Lesson Two: Understanding Practices
This lesson continues student learning about how the survey can help them grow by focusing on the nature of practices, in particular Christian practices. This lesson focuses more on understanding; the lesson that follows will continue the sequence with an opportunity to make, and commit to, personal connections.
- Students will understand what the Practicing Faith Survey was designed to achieve.
- Students will understand the ideas about practices that inform the survey.
- Students will understand that Christian practices reach beyond directly devotional activity.
As with the previous lesson, you should be familiar with the key ideas informing the Practicing Faith Survey, especially the provided explanations of Christian practices, and the different areas of practice. Since the term “practices” gets used in various ways in different contexts in the world at large, you will need to be clear on the core ideas here. “Practices,” in the sense intended by recent discussions of Christian practices, are not the same as behaviors or actions. They are not a matter of “putting faith into practice” (as if behavior were a separate thing from believing that can be added later). They are not about the practical as opposed to the theological. Rather, practices are the places where belief and action and belonging in community come together to give shape to our life in the world. A Christian practice such as giving, prayer, worship, or (in the example explored at the start of this activity) the eucharist involves believing and doing (otherwise it is just empty ideas or merely going through the motions), and it connects these to community (it is not just a private hobby, but joining in with the body of Christ.) Since it is easy in school for everything, including faith, to turn into a checklist of things to get done, it will be important to help students to understand how the intent here is not simply conformity with a set of behaviors. Take this opportunity to reflect on whether your own teaching practices more generally tend to promote mere behavioral conformity, or whether they help students to grapple with the reasons for what they are doing.
Consider how you can create a classroom atmosphere that will help students to reflect and share honestly. Chairs in straight rows and a teacher behind a desk can communicate distance and formality. Consider groups or a circle of desks.
Preparing the Activity
Teaching the Activity
This activity asks students to think about three things: first, the nature of practices; then, the Eucharist as an example of a Christian practice; finally, how actions in the school context could count as Christian practices.
The nature of practices
First, write the words “behaviors” and “practices” on the board. Ask students to brainstorm in groups what differences they sense between the meaning of the two words. It may be helpful to provide them with some example sentences. For instance, how is “I have noticed you have some new behaviors” different from “I have noticed that you have some new practices”?
Give some time for discussion, then debrief with the class. Accept a range of answers. Don’t let the class get too hung up on exact distinctions – there is some fuzzy overlap in the two ideas and different people may use the words differently. Move toward eliciting that talking about practices commonly tends to imply more intentionality, the idea of being sustained over time (doing something once may be a behavior but does not yet count as a practice), and being oriented to some kind of goal (e.g. we might change our eating practices to try to improve our health; how we behave as we eat is another question!). Again, examples might help: if someone blushes easily, or taps their fingers while thinking, or calls out an inappropriate comment, it would be a behavior – would it be a practice? If we would be more likely to call a daily diet regimen a practice than a behavior, why would we call it that? The main point is to draw attention to practices as things that we choose and sustain over time as a way of seeking some kind of good, often with the intention of being changed in some way.
An example: The Eucharist
Next, ask students to imagine that they have three strange Christian friends who are each obsessed with one particular aspect of the Eucharist or Lord’s Supper.
Friend #1 loves debating theology. She can tell you what every Protestant theologian has said about the exact meaning of the bread and the wine and the precise sense in which the bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ. She never actually takes communion herself, or even attends a communion service, but she loves getting the theory straight.
Friend #2 loves the taste of bread and wine (or grape juice). They keep some on hand at all times, and whenever they are feeling a little hungry they go get some. It is their go-to snack. They are not interested in theology or the stories about Jesus’ death and resurrection, and they avoid church services, but when it comes to consuming bread and wine they have no equal.
Friend #3 appreciates the liturgy and thinks it important to take the bread and wine while thinking about Jesus’ death and resurrection. They are not very keen on other Christians, though, and so they always take the bread and wine alone and never join in with a congregation.
23 For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night in which he was betrayed took bread, 24 and after he had given thanks he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way, he also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, every time you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For every time you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
27 For this reason, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. 28 A person should examine himself first, and in this way let him eat the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For the one who eats and drinks without careful regard for the body eats and drinks judgment against himself…. 33 So then, my brothers and sisters, when you come together to eat, wait for one another.
Discuss with the class why each of the three friends is not quite participating in the Christian practice of the Eucharist, even if they might be engaging in one of the related behaviors. (Which friend comes closest?) Relate this back to the discussion of practices: what features have to be in place for the Eucharist to function properly as a Christian practice? Among other possible details, it needs to be accompanied by faith and intentional reflection (”in remembrance of me,” “examine himself,” ”without careful regard”), it should be part of a regular pattern of engagement in a Christian community (”every time you drink it,” “when you come together”), and it is to be shaped by the goal of proclaiming Christ’s death until he returns.
Life shaped by Christian practices
The next step is to lead students into a consideration of what kinds of choices might become instances of Christian practices. Ask students to work with a partner to brainstorm a list of things other than the Eucharist that might be Christian practices. It may be helpful to give them a broad definition of practices to focus their attention: things that Christian people do together over time as they respond to God’s grace. Gather their suggestions, and then hand out copies of the Christian Practices List. (This is also provided as presentation slides). Ask students to compare the list they came up with against the list of fourteen Christian practices on the first side of the handout and see what was missing in their list. Discuss whether any items were missed by all or most students, and why. Did they tend, for instance, to think of Christian practices only in terms of church activities such as worship services or baptism?
Then ask students to turn to the second side of the handout. This should look familiar from the feedback that they received when taking the Practicing Faith Survey. Explain that the Practicing Faith Survey organized Christian practices into five loose groups in order to help see patterns in the way the school community is investing in Christian practice. Ask students to work again in pairs, this time taking each of the five areas of practice, A to E, and annotating the list of fourteen practices on the first side of the sheet to show which practices might fit in each category. Point out that a practice might fit in more than one category and that fit might be a matter of degree – encourage them to focus on instances where there is a strong fit.
If time remains, begin to encourage students to share examples of school choices and behaviors that could become part of Christian practice. Tell them that they will be exploring this further in the next class.