By Scott Dickison
I serve a highly educated church. On any given Sunday our congregation includes multiple university professors (many in religious studies), university presidents, various other PhDs, MSWs, MAs, LMFTs—it’s a veritable alphabet soup. So not surprisingly, quality Christian education is something in which we take great pride.
And yet we struggle, just as I gather many churches do, with finding new and fresh ways to “love God with all of our minds.” So it was with great enthusiasm that I made my way to the workshop Try This at Home: Five Ways to Help Your Church Learn at the 2014 CBF General Assembly.
The session was facilitated by Ron Grizzle, Director of the Center for Teaching Churches at McAfee School of Theology and Carol Davis Younger, who writes and edits for the Center. Our panel consisted of a wide range of voices from congregations around the state of Georgia who received grants over the past year through the Center, funded by the Lily Endowment, to explore new approaches to educational ministry.
A few quick notes:
- Leonard Perryman, executive pastor of Salem Bible Church in Atlanta, shared how they “fill the gaps in pastoral leadership in education” through “contextualized theological training.” Salem is developing a program by which lay leaders who feel a call to ministry within the church but do not have the means to commit to formal theological training can take courses in church and theological basics from McAfee professors.
- Steve Davis, pastor of FBC Carrollton, shared how his congregation used their grant to promote dialogue with the African-American First Baptist Church in Carrollton. The two congregations first came together through a study of Strength to Love, a collection of sermons by Martin Luther King, Jr. This led to a showing of the film 42, which tells the story of Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier in Major League Baseball, and culminated in a bus trip to Birmingham, AL to visit the Civil Right Museum there.
- Frank Granger, associate pastor of FBC Athens, told of his church’s collegiate internship program that supported members who wanted to pursue theological training. Frank quoted the great Quaker spiritual write, Parker Palmer, and encouraged congregation to “listen to the life” of the congregation to discern new directions.
- Will Dyer and Olivia Fields of FBC Gainesville, shared how their grant supported a growing young adult ministry. Their ministry started as a grassroots conversation between Will and other young adults in his church, which led to regular meetings at a pub down the street from the church for theological conversation and community.
These expanded to missions projects around town and a general uptick in engagement with the ministry and mission of the wider church. Will encouraged churches looking to reach out to young adults to “get outside the walls of the church,” and not be afraid to “try something new,” while also cautioning us that he had a thorough conversation with the deacon body before convening at the pub. Smart, Will.
It remains to be seen if another round of grants will come available, but each of the presenters remarked that they could have done what they did without their grants, though the money certainly made it easier. I left feeling encouraged and inspired to explore some of these ideas in my own context, starting with the pub down the street.
Scott Dickison is pastor of First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Ga.