i was listening to an emergent village podcast the other day, and doug pagitt was talking about how things we do in our churches are often at odds with what we say about the gospel. i sent doug an email with some educational theory terminology about what he was talking about, and he suggested i post it. so here it is!
Was just listening, in my car, to the podcast of you at the emergent mainline event, and you were mentioning the concept that we often have things we do in our churches (like how we arrange our chairs, or when people are “allowed” to speak) that are at odds with what we say about the gospel.
Let me offer you some language for that that might be helpful. In education theory (and in real life practice) circles, there are multiple kinds of
curriculum (and, I would contend, that “curriculum” is just an ed-theory word for “message”). The “formal” or “overt” or “plain” curriculum is the
content everyone thinks about. In a classroom, it’s the teaching plan. In a church, it’s the Sunday school lesson and the sermon.
But there are two other helpful terms: non-formal curriculum, and null curriculum.
The non-formal curriculum is the stuff we do, but don’t talk about. It’s that stuff you were referring to: how we arrange our chairs, our
architecture, who gets to talk when, power and social structures, all the expected norms and programs and means and methods. Those are a “curriculum” (or message) in and of themselves, and the leader/teacher/pastor/organizer is foolish if she thinks the non-formal curriculum doesn’t communicate every bit as much as the formal curric.
Then, null curriculum is the stuff we don’t do and don’t talk about. For example, if a youth ministry NEVER talks about homosexuality (because
they’re afraid to bring it up, not knowing how to respond), that becomes part of the null curriculum. Churches, of course, have boxes full of this
stuff. And — educational theorists say — the null curriculum ALSO communicates just as much as the formal curric (or, if not just as much, it
communicates a lot).
Anyhow, I thought you might find that helpful, and slip it into a future talk.