To suggest that my daddy has a thing for tools would be, well, an understatement. For as long as I can remember, tools have been important for various repairs around the house, in his work as a licensed electrician, and even “piddling” as a shade tree mechanic. As he often states it is important to have the right tool for the job and you never know how much you might use something until the moment that you do not have it. His tools are in all shapes, sizes, brand names, and serve a multitude of purposes (some of which I find myself clueless of). His tools are important to whatever task may be before him at a given moment and he can pretty much tell you to the “t” where to find this or that in a particular style, length, design, etc. without thinking twice. My daddy’s tools enable him not only to complete a job, but also serve in making that job unfold a lot smoother.
I use this personal illustration as a reminder to us as the faith community that tools are important to who we are as Christians. No we have no need of wrenches, pliers, or screwdrivers in the conventional understanding, but we need tools to enable us to grow in our faith commitment and prepare us for lives of faithful service. This year, I have been considering the mission of Little Rock Original Free Will Baptist Church in my newsletter reflections because I find it so very important to who we are as well as who we are becoming as God’s people. At this stage in my reflections, I have been focusing on this congregation as “a place of Christian nurture and instruction.” Just last month, I challenged us to think about the substance of what we are trying to teach when we practice nurture and instruction as the Church. I suggested that our faith is not only our ability to receive the gift of God’s grace, but also the essential doctrines, beliefs, values, etc. that help us understand who we are as Christians and how we live in light of such essentials. The question now becomes, “How do we complete such a work within the Church?” Herein lies the prominent place of instruction with its many tools and expressions within church life.
Perhaps I should step back and state such instruction ought to have a prominent place within church life. I suggest this because there are some groups of Christians within our world who will tell you either to “figure out the faith for yourself” or “don’t try to figure out the faith at all.” I believe there to be grave danger in both suggestions because the former leaves one in isolation when it comes to understanding Christianity and the latter trivializes faith to the point no one wishes to grow deeper in what they believe. It is the task of Christian education within our practice as Christians which should help us in avoiding the aforementioned dangers to personal faith. As a professor once stated during my studies at Mount Olive College (University of Mount Olive), “Everything we do as a faith community constitutes Christian education.” Whether it be in the form of what we do intentionally or overlook altogether, we are conveying a message to others about not only the substance of faith, but also its relationship to life.
The challenge of recent decades has been that of devaluing Christian education within the Church. Perhaps we have relegated Christian education to certain aspects of doing church to the detriment of many groups of people. For the longest time, I had a concept of Christian education functioning within the context of Sunday school or youth groups, but in reality anything we do, anytime we are together, can serve to formally or informally convey as well as deepen our faith. I suppose this is why it is so vitally important for us as Christians to put our “best foot forward” when it comes to instructing people in matters of faith. Now none of us can claim superiority when it comes to biblical knowledge, but we should strive to learn as much as we can for as long as we can in order that we might pass the Christian story to future generations.
The task of instruction in the faith occurs at many diverse levels within the life of a congregation and specifically at Little Rock we attempt to build biblical components into all that we offer to our children, youth, and adults for the sake of their faith formation. We are greatly blessed within this congregation to have men and women of diverse backgrounds and spiritual gifts who are willing to be used of God to pour into others time, patience, attention, and biblical discoveries in a way that is meaningful to the individual and congregation. This occurs in the form of Bible study on Wednesdays, Sunday school classes for all ages, children and youth gatherings, Summer Adventures, After School Program, diverse elements within worship services, weekly Scripture readings, daily devotions, personal prayer, and the list could go on even more. It is vital that we encourage people not only to accept Christ or come to worship, but to do the deeper work that is offered through these instructional opportunities. Over the years, I have experienced many wonderful insights through the preaching of others or my personal study, but some of the most meaningful growth has occurred in the context of other people where I have been able to read, discuss, and wrestle with the implications of faith. Important to these experiences were those who did not simply tell me what the Bible says or give me the correct answers, but those who challenged me, asked important questions, and encouraged me to be formed and not merely informed by Scripture.
Instruction is vital to the health of a congregation and the development of Christian disciples. It is something that is often overlooked by some churches or changed into indoctrination by others. As we look at many congregations at the present time, we see that there is a void in biblical knowledge and the Church as a “place of instruction” must be rediscovered. In loving God, we are charged to do so “with heart, mind, soul, and strength” and our commitment to instructing and being instructed enables us to do just that.
Being Shaped Together,
The Rev. Kelley Smart