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.

New course: How to Run a Vacation Bible School with Dorothy Linthicum

Vacation Bible School can either be a cheap day camp for kids on summer break or it can be a rich, life-changing immersion in faith for God’s children. Why not make it the latter? In our latest course, How to Run a Vacation Bible School, Dorothy Linthicum shows us how. She offers practical tips and well-tested wisdom on everything from what supplies you might need (or, surprisingly, not need), to identifying opportunities, to training teachers to provide the best experience possible.linthicum

This course is a wonderful way to learn how to run a Vacation Bible School, but it’s also an insightful review that will have seasoned veterans rethinking their own plans or dreaming up new and exciting ones. Dorothy helps us step back a bit to think more deeply about the who, what, where, how, and especially why of a church’s VBS program. She offers assistance on selecting a curriculum, staying organized, selecting volunteers and staff, and getting the whole church involved.

We invite you to imagine just how amazing, life-changing, and faith-enriching a Vacation Bible School can be, not only for young children, but for all the adults involved as well. Click here for more information or to register.

Dorothy Linthicum has counseled countless VBS organizers and reviewed even more VBS curricula in her years as Program Coordinator and Instructor at Virginia Theological Seminary’s Center for the Ministry of Teaching.