Note: This is a brief summary of the salient features of the Christian Nurture Approach. The full presentation can be found in the new eBook, “Beyond Christian Education: The Future of Nurturing Disciples in the Local Church” by Ben Marshall. (You may also want to read a witness to the Christian Nurture approach in the "Resources" section.)
An Approach Not a Plug-in..
Christian Nurture is just that, an approach. It is not a plug-in program to take the place of what is happening, but a way of enriching and making more effective what is already happening in your local church. There is not a financial outlay for fancy materials. You decide what you need and the Project Team will help you to find or develop the needed resources.
Aimed at the Local Church...
This effort is aimed intentionally at the local church. Whatever be the problems and issues with the local church in these days and the following concern to do ministry outside the local church, we believe that those who are still in our local churches must be nurtured more effectively so that they can go into the world and do the ministry God calls us to do.
Concern for Effectiveness
Effectiveness, we believe, is not simply in the expertness of the process, but more fundamentally in the content of both the information and the experiences provided. We believe effectiveness begins with the way in which we understand God as involved in the process and what that means for our processes and content. So, Christian Nurture is founded in a set of theological affirmations that undergird and give direction to the approach.
Effectiveness has to do with how well what we do in our nurture efforts results in what we truly hope will be the difference in the person’s life and how they live in the world. We believe those results are directly related to whether or not the person is growing in their personal relationship with God and then, of course, their growth in how to be loving, their life in a community of love, and their participation in servanthood.
Familiar but Radical
It may seem, in a first look at Christian Nurture, you might say that there is nothing new. And that would be partially true. The elements involved are not new, but the way in which the different elements are emphasized and how they are implemented is radically different from what we are doing now. A central perspective of this radical difference is to see our ability to be servants is directly dependent upon our trust in God’s love for them.
Nurture Not Simply Schooling
A key orientation is that we are nurturing Christians, not simply schooling them. Simply believing something, however well understood, does not necessarily change behavior. We are changed by our becoming open to God working within us and accepting God’s love and what God is calling us toward. We are teaching Bible, beliefs, etc., certainly, but we are also intentionally guiding the person in their relationship with God and their being loving in the world. Our task becomes one of helping the person to allow God to move them toward the life that God has created them to have. We cannot “make” disciples, only God can do that.
Spiritual Guidance is Integrated
A second key orientation is that we are offering spiritual discipline guidance as an integral part of our efforts in worship and in nurture rather than simply "along side" our other ministries as we do now in most churches. Christian Nurture calls us to be fully intentional about teaching the spiritual disciplines and guiding our people in their relationship with God. This is not an optional experience. It is central to the effectiveness we seek.
A Focus on What It Means to be Loving
Of course, the results we seek are finally gauged by whether or not our people are being loving servants of Christ in the world. Therefore, along with inner spiritual growth, helping our people to know what it means to be loving and how to go about servanthood forms the second essential element in the approach. Implementing this element calls for teaching and guiding, but also hands on experience in servanthood in various ways.
There are guidance elements to help in designing and evaluating our ministries. Christian Nurture proposes to see the ministry through four arenas of effort: Nurture in the Home, The Congregational Environment, Intentional Nurture Experiences, and Servanthood Immersions. The approach then also proposes that within each of these arenas we must look at what happens from the view of four focuses for content: Inner Formation, Traditioning, Prophetic Sensitivity and Servanthood.
Intentional Training is Essential
Finally, since Christian Nurture is not a ready made program and instead a way to enrich and add to what you are doing, implementing this approach calls for intentional training of the leaders in your local church’s ministry. That training can be provided by the Project Team but demands a seriousness and intentionality on the part of the local church leadership to embrace the approach to see how it can enrich your ministry.
What We Expect in the Lives of Our People
When Christian Nurture is carried out lovingly and effectively we look forward to the following, among other results, in the lives of our people:
The person becomes open to and continues to grow in the trust that God loves them unconditionally through regular participation in the inner spiritual disciplines. (This is fundamental for the rest will not be possible and meaningful without it.)
The person is growing in letting go of their dependence upon the world and taking up a dependence upon God for their life’s meaning.
The person is growing in an understanding of what it means to love others and themselves based upon the example of Jesus and the Church’s servanthood tradition.
The person is increasingly involved in servant ministry in some way that fits their gifts and life situation.
The person is a loving participant in a Christian community and contributes to its continuance and strength as fits their developmental and life situation.
The person is able to share the story of the Christian Gospel and have a working understanding of the Bible and theology that is relevant to their developmental stage in life.