A Necessary Ingredient for Christian Education: the Congregation

The Christian faith -- certainly as we know it in the Reformed tradition -- is a faith of the community. While we make our individual professions of faith, we do so as we join the company of the faithful, the church of Jesus Christ. Parents may be the primary faith educators of their children, but it is the congregation that promises to guide and nurture the child by "word and deed, with love and prayer, encouraging the child to know and follow Christ and to be a faithful member of Christ's church."

Christian education leads us to becoming faithful members of Christ’s church. “Us” is not only the baptized child on the way to confirmation, but all who have been confirmed, for the goal is faithfulness, not membership. Throughout that process, the congregation plays an important role. Teachers are called forth from the congregation and helped to use their particular gifts in the educational enterprise. Included in church budgets is money for print materials and related supplies, for speakers and programs. Yet a significant contribution of the congregation is too often ignored or even missing. That contribution is the community setting it provides.

The congregation is a faith community. In this time and culture, the role of community is especially important. Without that community base in the church, we run the risk of losing our purpose and thinking only of ourselves. We individuals need that community to support us in our struggle to be faithful disciples as well as to call us to account for our actions and our faith. When that community is missing in the congregation, the stories of the Bible cannot be told or heard faithfully. When that community is missing in the congregation, children have few ways to connect the people of God in the Bible with the people of God today. When that community is missing in the congregation, how can those outside the church know from our actions that we love one another?

To be that community of faith, we must become a people who are willing to be with one another, to talk with one another, to cry with one another, to laugh with one another, to get angry with one another and to be reconciled with one another. Much of what passes for religious activity today is nothing more than individual activity, virtual community.

In the educational programs of our congregations, we can begin to build that community. I believe this is the unique calling of the church today, to help our members form a community that shows the world what community is. Whenever we gather in the name of Christ, we can allow time to practice being the body of Christ with and for one another. We can speak of our lives and faith. We can pray with and for one another. We can recognize and call forth the gifts of one another.

A special gift we can give to the society around us is to bring back the understanding of community that includes all generations. But to give that image we must find ways for adults and children to come together in significant relationships. In true community, people of all ages come to know one another well enough to build trust, the trust necessary if they are to speak together about their faith and to gain courage from one another as we live as disciples of Jesus Christ. We need to nurture not only our children, but one another by “word and deed, with love and prayer.” Today when adults and children and young people spend so little time together, even as families, this is no small undertaking by the church.

The building of community in the congregation is not the task of the educational ministry alone, of course. However, educators have the opportunity to begin this renewal of the congregation as they work with committees and planning teams, and teach. For we can search for the finest curriculum resources, we can equip our teachers with the newest methods and equipment, we can bring in the finest speakers, we can provide popular activities for our young people, but if we do not live together in community, the community we call the body of Christ, all this will be of little avail. I pray that we will take on this call and be supported in it by all other ministries of the church.


CAROL A. WEHRHEIM of Princeton, N.J., was named Church Educator of 2000 by the Association for Presbyterian Church Educators.