One Church’s Process to Identify the Basic Milestones on the Journey of Faith…
Over twenty years ago in my early days as Minister of Education at Peachtree Presbyterian Church in Atlanta, GA we began to talk together about what were the most important concepts to teach our children, youth and adults. We needed a plan and a goal. So we formed a committee! But what a gift this committee became to me and our ministry together. For as we met over more than a year and a half we began to solidify what became the foundational book of our Christian Education at Peachtree – Stepping Stones on the Journey of Faith. I don’t remember the term milestones at that point in time but our work does seem to relate to the emphasis that is now found in many churches in providing milestones for the journey of faith.
As we got started I did some research to see if there was a document in existence that listed what the important concepts of our faith were and at what age they should be taught. I remember having a conversation with Liz McWhorter at the PC(USA) national offices who told me they had always talked about creating something like this but never had that she knew of. She challenged me to create it. So we began our work together at ground zero and it was well worth it.
Our first step was to define our goals for Christian Education and Discipleship. To do that we began by looking together at some theological principles. From the Book of Order of the Presbyterian Church (USA) I identified ten major doctrines of the church –
- The Trinity,
- The Incarnation of Jesus Christ,
- Justification by Grace through Faith,
- Scripture as the final Authority for salvation and the life of faith,
- God’s Sovereignty,
- God’s Choosing (Election) of the People of God for Salvation and Service,
- The Covenant Life of the Church,
- A Faithful Stewardship of all of God’s Creation,
- The Sin of Idolatry,
- The Importance of Obedience to the Word of God.
We discussed these doctrines and how they were lived out in our lives.
At the next meeting we provided each member of the committee with an Idea Gathering Sheet that included a list of concepts. We asked each person on the team to take this sheet home and to spend some time thinking about what they thought should be included under each item. The sheet included: General Theological Principles or Facts, about God, about Jesus, about the Holy Spirit, about Worship, about Stewardship, about Mission, about the Bible, about the Church and about the Presbyterian Church.
Then we also asked them to think of specific Bible Stories and Bible Characters that they thought were important for everyone to know. Also to think of Bible verses that they thought were important for people to be familiar with and/or memorize and what Songs/Hymns/Music they thought should be familiar to all. The lists people returned were amazing! We compiled all their lists and then spent some time thinking together about what might be missing. We had a woman who had taught the Bethel Bible Study for many years to our adults and she was amazing at helping us to fill in the gaps. One of the most amazing things that came from that brainstorming was a list of the major bible stories and where they are found in scripture. I use this list constantly!
From that discussion we came up with a simplified list of theological principles we thought were basic to our life as a disciple of Christ. The theological principles were intentionally simplistic. This was to be a basic document. The areas seemed to fall neatly into several areas so we decided to emphasize the following: The Trinity, God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, Worship, Stewardship & Mission, The Bible, the Church, the Presbyterian Church and Peachtree Presbyterian Church.
Next we took some time to think about what should be taught at what age. We began to divide the concepts by four major age categories: by Kindergarten, by Fifth Grade, by Twelfth Grade and as a mature Adult. After discussing our divisions and making some adjustments we then subdivided them by eight smaller age spans:
- Two & Three Year Olds,
- Four & Five Year Olds,
- First & Second Grade,
- Third & Fourth Grade,
- Fifth Grade,
- 6th-8th Grades,
- 9th-12th Grades
As we did this we found that we had certain concepts, parts of worship and key facts that fit into each. Music was very important at Peachtree so we emphasized songs/hymns that should be taught at each age. Our musicians in the church were a great help as we developed this list. We also thought there were certain scriptures that ought to be familiar by a certain age. We fleshed these lists out with the understanding that they were building blocks. We identified thirty three passages of scripture that we thought were foundational. Stewardship and Mission were also central to the ministry at Peachtree. We believed that incorporating our beliefs about stewardship and mission as areas of faithful obedience to the word of God was central to the formation of Christians who live out their faith through action.
Recognizing that everyone comes to the faith at different times in their life we decided that our document needed to include all that we said was important. At that time Peachtree was growing fast with lots of people new to Christianity so we had those individuals in mind as well as our families with children and youth. So we pulled together all the items we said were important to know and understand and included them in our document. We divided it into five sections: Bible Information, Worship & the Sacraments, Stewardship and Mission, Church History/Doctrine and Peachtree Presbyterian Church.
Finally we included a section that included progress reports. One for children and youth and a Faith Assessment Guide for youth and adults. The progress report for children and youth was meant to be used by families to encourage them to work on these items together. I admit we did not successfully follow up on this but I like the concept. The Faith Assessment Guide for youth and adults was meant to be something to get people started who did not have the foundation to build upon. I have continued to use that document in a variety of ways through the years.
Once we finished the document we took it to the Session to be adopted. I will never forget members of the Session responding that as they looked over the document they realized that there was much they still needed to learn. And I took that opportunity to encourage them to get involved in a small group study where they could continue to stretch their faith. That had been one of our hopes that people would read the document and have a desire to continue to grow as a disciple of Christ.
From the time Peachtree published Stepping Stones on the Journey of Faith in 1994 the goal has been that it would be a resource to the church. When I left Peachtree I was granted the rights to this document and all the remaining copies. Copies are available for $15 plus the cost of shipping by contacting Zeta T. Lamberson at firstname.lastname@example.org. My policy has been that churches are granted permission to use up to three sections of this book as is as the church develops their own resource with the exception of the music which was included under the Peachtree copyright as long as an acknowledgment of Stepping Stones on the Journey of Faith is included in the resource produced. Every church is different and my encouragement is that each church go through the process of developing your own document for it is a very powerful experience.
Once the document is finished then the process needs to begin to assess your current program and how well these concepts are being taught. Where are the holes? How could you include them in your educational ministries? What curriculum includes these concepts? We discovered that no curriculum included all we valued so we began to explore other ways to include these concepts in our program. We found opportunities as we included these concepts as additional activities, mid-week programs, VBS emphases, worship experiences, special programs for children, youth and adults, etc. Be creative in finding ways to include what you value so that they become central to your educational ministry. And be sure to evaluate the effectiveness of what you are doing at least every five years.
Zeta Touchton Lamberson, Pastor, Covenant Presbyterian and President of the Association of Presbyterian Church Educators (APCE)