Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Faith Community in Christian Education (3)

Faith community is the matrix in which people come to have personal experience of God, model, encourage, teach, and build up one another. Here the members teach each other though the leaders may have a curriculum. Its setting is more in informal life situations. This process is also known as socialisation or enculturation.

John Westerhoff from Duke University describes “intentional religious socialisation or enculturation” as “a process consisting of lifelong, intentional and unintentional, formal and informal mechanisms through which persons and communities sustain and transmit their faith (worldview and value system) and lifestyles.” For religious education, he defines it as “deliberate systematic, and sustained efforts within a community of faith which aim at enabling persons and groups to evolve particular ways of thinking, feeling, and acting.” However he thinks that socialisation is broader than education because it includes the hidden curriculum of the community and the overt curriculum of the educator. Therefore he suggested a community of faith-socialisation paradigm as the better alternative to the schooling-instructional paradigm which is being commonly used.

John Westerhoff later began to use the term catechesis which have three components: formation, education, and instruction. He writes,

Formation implies ‘shaping’ and refers to intentional, relational, experiential activities within the life of a story-formed faith community. Education implies ‘reshaping’ and refers to critical reflective activities related to these communal experiences. And instruction implies ‘building’ and refers to the means by which knowledge and skills useful to communal life are transmitted, acquired and understood. Formation forms the body of Christ, education reforms it, and instruction builds it up.
Westerhoff has noted that influence of Christian community as an education approach. To achieve Christian formation through intentional assimilation into the Christian worldview, he suggested 8 aspects of communal life:

(1) communal rites (repetitive, symbolic and social actions which express and manifest the community’s sacred narrative along with its implied faith and life.)
(2) church environment (including architectural spaces and artefacts)
(3) time (Christian calendar)
(4) communal life (polity, programs and economic life as well as support behaviour)
(5) discipline (structured practices within the community)
(6) social interaction (interpersonal relations and motivations)
(7) role models (exemplars and mentors
(8) language ( which names and describe behaviour)
Hauerwas, S. and J. H. Westerhorff (1992). Schooling Christians: "Holy Experiments" in American Education. Grand Rapids, MI, Eerdmans. p. 262-281.

Other educators who espouse the importance of community in Christian education includes C. Ellis Nelson, Charles Foster, Richard Osmer, and Craig Dyskra.

The strength of this approach is that the priesthood of all believers are affirmed and that the Christian faith community is upheld. One weakness is that it is often difficult to intentionally enculturate. Another weakness is that it is assumed that the Christian faith community will remain faithful in obedience to Christ. The danger of this approach is that as the community may shape and influence an individual, an individual may also shape and influence the community.

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