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Faith formation in crisis: Addressing the need for denominational curriculum

Tori Smit, president of the Association of Partners in Christian Education (APCE), calls for commissioners to approve CF-01 to re-introduce new Reformed curriculum options.

boy in green sweater writing on white paper in a classroom with other children

Photo by CDC on Unsplash

Years ago, a congregation I worked with accidentally lost all the children in their family ministry because of one generous choice. They decided to pay for the children of the congregation to go to summer camp. Everyone knows Christian camping is a great source of faith commitment and development. Unfortunately, the camp they sent the children to was not a Presbyterian Church camp, and at the end of the summer, all these children and their parents left the congregation to attend the church that sponsored the camp. Not only did this congregation wipe out their children’s ministry, they even paid for it!

Some will say that it doesn’t matter what church people attend as long as the kingdom is advanced. In the broadest sense, this is true, but our denomination is rooted in a particular theological perspective and tradition that is not shared by all other Christian faith traditions. This perspective includes what we believe about God and about Jesus. It encompasses our understanding of grace and of forgiveness and baptism. It informs our understanding of the role of women and of children and of inclusion. All of these things and so much more define who we are when we say we are Reformed and Presbyterian. 

In Deuteronomy 6:1-9, as part of the receiving of the 10 Commandments at Mount Sinai, Moses instructed the people on the keeping and sharing of their faith. We know it as the Shema, a portion of which says:

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” (Deuteronomy 6:4-9 NRSV)

In this and other injunctions of Scripture, we are expected to teach (and learn) the marvelous works of our Lord. In a much more pragmatic observation, theologian Walter Brueggemann begins The Creative Word, with these words: “Every community that wants to last beyond a single generation must concern itself with education.”

The importance of Christian education and faith formation cannot be overstated. At the same time, we find ourselves at a moment in history where the availability of Reformed and Presbyterian educational resources is being threatened. Over the past few years, as a result of many factors, many mainline, Protestant and Reformed curriculum publishing companies have ceased operations. With the decision of the Presbyterian Publishing Corporation (PCC) to also cease producing new curricula moving forward, Sparkhouse (Lutheran) and Dwell (Reformed Church in America and the Christian Reformed Church) will soon be all that remains to represent our mainline Protestant theology and perspective to all ages, including our children and youth. Perhaps the most immediate and unfortunate consequence of the PCC’s decision is the prolific use of theologically and educationally inconsistent materials in our church’s Sunday schools and programs. 

We find ourselves at a moment in history where the availability of Reformed and Presbyterian educational resources is being threatened.

As an organization, the Association of Partners in Christian Education (APCE) exists to connect, enrich, empower and sustain excellence in Christian education. Our commitment is to best practices in education and faith formation. This includes highlighting and using curriculum that is theologically and educationally excellent. As an ecumenical body, we further recognize that it is not just the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) that requires these resources. In truth, the PC(USA) has historically produced the very best in curriculum resources which have been embraced and celebrated by those denominations that are too small to produce resources for themselves. My Presbyterian Church in Canada denomination is an example of this.

APCE understands the financial realities of the church these days as well as anyone else. We are all facing cutbacks and challenges in our ministry. We understand the decision of the Presbyterian Publishing Corporation to discontinue the production of new curriculum as being financially motivated. At the same time, we are convinced that the spiritual consequences of not having resources to teach our children in our particular expression of faith will have consequences that far outweigh any potential financial savings.

In the church, there are many activities that we participate in, not because they are financially viable but because they are a part of our calling and mission in faith.

In the church, there are many activities that we participate in, not because they are financially viable but because they are a part of our calling and mission in faith. The sharing of our faith in evangelism is one of these activities. The sharing of our faith in education and faith formation is equally a crucial mission task of the church and for the sake of our children and grandchildren, we urge the continued embrace of this mission.

We hope that the 2024 General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) will hear our concerns and consider the desire of CF-01, “On Development of Educational Resources for Faith Formation for Congregational Use and to Meet the Needs of the Small Church.”


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