The Heart of Lifespan Faith Development

Does this sound familiar? A lay-led congregation has been growing and they need to hire some folks to help things run smoothly. Once upon a time, the first staff person a congregation might hire would be someone to help with religious education…you know, for kids.

After that, it might be an administrator, someone to make sure all the paperwork and miscellaneous stuff gets handled properly. Or maybe it was the administrator first, then the religious educator coordinator.

Someone to handle music might come next. Then maybe a janitor. And if the place is really hopping, there’s probably been some talk about getting a minister to come once a month or so.

This is the order of things I’ve seen in many growing Unitarian Universalist fellowships. Other traditions might have their own order of things. In her blog post Put On Your Own Oxygen Mask First, Susan Beaumont, formerly a senior consultant with the Alban Institute, put things in this order:

  • senior ministerLifespan Faith Development
  • musical director
  • youth advisor
  • children’s director
  • pastoral care coordinator
  • director of outreach and mission
  • communications director
  • membership director
  • senior associate minister

That senior associate minister is necessary because somebody needs to supervise all those other staff members. And by the way, the associate minister can also do a little “preaching and pastoral care, and use their remaining available time to design a program of adult faith formation.”

Beaumont’s then asks,

What message do we send when every felt need of the church is staffed before we tend to the faith formation of adults? We are reinforcing a number of mistaken assumptions that work against the health of our congregations.

She goes on to list those assumptions:

  • Faith formation is about knowledge: Once you have the knowledge, you are done cookin’.
  • Faith is taught, not caught.
  • We don’t need to hire staff for adult faith formation, because this is what the senior minister does.
  • Why staff it, when they won’t come?

Any of those sound familiar? Maybe not explicitly, but certainly implicitly. Beaumont closes her post with this challenge:

What if we reversed our typical staffing patterns and invested first in the spiritual formation of adults in our community? Might that make a difference in the overall health of the congregation, and in the spiritual well-being of our children and youth?

Personally, I do think it would make a difference. A huge difference. Why? Because almost everything else we do in our congregations, whether it’s labeled “Faith Development” or “Religious Education,” requires the presence of a spiritually mature person who’s grounded in our faith tradition in order to succeed.

And we won’t have enough of those spiritually-mature, grounded-in-our-faith-tradition people in our congregations unless we put adult faith formation at the heart of what we call Lifespan Faith Development.

Does that mean every congregation needs a staff person responsible for adult faith formation? Not necessarily. But outside of planning Sunday morning worship, developing a robust plan for multiple adult faith formation opportunities is a must.

It’s the heart of Lifespan Faith Development. In another post, I’ll look at the heart of the heart of Lifespan Faith Development.

 

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