Kindling interest
Kindling interest

fire

I remember now with fondness what was, at the time, a depressing February day during my childhood. I was at scout camp, and I was working with friends on the fire-building requirement for Camping Merit Badge. There was snow on the ground, and everything our chapped fingers touched was cold and damp. We were allowed five matches to set our would-be fires going. If unsuccessful, we had to wait for the next campout to try the test again.

In my last post, I wrote about the importance of “finding the spark” in the learners we support in our churches, schools, and other ministry contexts. Without listening for the ways in which God is calling particular individuals to particular kinds of learning, we are unlikely to connect them with fulfilling opportunities.But the challenge doesn’t end there. As I learned on that chilly Wisconsin morning, the sparks are only the beginning. To make a long story short, I failed my fire-building test because I didn’t think beyond the struck match. I hadn’t prepared enough dry kindling to catch the spark and set it growing, hadn’t arranged the fuel in a configuration that would support several stages of increasingly robust combustion.

Perhaps the biggest obstacle to supporting individuals and small groups of faith learners is identifying the kindling they need. What resources will catch the spark of their curiosity and imagination and turn it into something more? What progression of depth and challenge will take them from spark to flame to fire? Clearly, a stick won’t work when wood shavings are called for, but neither will even a bundle of sticks when the fire is ready to handle that first substantial log.

My goal, or at least my aspiration, as a faith formation professional is to always be ready with sufficient—and sufficiently varied—kindling. If someone wants to get started with lunch-break prayer at work, I want to be able to give him or her a couple of choices: maybe 3-Minute Retreat if the person eats in an office, or pray-as-you-go or Walk and Be Well if getting away from the computer is an option. If someone’s looking for adult discussion of theological topics, I need an accessible recommendation for beginners (try God Complex Radio) and for more advanced students of the faith (check out Homebrewed Christianity).

Taking my inspiration from record store owner Rob Gordon in the film High Fidelity, I try to build little “Top 5” lists, with resource recommendations ranked by accessibility in categories like prayer, bible study, and spiritual practices. In the case of apps, podcasts, and other online resources, I can even keep these lists on my smartphone for demonstrations on the go. Are you more of a book recommender? Well, that’s what Amazon’s Listmania is all about.

I might not be ready for any faith learning situation, but I’m a lot more prepared now than I was that fateful February. If you’d like more tips on assembling your own lists of trusted faith formation resources, you’ll find them in my next post. Scout’s honor.

Kyle Matthew Oliver (@kmoliver) is the digital missioner and learning lab coordinator in the Center for the Ministry of Teaching, a writer for Faith Formation Learning Exchange (where this post originated), and a panelist on the new Easter People podcast.

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