by Andrew Mochrie
As director of Theology Together Andrews manages its initiatives and programs. He oversees the Theology Together 2.0 grant project and is charged to develop and execute a plan that creates a sustainable model for Theology Together.
Most often our opportunities for faith formation with our students are executed in a very curated and measured environment. We’ve done the work, put in the hours to make sure that the rooms are set correctly, the slides are cued up, the small group questions are engaging, and our talk is polished. That’s a classic and well worn approach but what if it didn’t have to to be the only strategy for faith formation? Our work with Theology Together and Holy Disruptions pushes against those traditional formats for forming the faith of young people. Instead of curated spaces with three main points we invite into our space disorientation, conversation, and reflection.
Instead of just giving simple answers, what if our marker of success was young people and leaders leaving with more questions than answers? What if we actually started to value the role of teenagers as theologians alongside adults?
A Transformative Alternative
We know from Jack Mezirow’s Theory of Transformative Learning, that learning at its best not only forms but transforms us. In order to do that we must engage in experiences that disrupt our underlying beliefs about the world and cause us to re-examine them. One way this happens is when we are engaged by disorienting dilemmas. It is in those experiences that the fault lines of our assumptions and beliefs are exposed. Then from those experiences we move into a phase of theological reflection. We begin this process by examining not just our experience but also the beliefs and assumptions that we brought to that experience. As we ask those questions of our preconceptions we also ask the origin of those preconceptions, i.e. the question of culture and context. It is often the case that when we do this we find that our cultural and contextual answers fall short in giving meaningful nuance to our new experienced reality.
This is where the theological turn takes place and we begin to ask the question, “What does God say should be happening at this moment?”
We partner with the Holy Spirit in an exercise of faith seeking understanding, theological reflection. We engage a swath of Christian thought, giving our students and ourselves the opportunity to reflect and then articulate what we believe God says should be happening. We do theology together. Out of our new or reengaged theological understandings we work to align our lives with what we believe God’s desires are. When we practice this we allow interruptions of life to become entryways to Holy Disruptions in our lives and the lives of others.
One of the most fertile spaces for this type of experience are mission trips. We experience disorienting dilemmas, those things that disrupt our underlying assumptions on how the world works, on mission trips all of the time. It doesn’t matter if you work in rural Appalachia or in the middle of a large urban center, more than likely students naturally encounter something that makes them stop and think, even for just a moment. This is where mission trips become invaluable in the formation of a young person’s faith. It’s here they begin to ask questions and dig a little deeper. Where we go wrong is either not being attentive to that disorientation and they wrestle on their own or we rescue them, trying to provide answers.
Our argument is that as youth workers and leaders we should sit with them in that disorienting space.
Doing Theology Together
We become co-investigators of those moments, asking why that moment and what our world says we should think about it. We have the opportunity to help each other see where those assumptions may just fall short and encourage each other to dream bigger realities. Together, as adults and young people, we invite the Holy Spirit in as we engage in Christian thought, theology, and scripture. We don’t give answers, we seek them alongside each other. We do this knowing that we may have more questions than answers when we finish. We also know that as we journey together with the Holy Spirit we are personally transformed, as well as our understanding of the world, and how we are to be in it. When we do this on mission trips, we have the opportunity to leave with more than just good vibes and a t-shirt. The intentionality of this process allows us to practice deep and nuanced theological reflection that then leads us to make Holy Disruptions in the world around us.
None of this is easy. Just like any new journey it’s different and it’s risky. Allowing teenagers to take on the role of a theologian and giving them permission to try and change the world is in and of itself disorienting. But maybe, just maybe we don’t have all of the answers, but together alongside our students we can engage in faith seeking understanding, doing theology together, that leads us to reflective action in the world that creates Holy Disruption.