The E-mail Commentary from Eco-Justice Ministries
Your Class Is Too Small
Way back in 1952, J.B. Phillips wrote the book, Your God Is Too Small. His little (dare I say small?) volume is recognized as a classic for calling believers beyond Sunday School notions of the divine, and toward theologies that can encompass challenging life experiences.
Sixty years ago, Phillips didn't write about the ecological factors that might stretch our notions of God. It is clear -- to me, at least! -- that 21st Century Christianity's ongoing quest for relevance and a bigger God requires us to pay more attention to all creation, and not just people.
Our theological and ethical expansion hits a roadblock, though, when our education is too small. When our churches are limited to a "Sunday School" understanding of educational programming, then we'll have trouble bringing our members into Earth-honoring theology and practice.
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We usually think of religious education as classes which impart knowledge. Classes are important, but a larger vision of education opens new and enticing possibilities.
On several occasions, Eco-Justice Ministries has offered a workshop, Greening Your Church: with a focus on education. The session is designed to help educators, clergy and "green team" members look at the many ways that we learn, and at the variety of goals that educational programs might address. We start the workshop with a small group discussion.
In groups of three or four, participants share stories about the question, "When did you learn to drive?" They're encouraged to go beyond a short, "when I was in High School", and talk about all of the steps that were involved in that learning, how long it took, and how it felt.
The conversations reveal that learning to drive is complex. The groups quickly come to the educational insight that there is a difference between learning practical driving skills and the "book learning" of laws. People remember vividly that there is anxiety about learning new behaviors (and about teaching them!). They realize that learning to drive is a life-long process while they deal with new technologies in cars, more crowded streets, and the personal changes that often accompany aging.
Then we asked a slightly different question: "When did you learn that you wanted to drive?" Did you ever take a class that taught you to want that knowledge? The second round of small group discussion lifts up the "hidden curriculum" which built that interest in the first place. The desire to drive is soaked up from advertising and movies, friends who drove, parents who were eager to have their children learn (or not), and the cultural sense that getting a driver's license is a rite of passage.
In all of the discussions, nobody ever spoke of going to a class that was designed to create an initial interest in driving. There is teaching and education involved in creating that desire to drive, but it does not happen in the classroom.
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Many of us, I'm afraid, have planned wonderful classes for our churches about environmental issues and ecological theology, and been disappointed when few people turn up. The problem is not with the amount of publicity we put out, or a title that wasn't catchy enough. We have small classes because the church's hidden curriculum hasn't been used well to generate interest and excitement.
Congregation members are far more likely to turn out for scheduled classes on environmental topics when the culture of the church emphasizes that a mature and rewarding faith has given thought to these important questions. There are specific educational steps that churches can take to build that culture. Way before any classes are offered, we can and must teach our members about what we value.
Those ongoing, subtle messages are part of the educational program of churches. They need to be part of the planned curriculum that we use to teach our members about faithful living.
Take a few minutes today to think about the education taking place at your church. Is the necessary groundwork being done that will make people want to learn about ecological theology and environmental issues? Is the hidden curriculum an intentional part of educational planning?
Antoine de Saint-Exupery wrote, "If you want to build a ship, don't drum up people to collect wood and don't assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea." In our churches, how do we teach a longing for environmental living that will change their behavior, and maybe even bring them to a class?
Eco-Justice Ministries * 400 S Williams St, Denver, CO 80209 * 303.715.3873
Home Page: www.eco-justice.org * E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org