Commentary: Church must strengthen its lay faith education
July 25, 2006
The Rev. Clayton Childers
A UMNS Commentary
By the Rev. Clayton Childers*
“Why is the church doing so poorly in being a voice for social justice
This question was put to me recently as I led
a seminar on globalization at the Baltimore-Washington Annual (regional)
Conference’s United Methodist
School of Mission. It’s a challenging question for all of us who make
connecting the church with social advocacy and action a church priority.
My answer: I think a lot of the fault lies in our current system of lay faith
education. It is failing us.
Many local church members were not raised as United Methodists and often don’t
learn about the church’s Social Principles and positions when they join
the United Methodist Church. Many youth do not learn these lessons in their
confirmation classes. My personal experience after leading dozens of Social
Principles training events throughout the United Methodist Church has shown
me that even many lifelong United Methodists have not been exposed to the church’s
social teachings in their discipleship training. In fact, I find many church
members are shocked to learn that our church even has something called the
United Methodist Social Principles. They’ve never seen it before.
- And here is the greater challenge.
It used to be that people were in church regularly and were more active
and church training
programs in which social concerns might be discussed from a faith perspective.
Now think for a moment about the average United Methodist today. First, most
United Methodists do not attend church regularly. Fewer than half do. Of those
who are regular churchgoers, many attend only two Sundays a month, maybe three.
A very small percentage attends Sunday school, and even fewer people attend
United Methodist Women or United Methodist Men meetings.
|A UMNS photo by Ronny Perry
The United Methodist Social Principles can be found in the Book of Discipline.
So we can say, on average, most regular United Methodist attenders are in
church three Sundays a month for a one-hour worship service. During that service,
there will likely be a sermon lasting 15 minutes or so. Of that time, perhaps
one or two minutes will address a social justice theme from a faith perspective
(even this might be generous).
So we can calculate that one or two minutes times 36 Sundays will total less
than one hour of teaching on social justice from a faith perspective in an
entire year! How can we expect that our people are going to be conversant on
the multitude of difficult social issues challenging people of faith today
with only one hour of training a year?
That’s why we should heartily affirm the education ministry being offered
through United Methodist Women’s Schools of Missions. Imagine: Eight
hours of solid class time on economic globalization. Eight hours of plenary
discussion on Christian peacemaking. Where else in the church is this kind
of training being offered? The only place I can think of is our Washington
and New York Seminar Programs offered by the United Methodist Board of Church
and Society and the Board of Global Ministries.
We, as a church, need to celebrate our success stories. We need to celebrate
the fact that sometimes we really do “get it right.” And then
we need to build on our successes.
We are in a rebuilding process right now, recovering our rich Wesleyan heritage
of both personal piety and social action. But we are also at a critical juncture.
What will the future hold? Will we become a church focused beyond ourselves
or will we turn inward?
Our challenge is to return to our singular mission.
If we are truly in the business of “making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation
of the world,” if that is truly our reason for being, how will we ever
succeed without making quality faith education for world transformation a central
priority of our church?
*Childers is the director of annual conference relations for the United Methodist
Board of Church and Society.
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