ABHMS resource supports communities that form Christian disciples

By the Rev. Dr. Cassandra Carkuff Williams

The word “educate” comes from the Latin educere, meaning “to lead out,” a specialized term used in reference to assisting in the birth of a child. Christian education in the broadest sense is midwifery — a supportive enterprise in which we assist in the work of God bringing forth rebirth and new life.

Christian disciples are formed through two interdependent and interwoven aspects of community life — intentional teaching and enculturation or socialization. Teaching includes structured experiences as well as direct instruction. Enculturation refers to the process of adopting the norms, attitudes, values, motives, social roles, language and symbols of a given community through participation:

By the images of the group’s special language, the poetic reiteration of statements and metaphors of fundamental beliefs, reinforced by musical rhythms, charged with the high emotional level induced by cumulative interaction in the meetings, the groups peculiar “knowledge” grows. With it, attitudes and dispositions take form; the kinds of behavior “worthy of the way you received Christ” are learned (Wayne Meeks, “The First Urban Christians”).

Participation in faith community is powerful. Positive experiences can help solidify faith, while negative experiences can derail even the best teaching efforts. It is incumbent upon us, therefore, to tend to our life together. Authentic Christian communities exist in this world while belonging to the realm of the world to come, offering a foretaste of heaven in the midst of a lost and suffering creation. They order life together according to the principles of the kingdom and live faith in ways so compelling that others want to join in following Christ.

Authentic Christian communities are flexible and responsive, making adjustments to enhance their witness in ever-changing contexts. The only things that are held sacred are the fundamental truths of the faith. All other aspects — traditions, rules, programs, buildings or events — are subject to change in service to embodying and sharing the gospel.

Gratitude saturates the atmosphere of authentic Christian communities while relationships are permeated by grace. Shared faith transcends political, racial and socio-economic differences among community members. The focus is on Jesus, whose presence centers the community. At the same time, the community is the presence of Jesus to the world, never forgetting that Christ died for all; that grace is not for their private enjoyment but must spill over in service to others.

The “Discipleship and Christian Education Guide,” published annually by American Baptist Home Mission Societies (ABHMS) is a practical resource for church leaders and committees, chaplains, educators and others who want to help create communities of faith that live out and nurture authentic Christian discipleship. The guide provides a handy month-by-month planning calendar, the Revised Common Lectionary, the Judson Press Christian education catalog, and an at-a-glance calendar built around the liturgical year. It is loaded with tips, resource suggestions and articles on topics related to Christian formation. Download your free copy of the 2018 “Discipleship and Christian Education Guide,” or email ABHMS at communications@abhms.org for hard copy.

The Rev. Cassandra Carkuff Williams, Ed.D., is ABHMS director of Discipleship Ministries. She is author of “Learning the Way: Reclaiming Wisdom from the Earliest Christian Communities.”

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of American Baptist Home Mission Societies.