Saturday, 11 January 2014

Make it your own

"Make it your own," an incredibly cliche phrase that I generally find a bit annoying. Unfortunately, there are times when they just need to be said. 

Lately I've been hearing (okay, not just lately, probably for at least a decade or two), that the materials we receive for teaching Sunday school or leading worship (namely Gather 'Round and Leader Magazine in Mennonite Church Canada and USA) are just not written for us. They don't take into account our church dynamics, they assume a different group size, or they use language that doesn't quite resonate in our churches. Not only that, the material seems hit or miss. Sometimes it's fabulous, other times, not so much (though when it's a miss for one, it's often fabulous for another). And these are all valid comments. I've made them myself. Often.

But the thing I have to remind myself of repeatedly is that they aren't really supposed to speak directly to my congregation. Actually, they aren't supposed to speak directly to any one congregation at all. The Sunday school material wasn't written for my suburban class of 6 grade 2's or your rural multi-aged class of 3 children ages 3-11, or that urban class of 15 Jr. high's. These materials are written to resource a really broad audience.

That's how it works with Leader too, at least that's how I've heard and experienced it to work. A little group of people sits down and imagines a Lent series. They sit with the text and they listen to the Spirit and together they form a worship plan that hopefully will connect with churches in some way. But each of the people on the planning group comes from a somewhat different context, and the material goes out to churches from a ton of different contexts.

And so, they were never intended for us to use "as is."Sunday school curriculum and worship materials, whether they are Gather 'Round and Leader or something completely different require us to make them our own. They require us to do some contextualization, to pay attention to the nature of our congregation or group, to listen for the movement of the Spirit, and to creatively adapt the materials that the writers have provided for us. They never intended that you would do every single craft or snack or response idea. They never intended that we would completely revamp our services every single time we go through Advent or Lent (though sometimes it can be refreshing and beneficial). Resources are a jumping off point. They are a help. They are a foundation for imagining how a particular story or text can come to life in the midst of a particular group of people.

I have to remind myself of this over and over again. And I have to remind myself as well, that while sometimes it's frustrating that one quarter of material, or one series is a miss for me, it's a hit for someone else. It's simply the gift and curse of material that's written collaboratively by many authors from many places. And truly, it's more often gift than curse.

So "make it your own," and let the resources do what they were meant to do in the first place, resource you. And hopefully, I'll take my own advice!

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