Missional Faith Learning Overview
Missional Faith Learning (MFL) is an educational framework developed to describe BiblioMinistry’s conception of Christian Religious Education (CRE). MFL particularly focuses on the resources, tools, and processes that Christians who believe that Jesus calls us to participate in building the Empire of God through our commitment to him and God, study of God’s Word, and the history, tradition, and the recorded (written) conversations of these things. In God and in Christ we are freed for the work to which God and Jesus have called us: building the Empire of God. MFL provides people and communities of faith with goals and objectives by which to plan, implement, assess, and evaluate personal and communal religious education. It includes four main goals and related learning objectives that integrate faith, intellect, and activism within the information framework of metaliteracy. These goals and learning objectives articulate what learners should be able to do (behavioral), what learners should know (cognitive), how learners’ emotions and attitudes may change (metanoia / affective), and what learners think about their own thinking (metacognitive).
Missional Faith Learning Elements
MFL integrates three main elements: faith, intellect, and activism within the information theory of metaliteracy. In doing so it also utilizes the educational theory of constructivism and the concept of praxis. Following are summaries of what these concepts mean to MFL.
MFL is less concerned with what people believe, and more interested in how people form and articulate their beliefs, particularly as related to their religious denomination’s/church’s beliefs. MFL encourages people of faith to explore their faith questions, appreciate the wonder of God, God’s creation, and God’s created ones. It encourages us to explore our capacity that allows us to contemplate our own existence, why we are here, and who and how we were created.
God gave us brains and minds, and free will to make our own decisions. MFL encourages people of faith to use their minds in God-honoring ways that connect with modern scholarship and intellectual methods. While most major religions, including Christianity, have long intellectual traditions within them, there have often been issues of access to those traditions by religious adherents. MFL places a priority on theological education as “ordered learning” in the church, described by Edward Farley as “ongoing studies in disciplines and skills necessary for the understanding and interpretation of Scripture, doctrines, moral principles and policies, and areas of praxis” (1985, p. 158). The phrase “thinking Christian” is not an oxymoron.
All major world religions have to some degree prioritized care of others, both individually and collectively. Jesus’ interest in building the Empire of God (as opposed to furthering the Empire of Rome) upends “proper” social orders so that all of humanity may know themselves as beloved by God, and know this in tangible, earthly ways as practiced by him and his disciples in his time and now. This interest obligates Christians to act in the interests of the poorest and most vulnerable, both in immediate acts of mercy and charity, and via more systemic means as found in faith-based activism and social justice movements (known as “The Social Gospel” in the early 20th century). As the educations that many Christians obtain in and out of church may have focused more on a “sit down and shut up” approach to learning, thus educating them for complacency instead of empowered action, MFL aims to “flip the script” on educational approaches to emphasize a “stand up and speak out” approach to learning, particularly in solidarity with individuals and groups of impoverished and oppressed people. George Lakey (2013) provides inspiration regarding things all, including faith-based, activists should know how to do.
CRE has often focused more on educational content than critical reflection on resources, tools, and processes by which that content is created. Metaliteracy, as a 21st century manifestation of information literacy that unleashes information literacy into the wilds of the world at large (rather than only into the more carefully-controlled atmosphere of institutions of higher education, particularly academic libraries), offers a robust environment in which faith communities may thoroughly explore their discovery, creation, sharing, and other use of information within congregational life and beyond. Though metaliteracy, as a concept originating among librarians, may seem like an unusual concept in which to so heavily weight a CRE framework, it is simply making apparent what librarians have known for decades: as information becomes more and more accessible, all people, including people of faith, must be able to competently engage with information – in their case, for a more vibrant faith informed by intellect.
Constructivism, in short, is student-centered learning, further described as “the educational philosophy that learners must individually discover and transform complex information if they are to make it their own” (Slavin, 2000, p. 20) Freire (2000), a constructivist, critiqued and rejected the “banking” education for what he calls “problem-posing education” in which the curriculum originates in what the student wishes to learn, and the student learns through dialogue with the teacher. The teacher evolves from expert to dialogue partner, and the relationship becomes that of teacher-student, student-teacher in which both simultaneously fill each role. This educational style, while seldom truly practiced in formal learning environments, is an obvious fit for the voluntary nature of faith communities, in which people are there because they want to be. Once they are there, it is well-worth it to use their self-motivation in God’s service.
Freire may not have been the first person to use the word “praxis,” generally meaning “reflective practice,” but his use of it may be the most popular one in social justice circles. Freire’s (2000) definition of it is “reflection and action upon the world in order to transform it” (p. 51). While some may dismiss praxis as a fancy word for “practice” that makes its user sound more important, praxis emphasizes that all practice should be subject to renewal. While God may be eternal, as the world in which we live changes, faith communities must always find new ways to empower and equip disciples of Jesus for their respective ministries. This means that our theories must always be informed by our living practice, and vice versa. They act and re-act upon each other, and Christians who accept this reality are less likely to become enmeshed in doing something “because we’ve always done it that way.” CRE as with anything else languishes if it remains the same; likewise, it may flourish if it is allowed to grow and change with life as we know it.
Missional Faith Thinking Goals and Objectives
1. Information Stewardship
As with metaliteracy’s second goal, MFTs “understand personal privacy, information ethics, and intellectual property issues in changing technology environments” (Mackey, Jacobson, Forte, O’Keefe, & Stone, 2014). MFTs consider who has access to what information, why, and the theological, real-life implications of that access. As WACC (2008) believes, “accessing and sharing information and knowledge resources lies at the heart of equitable intellectual property rights, respect for the moral rights and integrity of created works and genuine plurality” (p. x-xi).
2. Information Discernment
Aligned with metaliteracy’s first goal, MFTs can “evaluate content critically, including dynamic online content” (Mackey et al., 2014). They understand the particular criteria by which to evaluate religious and theological information.
3. Information Evangelism
MFTs “share information and collaborate in a variety of participatory environments” (Mackey et al., 2014), metaliteracy’s third goal. This includes courageously and vulnerably responding “to the demands of the Kingdom in their own personal, social, and political contexts” (Groome, 1980, p. 99).
4. Missional Planning, Assessment and Evaluation
Reck (2012) comments upon the “lack of serious evaluation of Christian religious education material” (p. 28). As with metaliteracy’s fourth goal, MFTs “demonstrate ability to connect learning and research strategies with lifelong learning processes and personal, academic, and professional goals” (Mackey et al., 2014). They are committed to continual growth and development in faith, intellect, and activism, accepting the necessity and embracing the benefit of regular assessment and evaluation mechanisms in their lives and communities.
Freire, P. (2000). Pedagogy of the oppressed: 30th anniversary edition. New York: Bloomsbury Publishing USA.
Lakey, G. (2013, June 11). 8 skills of a well-trained activist. Retrieved from http://wagingnonviolence.org/feature/8-skills-of-a-well-trained-activist/
Mackey, T., Jacobson, T., Forte, M., O’Keefe, E., & Stone, K. (2014, September 11). Learning objectives: Developing metaliterate learners. Retrieved October 14, 2014, from http://metaliteracy.org/learning-objectives/
Reck, S. (2012). Analyzing and evaluating Christian religious education curricula. Christian Education Journal, 9(1), 27–42.
Slavin, R. (2000). Educational psychology (6th ed.). Boston: Allyn and Bacon.World Association for Christian Communication, World Council of Churches, & Spirituality and Worship.
(2008). Love to share: Intellectual property rights, copyright, and Christian churches. Toronto & Geneva: World Association for Christian Communication; World Council of Churches. Retrieved from http://www.oikoumene.org/en/programmes/unity-mission-evangelism-and-spirituality/spirituality-and-worship/love-to-share.html