“A congregation’s culture can support critical reflection in education, or it can impede it. Its practices can involve people in forms of action which raise important issues that, subsequently, are taken up in education, or they can draw people into deadening cycles of conventionality."
I've just finished summarising Richard Osmer's excellent book, "The Teaching Ministry of Congregations" (Wesminster John Knox, 2005). It's extraordinary in its scope, thoughtfulness and detail. Osmer is a Presbyterian minister and Professor of Christian Education at Princeton Theological Seminary, USA.
Osmer’s book is the closest that I have found to my own research. It consists of an analysis of the teaching ministry of the apostle Paul, an ethnographic study of three very different congregations, and proposals for refashioning the teaching ministry of congregations.
Osmer sees three core tasks in the apostle Paul’s teaching ministry
• Catechesis - handing on and interpreting Israel’s Scripture and early Christian tradition
• Exhortation - moral formation, moral education, teaching Christian hope, and exhortation to care
• Discernment - learning to interpret everyday life eschatologically
With these core tasks in mind, Osmer engages in an ethnographic study of three diverse congregations in different cultures and countries - USA, South Korea and South Africa. He examines them through four frames.
Practices - “the ways in which a congregation is a community sharing a way of life embodied in its practices, which mediate both traditions of the past and contextual challenges of the present” - teaching ministry as congregational formation.
Curriculum - “the ways a congregation is a school that educations its members through practices of education which promote learning in a systematic, intentional, and sustained fashion over the course of the human life cycle” - teaching ministry as congregational education.
Leadership - “the ways a congregation is a learning organization that faces adaptive challenges with the potential of altering both its internal life and its relationship to the surrounding social context” - teaching ministry as congregational leadership.
Pilgrimage - “the ways a congregation is composed of individuals at very different points in their faith journeys” - teaching ministry as congregational support of individuals’ unfolding pilgrimages of faith.
The churches that he studies are very large by Australian standards, often a difficulty in engaging with American examples. However his analysis is broad, deep and rich, as are the sources whom he brings into the conversation - Howard Gardner, Moltmann, Volf, Ricouer, Fowler, a range of writers regarding leadership...
Drawing on Moltman, he suggests a coherence between Christology, the congregation's Christopraxis, and its core practices:
Christ’s Congregational Core
Fivefold Office Christopraxis Practices
Prophetic Marturia Preaching, testimony, evangelism
Priestly Diakonia Eucharist, burden bearing, social outreach
Transfigured Doxology Sabbath keeping, praise, recreation
Royal Didache Catechesis. exhortation, discernment
Open fellowship Koinonia Baptism, affirmation of spiritual gifts,
I could say much more, but I mainly wanted to alert you to the book. It is interesting to place it along side what other prominent thinkers in Christian Education have been saying. I find these ways of thinking about what and how a congregation teaches to be immensely helpful. His four 'frames' of analysis are quite relevant to my own study. Unfortunately I can't easily summarise the details or nuances of the case studies. Certialny this book ought to be prominent in the study of Christian education for ministers and other educational leaders.