"Congregations of the old Protestant mainline denominations… continue to sponsor many educational activities, but they lack the intentionality, the coherence and the continuity needed to maintain and renew their identities as communities of faith."
I've just been writing a summary of Charles Foster's "From Generation to Generation" (Cascade Books, 2012) as part of my study of Christian education. Foster is a United Methodist minister and Professor of Religion and Education emeritus at Candler School of Theology, Emory University, USA. The book chronicles the decline of intentionality and influence concerning Christian Education in mainline US churches, with many parallels to the Australian situation.
One of his many insights is that faith formation requires three inter-related kinds of learning.
Developmental learning - building blocks of learning that are available when we are ready for them, that accumulate over time. This has been the common foundation of Sunday School curriculum. This isn't only cognitive, but it has often been seen in the light of what we are ready to learn and 'know'. What are people ready and able to learn at different ages and stages of life?
Practice learning - “directed to the competency of our participation in the community or communities” and “the quest for effective and competent participation”. He suggests that the cognitive aspects of faith often don’t take hold because their relevance is not experienced as lived reality. He says that “Habit memories, in contrast to cognitive memories, are social and historical, embodied and contextual.” “Practice learning binds and sustains developmental and discovery learning in forming faith.” For example, we engage with practices differently according to our ages and stages ofd development. Habits of faith form predispositions that “become catalysts to resources for new knowledge and skills, hence the crucial link with discovery learning… "These mediated expectations have an ecclesial shape.”
Discovery learning - exploratory, transformative learning that imagines or uncovers new possibilities for appropriating our faith traditions in changing contexts. Discovery learning is where learning is relevant to our situation and setting.
I found those three categories very helpful in thinkng about the what, where and how of congregational Christian education.
Foster talks about three congregational habits that make intergenetaional learning possible - hospitality, celebration and conversation. He also says a lot about the importance of intergenerational mentoring.
Its a short book at 150 pages and well worth a read. There's much more in it than I've outlined here. I felt that like many older people, he didn'treally know waht to do with electronic communication and technology except to be very cautious about its influence. Secondly he presumes that churches still have children and youth in them. Thirdy, I felt that he fell short of exploring in more detail how mission and learning/education might be related.