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.

Instructor profile: Anne Kitch

If you have children or grandchildren, if you teach children, if you’re interested in children’s spiritual formation, you’ll want to get to know the Rev. Canon Anne Kitch (if you haven’t already). We’ve been fortunate to have Anne present several ChurchNext courses; she’s an inspiring preacher, author, priest, and expert in Christian education. kitch

Her book The Anglican Family Prayer Book is a highly-praised and wonderful resource for those in the Episcopal tradition. As a parent herself, Anne knows that children’s faith begins in the home and that home is perhaps the best and most natural place for us grown-ups to teach children about God — and to worship and pray with them. Anne calls this book “a sacred book, a recipe book, a traveler’s guide, and a tool kit.” She emphasizes the importance of modeling an active prayer life with our children, and this book offers easy and everyday ways to incorporate faith practices into your home life. As we know, children are always watching and learning from us, so if we seek to encourage their lives of faith, Anne’s wisdom is absolutely invaluable. She shares some tidbits of this book in her ChurchNext course, Start a Family Devotional Time; this would be a wonderful class for a parents’ or MOPS small group. (One of the great things about ChurchNext courses is that you can take a course after the kids are in bed, on your own schedule, without even having to get a babysitter!)

Anne has also written some wonderful resources on baptism, both baptism for adults and for children. We commend to you her books, Preparing for Baptism in the Episcopal Church; Water of Baptism, Water for Life: An Activity Book; and Taking the Plunge: Baptism and Parenting. Since baptism is arguably the most important day of your life, preparing for it, whether it’s your own or your child’s — is both vital and fruitful. Along with her published works, we commend to you these ChurchNext courses, as either primers or refreshers on baptism:

Introducing Christian Baptism
Adult Baptism in the Episcopal Church
Preparing for Infants’ and Children’s Baptism in the Episcopal Church

Check out also Anne’s other wonderful books for children and families:

Bless This Way
Bless This Day: Toddler Prayers
What We Do in Church: An Anglican Child’s Activity Book
What We Do in Advent: An Anglican Kids’ Activity Book
What We Do in Lent: A Child’s Activity Book
One Little Church Mouse

We’re grateful to have wonderful priests and authors like Anne in the ChurchNext family, helping folks think about, learn about, and enrich children’s lives of faith.

Continuing to Shape Small Groups of Disciples

This week, we launch the following courses in our For Groups format:hands cross

Three Prayers You’ll Want to Pray with George Donigan
Lessons in Belonging with Erin Lane
Introduction to Church History with Eric Williams
How to Share Your Faith with John Bowen
Making Sense of the Cross, Parts 1, 2, and 3 with David Lose
Crisis Communications with Meredith Gould

Three Prayers You’ll Want to Pray offers an engaging encounter with three different prayers that Methodist Pastor George Donigan says can help us focus and enrich our prayer lives: The Lord’s Prayer, the Prayer of Dag Hammarskjold, and the Serenity Prayer. This course would be ideal for a small group centered around prayer or spirituality, or a ministry within your congregation that meets regularly. Alternatively, you might offer this course for a small group of seekers or newcomers.

Erin Lane’s Lessons in Belonging is a wonderful course that gets people thinking and talking about why membership in a faith community matters. It’s an ideal course to offer visitors and newcomers, or groups of young adults who are feeling the urge to return to regular church attendance. And Erin’s book, Lessons in Belonging from a Church-Going Commitment-Phobe, is a thought-provoking supplement to this course.

Those seeking to learn more about our church’s history might enjoy taking Eric Williams’s Introduction to Church History, which surveys the highs, lows, and important milestones from Jesus’ day to our own. It’s a wonderful overview of our church’s rich history as well as a great refresher for seasoned students. This course would complement an Inquirers Class or Confirmation Series as well.

As we continue to shape disciples within our faith communities, offering John Bowen’s How to Share Your Faith can help folks better understand the Gospel we have to share, why sharing our faith is critical to our lives and the lives of others, how to invite someone to church, getting over fears and frustrations that come with faith sharing, and how to help your church become an evangelizing community. Why not offer this course to the various ministry groups within your church, from Eucharistic Visitors to Greeters and Hospitality Hosts, to youth groups and adult formation groups? This is a course that can benefit everyone who wants to spread the Good News they’ve learned but may not be sure how to go about doing so in a life-giving and encouraging way.

David Lose’s excellent series, Making Sense of the Cross, can help Christians wrestle with the big questions and mysteries around Jesus’ crucifixion, the very “crux” of the Christian faith. This series is an ideal one for those who seek a deeper understanding of what we mean when we think, pray, and speak about the cross. David presents a complex subject in a very smart but accessible format. Each of the three parts can be used independently, or as a series, perhaps in a fall Adult Formation program.

Finally, Meredith Gould offers a course that should be required learning for all in church leadership: Crisis Communications helps anticipate and plan for minor and major events and catastrophes that can plague any organization. It’s better to be prepared with appropriate ways to respond to these situations rather than reacting in fear and ignorance after the fact. We encourage you to share this course with your clergy and lay leaders so that, in moments of crisis, they can effectively and healthily care for their communities, and be a source of strength, reassurance, and peace for those watching events unfold.

We continue to give thanks for all of you who are using these courses to enrich your formation offerings and shape disciples — and we’d love to hear how you’re using ChurchNext For Groups!  Visit us on Facebook and share your story!

More “For Groups” courses now available

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This week, the following courses go “live” in the For Groups format:

Advent for Families with Heath Howe
Lent for Families with Kim Baker
Reimagining Children’s and Youth Ministry with FaithForward
The Spirituality of Children with Catherine Maresca
Healthy Relationships for Couples with Scott and Holly Stoner
How to Help a Sick Friend with Joyce Mercer
How to Deal with Difficult People with Peter Steinke
How to Forgive with Virginia Holeman
Introduction to Christian Marriage with Paul Walters
Overcoming Sex Addiction with Mark Laaser

as well as our series about financial stewardship, Managing God’s Money, with Timothy Dombek:

Managing the Household Budget
Managing Credit Cards and Debt
Managing Church and Charity
Managing Retirement and Savings

Many people have the impression that churches talk about money too much — in the sense that they feel like churches are always “begging for money.” And yet, oftentimes, churches don’t talk about money enough, whether that means intentional teaching about Christian stewardship, or addressing local economic inequality, or talking about what the Bible really teaches about money. Why not make use of the For Groups format of Timothy Dombek’s excellent series on managing the money with which God has entrusted us? Start healthy, encouraging, proactive conversations about money and each person’s fears or worries or relationship with this topic. Talking about money doesn’t have to be a stress-inducing chore; rather, it can be a way to deepen our faith in God, and to make us aware of what sort of giving and commitments we’re being called to — if only we practice that trust.

Honestly and intentionally exploring our feelings about money — and how God is asking us to use our resources — can be a revitalizing and rewarding spiritual practice. Because many Christians have never really been taught how to be good stewards or how to create budgets and financial plans, your parish might use these Managing God’s Money courses for small group work, alongside workshops on estate planning and budgeting. You could create small groups with a wide range of ages and economic backgrounds to give people the opportunity to learn from each other’s resources and experiences. After all, we are called from the beginning of time to be good stewards of the world God has given us and to help people destroy those barriers of fear, ignorance, or mistrust that keep us from living in abundance.

We pray that, however you make use of these For Groups courses, you may grow in relationship and community with each other and with Jesus Christ.

Making the Most of ChurchNext in Your Church

This is the first in a series offering ideas for ways to use ChurchNext in your congregation, to meet the needs of parishioners and to build strong faith communities.Bible-Reading-Group-Photo

Finding God in Divorce (also available in the For Groups format):  Does your congregation have a divorce support group?  Carolyne Call offers a wonderful way to begin working through the emotional and spiritual damage broken relationships can cause. If your church has a support group, you may want to take this course together, either by meeting as a small group to watch the videos and discuss them, or by offering the course in your church’s online school. Participants could be encouraged to keep a journal of their thoughts, experiences, and wisdom gained; they could use their journal, the course and its Takeaway as references to revisit in times of need. Perhaps participants could collect the wisdom they’ve gained and share it with others outside the church, or with new members of the divorce support group.

Newcomers: What about those folks who are new to your parish and new to the Episcopal Church overall? If you come from a non-liturgical background, you may feel overwhelmed and confused at times by the different aspects of Episcopal worship and theology. You might want to offer Introducing Episcopal Worship and The Episcopal Tradition (also available in the For Groups format). By adding the course to your online school, you offer newcomers or the curious — or even their friends — an opportunity to learn more about the Episcopal Church in a non-threatening way. Alternatively, you can offer a time and space for newcomers to meet as a group, watch the videos, and discuss them. Clergy can be on hand to answer other questions — because there are always many!

Parenting: Parents often long to take part in congregational programs and spiritual formation, but haven’t childcare, are overscheduled, or are simply strapped for time. Why not offer a spiritual parenting program at your church — one that is based online, so that parents can take courses on their own schedule and as needed? In addition, you might arrange — or encourage them to arrange — regular small group meetings, playdates, potluck get-togethers, and the like, where parents can meet, learn from, discuss with, and support each other. There’s nothing more powerful than moral support and strength in numbers, as any parent knows. Simply offering time to think, reflect, learn, and then enjoy fellowship and discussion, can make a world of difference as parents try to raise their children in the faith. Courses along these lines include Spiritual Roots of Loving Parenting; Handling Strong-Willed Children, and Start a Family Devotional Time. They may also want to review the vows they made at their children’s baptism (and their own), since the event itself can be a distant memory.

How have you been using ChurchNext courses to shape and inspire disciples? We’d love to hear about it in the comments below or on social media (#churchnext).

Part III of Animate: Faith is open!

We continue to be excited about the potential for life-changing conversation that the innovative Animate series offers; the final course in this three-part series, Animate: Faith 3, launches today. This unique program is designed to spur thought, discussion, wondering, pondering, and spiritual growth not by offering answers to some of faith’s most difficult or basic questions but by offering new ways of considering them.animate

Animate Faith 3 features two more of the most engaging and sought-after speakers on faith today: Lauren Winner invites us to consider just why we read and re-read the Scriptures, and what makes them different from any other great book. She also suggests ways we might renew our daily Scripture reading, using “embodied cognition.” And Bruce Reyes-Chow helps us rethink what we mean when we call the church a “family.” He suggests that going to church — and being part of an often dysfunctional family group — can be the best decision we can make.

This course is produced in partnership with Augsburg Fortress Publishing, which offers the Animate Faith DVD curriculum as well as facilitator guides and journals for small groups. Click here to find out more.

For more information or to register for Animate Faith 3 please click here.

Big News! Part 1 of series on The Book of Common Prayer begins today

An American Prayer Book, A Global Prayer Book, taught by Tom Ferguson of Bexley Hall Seabury Western Theological Federation, is the first in an 8-part series on The Book of Common Prayer and launches today!ferguson

This course is a fascinating exploration of what “The Book of Common Prayer” literally means and why that matters.  That is, why is it “the” Book of Common Prayer?  What do we mean when we call it “common”?  What did its status as “book”  signify in the early days of the Anglican Church and why does it matter today?  What exactly does “prayer” look like?

After taking this course, you’ll have some answers to these sorts of questions; if they’d never occurred to you before, you’ll probably be left wondering why.  Tom Ferguson’s fascinating, engaging talks on each component of the BCP’s title will challenge you to think more deeply about the church’s history, present, and future.  To register or to learn more, click here.

This course is the first in an 8-part series called Introducing the Book of Common Prayer. The next seven courses will be launching in the coming weeks, so stay tuned. This series is brought to us by our partners at Bexley Seabury Federation, an Episcopal center for learning and development. Bexley offers online and in-person classes for everyone at its Chicago, IL and Columbus, OH campuses. For more information visit www.bexleyseabury.edu.