By Kathy L. Dawson

As educators, we know that there are certain times in the liturgical year that are busier than others. The cycle of Lent to Holy Week to Easter to Pentecost tends to be one of those periods of intense activity and for good reason, as this is the core of our Christian story. This year, this cycle coincided with a global pandemic, making multiple voices say, “This is the Lentiest Lent I have ever experienced.” Now we’re entering Ordinary Time, the time after Pentecost, which offers a different rhythm. Hopefully, there will be time for all of us to lean out, to look at the larger picture of our ministry and why we do what we do.

This year, we’re moving into a different way of doing ministry. Often it will be in hybrid form, continuing to do some things online, while beginning to regather in face-to-face ways. This may cause us to be busier with details and the new ways of doing things. There is a temptation to let the details swallow up the bigger picture, but it is even more important to assess what we’ve been doing and what will most effectively carry our aim for educational ministry out into the world.

What is our aim for educational ministry? Why do we do the things we do?

Some would claim that we are attempting to educate people into biblical literacy, so that they both know the Bible and can use it in daily life. Others might see our task being to form disciples, sharing the many ways we can follow Jesus in our inner lives and in our daily practices of faith.

There are many possibilities. I hope during this Ordinary Time you can think about your own ministry and talk to others who share your common work to clearly articulate why you do educational ministry. Once you’ve identified your aim, it is time to move on to assessing how you have been living out this aim in your ministry.

Many of you may be familiar with the work of religious educator, Maria Harris, and particularly her classic text, Fashion Me a People. Among her later works, I have found her co-written book Reshaping Religious Education to hold a helpful framework for assessing our educational ministry based on the core story of our faith in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. She asks three questions to help us assess our ministry. “What is living? What is dying? What is rising?” The answers to these questions will vary with your context. What I hope to outline in the remainder of this post, is a process for using these questions in assessment.

Begin with brainstorming a list of everything that was being done in educational ministry pre-pandemic and during the pandemic. It would be great to have conversation partners while you’re doing this because there may be things that others think of as educational ministry that you would not consider.

From your list, begin grouping these programmatic activities into the three categories inspired by the questions above: Living, Dying, and Rising. Discuss with those working with you how these categories emerge from the Gospel texts.

Living- Programs and activities that meet your aim for educational ministry in ways that transform lives. It doesn’t necessarily mean that these activities have drawn the biggest crowds, rather, consider what had had the most impact on faith. These activities and relationships can occur at all ages. You can’t imagine your church without these as it moves into the future.

Dying- Programs and activities that are unrelated to your aims for educational ministry but have continued, perhaps because “that’s the way we’ve always done things.” The disruption caused by the pandemic is a prime time to let these things go in order to live into the new that God is creating within your faith community. It is never an easy process, but it is important to make space for what rises up in our final category

Rising- Programs and activities where you observe new life in educational ministry. Many experiments are being tried during this time. Which ones will you carry into the future that address your aim in new ways for the coming post-pandemic church? What new thing is God doing in your midst?

I truly believe that we are in a Kairos moment for these types of conversations. I pray that you will take the time to lean out — to see the larger scope of your work, and to let go of those things that have taken a lot of time but produced little in faith growth. Even though this is an important moment, this task should also become a part of our on-going liturgical cycle, continuing to grow in Ordinary Time as we continue to align our work with God’s work in the world.

Author Image

Dr. Kathy L. Dawson

is a certified educator and pastor in the PC(USA). She currently serves as the Benton Family Associate Professor of Christian Education at Columbia Theological Seminary.