Saturday, December 17, 2005

Frogs Without Legs

Over the past week I've been reading a book with the strange title, Frogs Without Legs Can't Hear, by David Anderson and Paul Hill. I'm guessing that if you've heard of this book it's because David Anderson or Paul Hill are working with your congregation. ranks it number 538,739 on their sales list, which isn't helped by the fact that they have neither a picture of the cover nor a description of the book. That's unfortunate because it's a pretty good book.

Part of the book's relative obscurity is no doubt due to the fact that it is neither revolutionary nor controversial. It's simply a book about how to pass the faith on from one generation to the next. It's focused on youth and families, but the general concepts are quite applicable to the full body of the church.

The title comes from a story about a mad scientist measuring the distance frogs can jump. He stands behind a frog and says, "Jump, frog, jump!" and measures how far the frog jumped. Then he surgically removes one of the frogs legs and repeats this until finally the frog with no legs doesn't jump at all. The mad scientist concludes that frogs without legs can't hear.

The authors then make an analogy that they boldly, recklessly even, apply throughout the whole book. The leadership of our congregations is the frog head. The congregation gathered on Sundays is the frog torso. The lives of the individual members through the week are the frog legs. Unfortunately, in our modern setting we have disregarded the frog legs, cut them off from the rest of the frog, and we don't understand why the frog doesn't jump.

The bulk of the book then describes how faith is actually developed through trusted personal relationships and how living the faith outside the congregational gathering makes faith more vibrant.

My past two posts are my germinal thoughts as I've been trying to think through how their advice for families with children can be extended to the non-child focused population of the Church. The authors allude to this application briefly. Non-parent adults are important to their youth strategy, but they also recognize the need to reach out to adults without Norman Rockwell families as receivers of faith. It just isn't their focus, so it's left to the reader to work through the application.

Hopefully I won't be too aggregiously violating any copyrights by revealing the five principles on which Anderson and Hill base their approach.

1. Faith is formed by the Holy Spirit through personal, trusted relationships.
2. The church is a partnership between home and congregation.
3. Home is church too.
4. Faith is caught more than taught.
5. If you want Christian children, you need Christian adults.

The application of the first principle to "pew sitters" is plain to see. If we want to activate the faith of these silent visitors to our congregations, we must draw them into a community of relationships. As long as no one knows them, they are going to be left mostly to trying to form faith on their own, which we all know is pretty steep climbing.

The second, third and fourth principles depend on the first and are tightly bound together. We can't expect people to have a healthy faith life just because they visit a congregation on Sundays. And as a Church, we need to extend our ministry beyond Sunday morning. Hopefully, the people in the pews are trying to explore their faith in their own homes, but we should be taking the faith to one another outside the congregation. This isn't just a family thing.

When I was invited to join a small group, it was significant because these other members of the congregation invited me into their homes for fellowship and Bible study. I can definitely tell you that their homes were church. And it is a well known, but not often enough considered, fact that faith is formed through community.

The fifth principle is worded with the youth and family bias front and center, but it has very broad application. If we want to pass on our faith, we must be disciples. More generally, we need to create a culture of discipleship in our congregations.

Like I said, none of this is revolutionary or new. It's pretty much stuff we all know. But at the same time, having written it down and acknowledged it doesn't make it happen. That's just the pre-work.


Lutheran Zephyr said...

"Frogs" sits on my shelf, like so many other books, unread. Your post will move this book from the dead shelf to the I-really-should-read-this-soon shelf.

One question, however - point #3 is that Home is Church Too. I know that lots of different ministry resources, books, curricula and theories want to make the church "bigger" by expanding it to other areas of our life (ie, break it out of its Sunday rut). But I wonder if the church isn't one thing, and our life in faith another thing, and the gift of families another thing, and the vocation of the laity another thing . . . that is, I think that there are different aspects to the Christian experience, and if we just go around calling all of these things "church" we actually diminish the church and its unique ministry of Word & Sacrament. Perhaps all of these areas can be mapped like a Ven Diagram - different circles, overlapping in some places, but each with their own unique sphere and area of ministry.

Well, I should probably read the book before I go any further. Thanks for the review. I hope to get to the book soon. (For a great read about vocation, read "Listen! God is Calling! Luther Speaks of Faith, Life and Vocation" in the Lutheran Voices series by Augsburg Fortress . . .)

Andy said...

You have a good point about the centrality of Word & Sacrament. The problem is lack of terminology. Anderson and Hill want to use the word "congregation" for the gathering for worship and other things that go on in that central location while keeping "church" as a broader term to refer to all the activities carried on by the Body of Christ. This may not meet the Augsburg Confession definition of "church" but I think it's a good use.

Perhaps better would have been to say "Home is the kingdom of God too."

LutherPunk said...

I like that this points out that if you want Christian children, you need Christian adults. I struggle with this in the confirmation program, where kids are dropped off by mom and dad and the lessons aren't reinforced at home. There really is a direct correlation between the kids who are "succesful" and parental involvement.

Andy said...

Yeah, the parents-as-taxi-drivers is one of the major targets of this book. There's a very telling chart showing Christian education by age group for six denominations. Among seventh to ninth graders, the ELCA had the highest participation among any group at 70 percent, but then for 10th to 12th graders, the ELCA dropped to exactly the percentage of the ELCA's adult participation -- 23%, which was second-to-lowest.

Dave said...

I see this subject hasn't been touched in awhile...
I was just recently exposed to this book. You're spot-on with "If you're aware of this book, you're probably working with one of the authors..." We're working with David Anderson.

The ideas/concepts in the book are, as you said, not new at all. But maybe thinking about them and using them in today's church IS new. Some of us have joined in the book study offered by our pastor. I, for one, have been somewhat surprised by the common-sense approach that never really presented itself to me before. I have children from college-age down to grade school and have discovered that my own faith life is/has been severely lacking in its consistency, but even more so in its visibility and presence. I do most of my devotions alone, on my breaks at work. I need to be better at sharing that special time with other family members. We're just now setting up one morning per week to do some family devotions before everyone gets going in their various directions for the day. I know one morning per week isn't much, but it's a start, and it's a LOT more than we've done in the past.

The book has also made me step back and look at other parts of my life and my relationships with others, in and out of our congregation.

I highly recommend the book, but better yet, work with others in reading, discussing and taking action according to what you read.