Imagine no more drop-off Sunday school students and absent parents. Imagine children, youth and adults learning together. Imagine everyone in the congregation saying, “I’m a disciple.” Such thoughts stirred the hearts and minds of many at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church, Princeton Junction, N.J. The result: Discipleship Orientation, a program we developed to turn those ideas into reality.
How it works
Everyone with a child on the cradle roll, in Sunday school or confirmation or who participates in any of the adult-education activities is required to attend a one-time Discipleship Orientation in September. Yes. We use the “R” word. It turns out it’s the best way to get busy people’s attention. Besides, they’re used to orientations. They attend orientations for school, scouts, sports and, now, church.
The hour-long Discipleship Orientation begins with a video clip from The Wizard of Oz. Everyone watches as Dorothy dreams of the twister carrying her to a special and colorful world. As she slowly explores her new surroundings, she declares: “I don’t think we are in Kansas anymore, Toto.”
This sets up a short presentation on how Christian education has changed in the last several decades. When invited, participants eagerly share illustrations of how things have changed since they attended Sunday school, first-communion and confirmation classes. The discussion, led by the pastor, moves toward imagining different ways to be faithful in this new and colorful world.
Three approaches to Christian education are then introduced. They are revealed in the responses participants offer when asked who is responsible for educating children in the faith.
The first response is: You do it. This is the approach taken by many, which basically hands over faith education to the religious education professionals in the congregation. A second response is: You do it, and I’ll help. This attitude of partnership is often held by those who serve as Sunday school teachers, confirmation guides and Christian education team members. A final response is: I will, and I ask God to help and guide me. These are the words of adults who acknowledge and accept the gifts and responsibilities that come with bringing children to the font for baptism.
Participants are told that the final baptismal approach to educational ministry is what Prince of Peace seeks to establish and support. The congregation’s activities—worship, service, stewardship, education—are then talked about as resources for adults who have the responsibility to help children grow in the Christian faith and life. Those inclined to select the first and second responses are warned of possible frustration. A time for questions follows.
An agreement is distributed that allows each adult to identify those faith practices they will commit to as a way to grow in faith. Activities suggested are regular worship, daily prayer, service to others and participation in an adult education opportunity.
If the adult is a parent, there is an opportunity to commit to home devotions, intergenerational events and family fun-night activities. There’s also a place on the “discipleship covenant” form where adults can request resources or training to help them follow through on their renewed commitments. Many innovative and relevant learning opportunities have been inaugurated by these newly committed adult disciples. Again, a time for questions follows.
At the end of the orientation we show a short film clip from Forrest Gump. Participants watch a young Forrest run away from bullies. As he picks up speed, the braces designed to support his legs break under the strain. Forrest runs faster and faster, freed from that which had limited his movement and falsely defined him. This visual experience is quickly equated with how those present, using the resources of the congregation, will experience many times over the falling away of those things that falsely define, as well as the amazing grace that comes with being set free to serve God and neighbor.
No, we aren’t there yet. We still have drop-off students and absent parents. There is still confusion over baptismal gifts and responsibilities. But the Discipleship Orientation has gotten the attention of some adults. More and more are reclaiming their responsibility for their Christian education, as well as that of their children. As a result, Prince of Peace has its highest percentage of adults ever participating in religious-education activities. We’re running out of space to accommodate all these newly oriented disciples.
© 2016 Augsburg Fortress, Publishers