Redefining Literacy

(picture originally uploaded to Flickr by SlipStreamJC)

What’s are some of the first things that come to mind when you think of the word “literacy?” Most of us probably think of reading a writing.

What do you think of when you think of “Christian spiritual literacy?” You probably think of things like Bible knowledge, sound theology, following God’s commandments, etc.

Yesterday I read a post on the Grown Up Digital blog about an expanded definition of literacy that the Ontario Public School Board’s Association recently released as part of a larger study entitled What If? Technology in the 21st Century Classroom. Here’s the definition:

“Literacy involves the development of a continuum of skills, knowledge and attitudes that prepare all of our learners for life in a changing world community. It begins with the fundamental acquisition of skills in reading, writing, listening, speaking, viewing, representing and responding. It becomes the ability to understand, think, apply and communicate effectively in all subject and program areas in a variety of ways for a variety of purposes.”

I like this definition. I like it a lot (you have to read that sentence with a “valley girl” accent). It starts with the basics but doesn’t stop there. The purpose of literacy is to equip students to be able to continue learning and adapting as culture and technology changes and know how to do all of that in multiple academic cultures.

The Grown Up Digital post went on to summarize that if schools do not adapt their definitions of literacy they are at danger of making school irrelevant to students because school ceases to equip them to interact with the real world around them.

I couldn’t help but think about spiritual formation and the models and paradigms we use to impart spiritual literacy to the kids and families we minister to.

What are we doing to help children and families engage a culture that see Christianity as toxic and hostile? What are we doing to help children and families understand and navigate a digital world where there is no distinction between virtual and physical? What are we doing to help children and families work hand-in-hand with people they don’t see eye-to-eye with?

We all see and hear the stats about 20-somethings leaving the church and less and less people with young families coming back to church. I believe one reason for that is we have too narrow a definition of Christian spiritual literacy. We tell kids and families that all they need to do it read the Bible more, memorize more verses, know God more, follow his commands better, and make sure you tell people about Jesus. As long as we were able to remain in our contextualized cultural bubbles, that approach worked.

The world is smaller now. Information is immediately accessible. Cultures and lifestyles and belief systems are no longer restricted by geography.

We need to rethink how we approach Christian spiritual literacy. It needs to go beyond a paradigm of the acquisition of knowledge. We need a new paradigm which is transformational, grace-filled, and liquid. We need a spiritual literacy that brings about the kind of attitude Paul had when he wrote 1 Corinthians 9:19-23:

“Even though I am a free man with no master, I have become a slave to all people to bring many to Christ. When I was with the Jews, I lived like a Jew to bring the Jews to Christ. When I was with those who follow the Jewish law, I too lived under that law. Even though I am not subject to the law, I did this so I could bring to Christ those who are under the law. When I am with the Gentiles who do not follow the Jewish law,s I too live apart from that law so I can bring them to Christ. But I do not ignore the law of God; I obey the law of Christ.

When I am with those who are weak, I share their weakness, for I want to bring the weak to Christ. Yes, I try to find common ground with everyone, doing everything I can to save some. I do everything to spread the Good News and share in its blessings.”

Do you agree that there needs to be a redefinition of Christian spritual literacy? What does that look like? Is there room for more than one new paradigm?

How do you define Christian spiritual literacy? What does it look like in your context?

If you want to be a part of the conversation in articulating what children’s ministry might look like within a missional paradigm, here is an explanation of the conversation and there is more conversation here, here, here, and here.


One Response to “Redefining Literacy”

  1. Desiree May 9, 2009 at 7:52 pm #

    One way I think our church has brought spiritual literacy is in The Truth Project study put out by focus on the family. It shows how being made in God's image has so many implications on shaping our worldview, in history, science, psychology, ect. I think it helps everyone to realize that you can't compartmentalize your spiritual life. That every part of your life is worship.

    I agree about helping our churches get a little more tech savvy in a sense. We want to be in the world but not of the world, not just escape the world. We can't be missional if we just escape. I would so love to do a parenting/ technology class. I think that would really be helpful.

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