Online Learning — and Spiritual Growth

Online learning is a huge blessing to those who otherwise might not be able to attend classes or take part in education programs, whether because of geographical or financial limitations, or family responsibilities and scheduling conflicts.

And yet studies find that, while people enroll in online education courses and programs, they very often do not complete them. In a study of online education in Africa, one student pointed out that  “[i]n a regular class you have a teacher who is in front of you who makes you concentrate. With the online environment, you have to have discipline, make your own timetable to listen to the lectures, and submit the assignments online.”

It’s like joining a gym: you have the best of intentions, but oftentimes without a personal trainer there to motivate you and hold you accountable, you tend to let it slide. The same goes for learning online  — and spiritual growth in general.

Think about it: that’s precisely why we need church: for the community of people on similar journeys, who hold each other accountable, and who motivate, inspire, challenge, and teach each other. As the Rev. Frank Wade says in our course, The Episcopal Tradition, “By ourselves, we begin to worship ourselves.” Sure, he says, “you can worship God by taking a walk in the park — but does the God you meet in the park ever tell you anything you don’t want to hear?”

So online learning (or a gym membership) is only as good as the person invested in it. And the same is true of spiritual formation. If we want to grow in faith, we must commit to it and keep “showing up.” Faith communities are great in that they can help pull us back in when we stray, but at the end of the day, no one can make our journey for us.

What seems to work best for many people is a combination of online and in-person activities. ChurchNext offers several ways to meet this need: individuals in a parish can take a course on their own schedule but then meet regularly, or at the end of a prescribed time period, to discuss and think further about the course content. For example, your church can make a course available for, say, three weeks; parishioners can take the course at their leisure during that time period, and then meet as a group for coffee or dinner to share and discuss. Alternatively, small groups can use the For Groups version of a course to meet regularly, watch a video presentation, and then discuss it together.

How do you learn best? What fosters your spiritual growth? We’d love to hear it in the comments.

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2 Years In

Happy Birthdayto us!

This week marks our second anniversary — and we’re both grateful for what has gone on for the past two years and excited for what’s to come. We started with a simple mission: to shape disciples by making the most of online learning technology. The Church has a strong history of using the latest technologies and communication media to spread the Gospel — just think of the printing press and television, and the ways they’ve enabled folks to learn and grow in ways unfathomable to earlier generations.

Over the past two years we’ve launched over 100 courses of rich and engaging content on everything from parenting to grief to Scripture and Church history; marriage and relationships to theology and world religions; liturgy and worship to divorce and social justice. And most of our courses are now available in our alternative “For Groups” format, designed for small group use.

We love hearing all the ways that dioceses, churches, and individuals are using ChurchNext to learn, to build community, and to engage in fruitful conversation and spiritual formation. ChurchNext helps connect folks who can’t make it to services on a Sunday; it offers people a new way to grapple with the issues that concern us all; to ask the big questions and reanimate their faith lives; and to feel educated and empowered as they further the mission of the Gospel in this world.

We’ve offered several “massive, open, online courses” (MOOCs) free to the world, allowing thousands of people from dozens of countries to engage in learning and discussion with seekers far and wide, taught by such luminaries as Presiding Bishop-elect Michael Curry, activist Cornel West, and Thistle Farms founder Becca Stevens.

We’ve enjoyed the partnership and support of several organizations and companies with similar missions, such as seminaries, churches, non-profits, and Christian publishing houses. We’ve loved meeting folks face to face at conferences and conventions.

And some parishes and dioceses have made use of their subscriptions and of the ChurchNext online learning platform technology to create their own courses and offerings, supplementing such programs as pre-baptism and confirmation education, catechumenate and new-member ministry, and church management and governance trainings.

We thank God daily for the blessings that have come out of ChurchNext already and for the wonderful ways God is using online learning to change lives. We’re excited about our new look coming in August, new courses in the pipeline, new partnerships and ways of reaching people all over the world.

Thanks for being part of our lives over the past two years — we can’t wait to see what God has in store next.

Second of 3 animate: Practices launches today

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The second in the animate: Practices series launches today. We’re proud to partner with Augsburg Fortress in presenting some of the animate series as ChurchNext courses. The  series is unique in that it not only tackles some of the big questions of our faith, like “Is God real?” and “Is there such a thing as too much Bible?” but it does so not in order to teach a certain lesson or to impart fixed wisdom, but to challenge assumptions, spark conversation and dialogue, and encourage wrestling with the deep questions of our souls.

In this latest course, pastor Mike Slaughter and author-theologian Phyllis Tickle encourage us to take a second look at our assumptions about and definitions of both “worship” and “sacraments.” Both Mike and Phyllis remind us that these terms mean different things to different people, and that they have become in many ways slippery and changeable terms in our minds. And yet both of these words are crucial to the origins and future of our spiritual lives. Worship is a practice by which we connect with God and within a community of people on the same path; the sacraments can tell us a great deal about both what we believe we’re saying to God and what God may be saying to us as we participate in worship and sacred rites.

Check this course out — it’s a wonderful thought- and conversation-starter on some topics we may rarely consider. Click here for more information or to register.

mikeMike Slaughter, lead pastor at Ginghamsburg Church, is in his fourth decade as the chief dreamer of Ginghamsburg Church and the spiritual entrepreneur of ministry marketplace innovations. His life-long passion to reach the lost and set the oppressed free has now made him a tireless and leading advocate for the children, women and men of Darfur, Sudan, named by the U.N. as the worst humanitarian crisis in the world today. Mike’s call to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted will challenge attendees to wrestle with God and their God-destinies.

Phyllis Tickle, founding editor of the Religion Department of PUBLISHERS WEEKLY, thephyllis international journal of the book industry, is frequently quoted in print sources, electronic media, and innumerable blogs and web sites.  Tickle is an authority on religion in America and a much sought after lecturer on the subject. In addition to lectures and numerous essays, articles, and interviews, Tickle is the author of over three dozen books on religion and spirituality.Phyllis Tickle, founding editor of the Religion Department of PUBLISHERS WEEKLY, the international journal of the book industry, is frequently quoted in print sources, electronic 

 

Violence, Myth, and Scripture launches today

Today we launch our latest course, Violence, Myth, and Scripture with Suzanne Ross, and it’s seems a timely class to be offering, in the midst of the troubled events of recent weeks. Using rossRene Girard’s Mimetic Theory, Suzanne corrects some common misconceptions about violence in our faith tradition, and explains the difference between myths (where violence is naturalized) and scripture (where violence is highlighted, for a purpose). In this course, she reminds us that violence is not sacred or of God; rather, it is a symptom of our fallen state, and an illness that grieves God. It’s an affliction that we Christians are called both to understand and to begin to remedy.

We invite you to take this course as a way to begin effecting change in our troubled nation. It’s also available in For Groups format for small-group use. Click here for more information or to register.

Suzanne Ross is an expert in mimetic theory. She is an author, respected lecturer, and co-founder of The Raven Institute.

New course: Radical Welcoming with Stephanie Spellers

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We’re excited to launch Radical Welcoming today, led by the Rev. Canon Stephanie Spellers. What is “radical welcoming”? Well, it’s more than just friendly greeters at the church doors, and easy-to-follow service bulletins. It’s more than serving the hungry from one side of a soup kitchen line. It’s more than “tolerance” of those we see as different.

It’s nothing less than the kind of love that Jesus offered to those on the margins of society: the unclean, the sick, the poor, the prostitute. It’s acknowledging that life has been different for those not in the traditional center of power and privilege, and that there is wisdom to be gained from listening to those we have so often pushed aside. It’s humble acceptance that those of us on “the inside” have a lot to learn from those on the outside. spellers

God’s church cannot be all it is called to be if it only welcomes people who abide by our conventions, restrictions, caveats, and customs. We cannot be fully Christian without acknowledging the rights, the dignity, the gifts of everyone. 

Radical welcome can be scary; it can induce feelings of guilt, when we finally acknowledge what we’ve so long pretended not to see. But Stephanie reminds us in this course that radical welcoming can be life-changing — that God is there waiting on the other side of our fear. God is calling us to reach out across the divides we’ve created, and work toward reconciliation and wholeness. It’s what Jesus lived and what Jesus commands. Church shouldn’t be always about comfort and safety — for growth and healing often require courage and daring.

Are you ready to embrace Radical Welcoming? Click here for more information or to register. (Click here for the course in For Groups format.)

The Reverend Canon Stephanie Spellers is a popular speaker and consultant on reimagining the mainline church and embracing new mission contexts. The author of numerous books — including Radical Welcome: Embracing God, The Other and the Transforming Power of the Spirit and Ancient Faith, Future Mission: Fresh Expressions in the Sacramental Traditions –Stephanie is an Episcopal priest and serves as Director of Mission and Reconciliation at General Theological Seminary in New York City and as Canon for Missional Vitality in the Diocese of Long Island. She is one of two Chaplains to the Episcopal House of Bishops and recently chaired the Episcopal Commission on Mission and Evangelism. 

All Things Bright and Beautiful

The purple-headed mountain,
The river running by,
The sunset, and the morning,
That brightens up the sky;

The cold wind in the winter,
The pleasant summer sun,
The ripe fruits in the garden,
He made them every one.

The tall trees in the greenwood,
The meadows where we play,
The rushes by the water,
We gather every day;–

He gave us eyes to see them,
And lips that we might tell,
How great is God Almighty,
Who has made all things well.  

~Cecil Francis Alexander

We are excited to launch, just in time for Spring, Christine Sine’s wonderful course, Spirituality and Gardening. Christine is a teacher, retreat leader, and author, an expert in the intersection of spirituality and gardening.sine

With the explosion of interest in gardening and “getting back to the earth” that has occurred in the last decade, we see clearly our eternal and recurring need to connect with our origins in and from the dust of the earth. Christine walks us through the theology of gardens and tending growing things; of God as the ultimate gardener; the use of garden imagery in the Bible and what it can teach us; and the ways we as living things need nurturing, pruning, and watering. Whether you consider yourself a Green Thumb or not, this course has much wisdom to offer about our souls and their need for God’s Creation (and re-creation).

This course would make a wonderful small group offering as well, especially if you have a gardening or outdoor club! Click here for this course in For Groups format.

Among her many gifts and callings, Christine Sine is an author, teacher, spiritual retreat leader. You can learn more about her here.