Philosophy of Adult Education

A Philosophy of Adult Christian Education for First United Methodist Church

Affirmed by Adult Education Team September 16, 2009

Introduction

The mission of First United Methodist Church is “to create and build Christian Community through inviting, forming, and sending faithful, active disciples of Jesus Christ.” Our core values include spirituality, welcoming community, children and families, and social justice. Spirituality is described as “nourishing individuals in Biblical faith and Christian spirituality in a way that strengthens and transforms personal lives and this faith community.”

Transformation of Personal Lives and Relationships

As noted in the mission and core values, the goal of Christian education is spiritual formation, which includes the transformation of both personal lives and relationships within the community of faith. Our model is based on both the biblical examples of Jesus and his disciples and of the first faith communities of the early church. Learning in community follows the way Jesus taught his disciples as they grew in their understanding of God and in awareness of what it meant to follow Jesus together. In a similar way, the first faith communities “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42). Learning the faith and growing in community went hand in hand for the early followers of Jesus.

The importance of growing in faith within a community of transformation was also central to Methodist practice from the beginning. John Wesley and the early Methodists understood that growth in faith does not come automatically or easily but needs individuals who place themselves in community to learn and grow together. Wesley was passionate about Christians becoming mature in the faith and he called early Methodists to practices that nurtured faith through learning in community such as public and family prayers and Scripture study groups. For Wesley the goal of every Christian is sanctification, becoming fully Christ-like in thought, word and deed which is possible through the power of God’s Spirit and God’s Word present in the faith community.

Lifelong Learning and Spiritual Growth

Adult Christian education recognizes that we never fully “arrive” as people of faith. We are on a spiritual journey together that involves every stage of life and that transforms our character, our habits, our lifestyles, our daily choices , our life values and relationships. The practice of learning in the faith community is lifelong as we seek to grow in new ways, discovering new questions and new answers throughout our life experiences. Like the first disciples, we learn together what it means to follow Jesus at each stage of our life development. Missteps and misunderstandings are part of the journey as we learn also how to forgive ourselves and others and move forward in faith.

Intentional Learning Rooted in Christian Faith and Engaged in Critical Thinking

While spiritual formation can take place in a variety of ways, Adult Christian Education involves intentional learning rooted in Christian faith. While we seek to avoid dogmatism and indoctrination, we also aim to initiate and educate people into a deeper understanding of Christian teaching and a stronger sense of Christian self-identity. At the same time, as Susanne Johnson puts it in her book, Christian Spiritual Formation in the Church and Classroom, “theological reflection seeks not merely to reassert traditional theology but to ask whether and how the theological tradition offers a genuinely liberating word for a specific community. The community conducts theological reflection by engaging with Scripture and tradition in light of its present socio-cultural situation” (p. 151-2). Christian education involves critical thinking and discerning how our individual experiences and our current life as a faith community connect to the larger biblical and historical framework of Christian teaching. Such learning is promoted in an environment marked by open-minded listening, dialogue, community building and development of significant personal relationships. 

Transformation That Leads to Participation in Public Life

While Adult Christian Education focuses on transformation within and among the community of faith, it leads to bridge-building and transforming work for service and social justice out in the greater community. Through its teaching ministry, the church seeks to help open rather than close people to engage in interfaith dialogue, to volunteer for and contribute to community service , to confront unjust systems and structures, and to actively participate in civic life for social justice. As such, Christian spiritual formation aims to transform not only individuals and faith communities, but takes seriously God’s redemptive activity to transform the world and helps us all to find where that activity is going on and how we can participate in it.

Summary and Practical Implications

The principles of Christian spiritual formation suggested above can help us balance the false dichotomy between Christian education as inner self-development (experiential education) and education as simply transmitting traditional content (indoctrination). Christian spiritual formation at First United Methodist Church recognizes both the need to educate from the inside out and from the outside in, drawing on both the life experiences and critical thinking of the learner and the teachings and values of our faith tradition. We are called to follow Jesus Christ and to enter his story, but we also become part of that story as we contribute our individual lives and participate together in the community created by the Story we share in Christ.

Source book: Christian Spiritual Formation in the Church and Classroom, by Suzanne Johnson. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1989