Editor’s Note: This post originally appeared on Rows of Sharon, the personal blog for Sharon Ely Pearson, and is shared here with permission from the author. Sharon edits dozens of books each year and works as a Christian Formation Specialist for Church Publishing Incorporated.
From time to time the Forma Facebook Group has a post from someone (clergy, youth minister, Christian educator) who is asking if anyone has a “rubric” for what children should learn in each year of “Sunday School” (or whatever you call it). I don’t want to disparage anyone who asks such a question; we live in a culture of moving from one milestone to another and having to “prove ourselves” in our accomplishments – especially if you want to “move on” to the next step, phase, class, or even graduate with that degree. And often employment, promotion, or a raise is determined by our success. But honestly, this question drives me nuts.
For those of you who have known me for years, I get this sort of question all the time. What curriculum should we be using? What should we be teaching? What does the Church (in my case, the Episcopal Church) say we need to teach? To that I always answer, “There is no one answer. Tell me about your context.” What would Jesus say? “Love one another.”
I don’t want to rehash my mantra here. (I’m saving that for other subsequent posts in the coming weeks as I dig through old boxes of books, articles, and research papers written.) But I will share what I have learned in my 40 years of ministry – benchmarks don’t form disciples of Christ.
Yes, it is good to learn the Lord’s Prayer. It is important to know the biblical story, specifically our salvation story (hint: check out the readings for the Great Vigil of Easter). Check off the boxes: The Nicene Creed, the Ten Commandments, the twelve apostles, the books of the Bible. Mostly importantly, what is developmentally appropriate for the child, the teen, the adult? Are they new to the Christian faith? Have they been immersed in the ethos of a faith community? All that will determine a starting point. And for the most part, that is what curriculum does. Any curricular resource that’s worth purchasing has an editorial board that diligently studied the development (social, cognitive, emotional, psychological, physical, and faith) of its student.
That being said, there are a number of organizations that have put together lists of what is appropriate to teach and learn throughout the age span. Bookmark this for future reference:
- Building Faith’s article “Does Your Church Have Benchmarks for Christian Education?” (2016)
- The Episcopal Diocese of Alabama offers a Scope & Sequence of types of curricula appropriate per age level (2007)
- My Episcopal Christian Educator’s Handbook lists developmental milestones of various ages (2013). Some of these are listed on Building Faith under Learning Goals.
- St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Delray Beach (the former parish of Bishop Chip Stokes of New Jersey) put together “standards for Christian education” (2005)
If what you are REALLY looking for is a pedagogy of Christian formation, I recommend the following:
- Called to Teach and Learn – a collaborative project funded by General Convention and published in 1994 by the Episcopal Church. In many ways, this was a response to “Why doesn’t the Episcopal Church have an authorized curriculum?” Guess what – we are a Prayer Book people: the BCP in one hand, the Bible in the other. Our brain in the middle. Also available in Spanish.
- Discovering Called to Teach and Learn offers a process to determine and plan for you congregation in implementing CTTL. And in Spanish.
- The Children’s Charter for the Church
- The Charter for Lifelong Christian Formation
- Will Our Children Have Faith, third revised edition by John H. Westerhoff, III
John Westerhoff offers many morsels of wisdom that continue to stand the test of time:
The Church’s faith affirmation begin with the Latin word credo not opinio; opinio means to believe, to have an opinion, but credo is to set our hearts upon, to hold dear, to pledge allegiance to. The gift of faith is a way of seeing and hearing, a way of perceiving. Similarly, revelation is not a collection of concepts, ideas, or theological formulations about the nature of God. Revelation points to our relationship with God, to our experiences of God.
BRINGING UP CHILDREN IN THE CHRISTIAN FAITH BY JOHN H. WESTERHOFF III
(WINSTON PRESS, 1980), 22.
And by the way, a “rubric” is: (1) a heading on a document; (2) a direction in a liturgical book as to how a church service should be conducted – which for me is the Episcopal perspective; (3) a statement of purpose or function.