn the following year. This is to ensure that the topics chosen are relevant. All learning must be translated into ethical living. It must be translated into action or it will be meaningless. James 1:22-25 teaches us not to be merely hearer but also be doers of the Word. That is why the reflective double-loop thinking of the theories of action (espoused and theories-in-use) is important in our spiritual growth. (Smith 2001). All aspects of life are covered either at the church, small group and one-to-one level. It values the spiritual journey and the experiences we have on the way and uses it for our sanctification. Dubay (1989, 74-75) summaries five reasons why Teresa of Avila thought it important that believer should understand their spiritual journey and their experiences that mark their way.
a. We need to know our destination.
b. We need support and encouragement for the difficult times.
c. We need to be able to recognize God’s blessing so that we may embrace them.
d. We need to know how to operate in the difficult stages of growth.
We need to be able to see that we are making progress.
7. Evaluating the Curriculum.
At the end of every formal learning session, a formal evaluation was done by a feedback form. However informal evaluations are being done continuously by asking for feedback from the cell leaders and congregation. The church leaders were also asked to evaluate the curriculum annually. Thus there are ongoing preview, formative and summative evaluation in this curriculum.
In Matthews 22:37-39 Jesus summarized all the commandants of God into two- love God, love our neighbours and ourselves. All these are relationships. Unless we have love for God, our true undivided self (Palmer 2004) and for our neighbours, we would have failed in our maturing process. Paul placed love above all (1 Cor. 13). Hence the need to nurture love and relationships in our curriculum. Maturing in Christ is an “ongoing partnership with Spirit and in the direction of universalizing faith” (Fowler 2000, 60). In the final analysis, the only evaluation that can be done is to see whether the congregation loves God and one another.
The philosophical foundation of this model is neo-Thomism or perennialism (Anthony and Benson 2003, 396-399). This model gives us a balanced view of the Christian life, acknowledging the weakness of idealism and naturalism and striking a balance between spirit and matter. This philosophical base is closer to the Hebrew approach to education. There is a need to move away from the dualistic teachings of the Greeks and reclaim the holistic teachings of the East (Rigalado 2001). The foundational basis of the educational methodology of the SHALOM model is that learning (formal, informal, ‘hidden curriculum’) is done in the context of the everyday life of the participants. It does not differentiate the ‘secular’ from the ‘sacred’ nor 'church times' from the workplace. It must be recognized that this model provides the infrastructure for spiritual formation. It prepares the mind, hearts and souls for these divine moments when the Holy Spirit intervenes in our lives, these transitional moments when we receive by means of grace, the spiritual transformation of our souls. We recognize fully the role of the Holy Spirit in spiritual transformation that draws us and conforms us into the image of our Lord Jesus Christ. Hence there is a continual need for dependence on His grace and for interventional prayers.
Soli Deo Gloria
Anthony, Michael J. & Benson, Warren S. 2003. Exploring the History & Philosophy of Christian Education. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications.
Collinson, Sylvia Wilkey. 2004. Making Disciples: The Significance of Jesus’ Educational Methods for Today’s Church. Carlisle: Paternoster Press.
Dubay, Thomas. 1989. Fire Within: St.Teresa of Avila, St, John of the Cross & the Gospel on Prayer. San Francisco, CA: Ignatian Press.
Fowler, James W.2000.Becoming Adult, Becoming Christian: Adult Development and the Christian Faith. San Francisco,CA: Jossey-Bass Publisher
Harkness, Allan. 1998.The Christian Heritage in Modern Asia: The Modern Factor: Education for a Relevant Church. Trinity Theological Journal, 7,103 -114.
Hagberg, Janet O. and Guelich, Robert A. The Critical Journey: Stages in the Life of Faith. 2nd. edn. Salem: Sheffield.
Joldersma, Clarence W. & Stronks, Gloria Goris (Eds.). 2004. Educating for Shalom: Essays on Christian Higher Education. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing.
Palmer, Parker J. 2004. A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Towards An Undivided Life. San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons.
Regalado, F. 2001. Hebrew Thought: Its Implications for Christian Education in Asia. Asia Journal of Theology, 15, 1, 172-188.
Smith,M.K.2001. Chris Arglis:theories of action, double-loop learning and organizational learning, the encyclopedia of informal education, www.infed.org/thinkers/argyris.htm; Internet; accessed 4 February 2005.
Thomas, Gary. 1999. Sacred Pathways. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
Tisdell, Elizabeth J. 2003. Exploring Spirituality and Culture in Adult and Higher Education. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Appendix 1: Curriculum Content
1. Understanding Scriptures
1.1 Bible Study Techniques
1.3 Old Testament
§ OT Survey
§ OT Themes
§ OT Geography
§ OT Book Study
1.4 New Testament
§ NT Survey
§ The Synoptic Gospels
§ The Study of Paul the Apostle
§ NT Themes
§ NT Book Study
§ End Times Study
2. Understanding Christian Faith and Heritage
2.1 Great Doctrines of the Christian Faith
2.2 Confessions of Faith
2.3 Church History
2.4 Malaysian Church History
2.5 Christian Spirituality
3. Developing Christian Worldview
3.2 Contemporary Ethical Issues
3.3 Understanding Islam
3.4 Understanding Buddhism
3.5 Understanding Hinduism
3.6 Understanding Cults
3.7 Christian and Just War
3.8 Movies and Music
4. Leadership for Ministry
4.1 Pastoral Care
§ Spiritual Leadership
§ Strategic Planning
§ Care and Counseling
§ Leading CELLS
§ Mentoring & Spiritual Direction
4.2 Spiritual Formation
§ What is Spiritual Formation?
§ Dynamics of Spiritual Life
§ Discerning God’s Will
§ Spiritual Disciplines
4.3 Mission and Evangelism
§ Personal Evangelism
§ Theology of Missions
§ Short Term Missions
5. Ethical Christian Living
§ Rich Christian, Poor Christian
§ Christian Family
§ Positive Christian Parenting
§ Understanding Spiritual Growth of Children
§ Understanding Church
§ Work, Vocation, and Calling
§ Ethics at Work
§ Bribery and Corruption
§ Tent making ministries
§ Interpersonal Relationship
§ Conflict Resolution
§ Caring for the Aged
Appendix 2: Educational Methodology for SHALOM
 AGM, Annual Report 2003. Holy Light Church (English), Johor Bahru, 2-6. The membership roll as on 20th February 2004.
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