Renewing Catechesis and Discipleship

Teaching, Learning and Living the Faith in the Contemporary Church

Information and Readings for Auditors

Course Syllabus

Required Texts

Heywood, David. Kingdom Learning: Experiential and Reflective Approaches to Christian Formation. London: SCM Press, 2017.

Course Format: ‘Flipped Classroom’

The basic rhythm of the course follows a ‘flipped classroom’ approach consisting of readings and recorded lectures to prepare each week’s themes ahead of each class session. We will then focus in class on discussing these materials and issues raised by them. To ensure that our seminar-style class discussions flow smoothly, all students are expected to come to class having prepared by attentively reading all the assigned texts and watching the recorded lectures. The formal discussion session each week will vary in length from one to one and half hours. The appointed class time thereafter (to 4pm) will be allocated to drop-in office hours for consultation and support.

The first class is on Monday 11 September at 2.10pm in TC22 (accessible by using the stairs opposite the Divinity Common Room).

Week 1: Course Introduction


  • Course methodology
  • Contemporary issues and problematics (including bridging theology and parish, demographic realities and rise of ‘nones’, challenges of post-Christendom church, overcoming clericalism/professionalisation of ministry)
  • Underlying principles of Christian pedagogy and learning
  • Purpose of adult catechesis: empowering mature Christian disciples
  • Discipleship and ministry
  • Ministry in the whole of life


Before our first class discussion, please read the following introduction to our course text:

And watch the following short lecture in which Dean Chris Brittain (who previously co-taught this course with Fr Geoffrey) sets the context for this course, highlighting some of the issues and challenges we are facing in our churches today.

Week 1 Recording

Please hold off until after our first class discussion to do this concluding work for week 1.

In order to get to grips with the cultural environment we live in today, it’s important to dig deep to see and analyse underlying philosophies and ideas that have trickled down to motivate a lot of contemporary attitudes and thinking.

In the short video below, Fr Geoffrey introduces some of these underlying ideas as they have been conventionally and altogether negatively received in our society, particularly by Christians.

Next week (in what will be an unusually lecture-driven class) we will delve into these in more depth to see if they actually mean what we have thought they meant. Perhaps, far from being obstacles to the church, they might actually present opportunities for Christian formation, and even more than that, become the catalysts for recovering the very way of life we would need to reimagine and relearn catechesis and discipleship today.

The assignment arising from this introductory video is simply to reflect before next class on one or two of the points raised, thinking of them specifically within your own context. Can you think of specific encounters or situations where these ideas have come into play?

After you’ve given this some thought, you can move on to watch the lecture video in preparation for the class discussion in week 2.

Week 2: Context of the Contemporary Church: Challenges and Opportunities


  • Investigating the development and landscape of our secular age
    • Application of Charles Taylor’s secularisation thesis
  • Postmodern influences
    • Nothing outside the text? Derrida, deconstruction and scripture
    • Where have all the metanarratives gone? Lyotard, postmodernism and the Christian story
    • Power/knowledge/discipline: Foucault and the possibilities of a postmodern church
  • Effects of relativism and pragmatism
    • Community as context: Wittgenstein on ‘meaning as use’
    • Who’s afraid of contingency? Owning up to our creaturehood with Rorty
    • Reasons to believe: Making faith explicit after Brandom


There are no assigned readings this week, as the lecture is full-length. Supplementary background readings are provided below. Before our second class, please view the following video lecture:

Download presentation >

Our discussion questions in week 2 will include:

  • If we take seriously these critiques of modernity (and especially of a Christianity wedded to and distorted by modernity), what should the church do?
  • What would the church look like, particularly in terms of learning, teaching, and living the faith?

Background Readings

Week 2 Recording

Week 3: New Testament Foundations and Models
[Asynchronous Online Week]

Please note: there is no class meeting (in person or synchronous online) this week. The class will take place asynchronously online through the discussion forums (credit students only). Highlights of the discussion will be copied here later in the week.


  • Learning from Jesus and his ‘action-reflection’ approach
  • Discipling model of the early church
  • Personal and corporate identity transformation
  • Conformity to Christ and practical wisdom (phronesis)
  • Evaluating discipleship as an educational practice for today’s church


Please read chapter 1 of Heywood:

And watch the following short lecture:

Download presentation >

Note that the last few slides include the definition of discipleship by Collinson and the aspects of discipleship highlighted by Heywood that we discussed at the end of this week’s class.

Asynchronous Discussion Assignment

As assigned last week, prepare by reading from one of the following groups of New Testament texts:

  • Gospel of Matthew
  • Gospel of Luke and Book of Acts
  • Epistles of Paul
  • Gospel and Epistles of John

After you watch this introductory lecture, proceed to the discussion forums that follow where we will explore together discipling in the New Testament from the perspective of four different sets of texts. You were all assigned a particular focus, but you are invited to participate in all the groups by commenting on others’ reflections.

Further Reading

  • Sylvia Collinson, Making Disciples: The Significance of Jesus’ Educational Methods for Today’s Church (Wipf and Stock, 2007)

Week 3 Discussions


Here are some thoughts on discipleship in the Gospel of Matthew from Sylvia Collinson’s book, Making Disciples: The Significance of Jesus’ Educational Methods for Today’s Church (pp 55-56):

Matthew focuses on the learning relationships which Jesus had with me Twelve, sometimes as a whole or in smaller subgroups. He shows how they responded to the call and voluntarily committed themselves to following Jesus for an extended period of rime, learning from him and holding to his teachings even though there was considerable cost to them personally. Large sections of Matthew’s writing contain Jesus’ formal teachings and many instances may also be seen of his more informal interactions which resulted in learning.

Jesus structured their lives and activities in such a way that they were constantly being challenged to question and learn from a multiplicity of informal situations. These included the new thoughts, attitudes and values which came as they left the familiarity of their homes, families, occupations and cultural norms and moved into a community composed of fellow learners, from a variety of backgrounds, moving around the provinces of Galilee and Judea.

The disciples came into a close, personal relationship with him as teacher and master. The community they joined also formed close, family-type relationships where nurture occurred. Their attitudes, values and behaviours were challenged as Jesus modelled, in his daily life and interactions with large numbers of different people, the life of the ‘blessed’ – a life of humble service and self-giving sacrifice. They also saw faith in action in the lives of those who came to him with their needs.

They learned new skills and behaviours as Jesus led them into demanding or life-threatening circumstances which stretched their little faith to its limits, and beyond. When they failed, appeared ignorant or lacked the required faith to act with the authority Jesus had given them, he rebuked them and then led them into greater understanding. Finally they received Jesus commission to go out to make disciples of all nations. .

This study of Matthew’s Gospel has resulted in the further discovery of three important facets of discipleship. First, the intention of discipling was not for them to learn more and more for their own satisfaction and growth in learning, but that their learning would enable personal growth in faith and trust in Jesus and the Father. Second, discipling relationships occurred primarily in community or in small groups and rarely in one-to -one relationships. Third, the focus of discipling was outward, seeking to serve others and to make disciples of all nations.

The disciples of Jesus would never progress to being teachers and masters. They would not gather their own disciples one day. Jesus would always be the one with authority. They would, however, become disciple-makers who would serve God and enable others to commit themselves to faithful following in the community of God’s people wherever they were. This would take place through baptism and incorporation of others into the faith community, and through teaching everything which Jesus had communicated to them. The methods outlined in our definition form part of that teaching process, but additional discipling methods including small groups, collaborative learning and adventure education have also been shown to make a valuable contribution.


ere are some thoughts from Sylvia Collinson’s book, Making Disciples: The Significance of Jesus’ Educational Methods for Today’s Church on discipling in the Gospel of Luke (p 73):

It seems clear that in this Gospel and the other Synoptics both men and women were significant members of the discipling community around Jesus. Though the number of disciples in Luke seems to be larger the same commitment to learning, remembering and maturing in understanding was expected. Some disciples were called, others responded to Jesus’ work in their life. Some left all to follow, others offered hospitality or used what possessions they had to generously support his work.

The close personal relationships which Jesus developed with his male and female followers were obvious. Without any hint of sexual impropriety Jesus sustained a wonderful family love and loyalty with people of all ages. He mixed easily with them and showed deep understanding of them. He accepted women as full members of the community and received their ministry to him as he taught and served them: Possibly only the apostles were present with Jesus for the full time of his public ministry, but provided others were hearers and doers of the word of God, their membership of the disciple band seems assured.

Jesus engaged in formal teaching practices with his disciples and the crowds, but he also structured learning situations for them within the community and as they shared in his ministry to o thers. As he announced his mission of deliverance, healing and proclamation of the good news, his followers also became involved in service modelled on his. They responded to what limited understanding they had and in doing so progressed to greater. By committing themselves to him they experienced more of his power and understood more of his teaching as he revealed the secrets of the kingdom.

All were expected to be witnesses to what Jesus did in their lives and to what they knew of him. When he sent them out on mission they proclaimed the kingdom of God, and exercised the power which he had given them for the healing of diseases and exorcism of evil spirits. If women disciples went out on mission they would have done so in a manner appropriate for their culture. The cycle of action and reflection, between partners and in the community as a whole, with Jesus was important in enabling further learning.

After the resurrection his disciples finally remembered his previous teaching and understood. All the different strands of his teaching came together. Only then did Jesus announce to them, “You are witnesses of these things. They could only perform that task competently when they understood the full picture and after God gave his promised Holy Spirit to empower their work (24:48,49).

And on discipling in the book of Acts (pp 116-117):

Thus we have established that all the elements in our revised working definition of discipling were present in the teaching interactions of the early faith communities of Acts. However, while Jesus remained the master, albeit in a different form, the concept of discipling changed and two expressions of it emerged.

First there was the faith community itself which by its common life and daily interactions on a variety of levels became a medium for discipling in both formal and informal, intentional learning situations. Then there were smaller travelling teams under the leadership of an apostle or associate who went out to spread the message of Jesus and nurture believers throughout the Empire. These groups were not separate from the faith communities in any way. They operated under the authority of at least one of the communities, being sent out and reporting back to them. Their primary role was evangelism, and operations were similar to the mission of the disciples which Jesus organized. Leaders had recognized teaching gifts and responsibilities, and team members assisted in an apprentice-style role.


Here are some thoughts from Sylvia Collinson’s book, Making Disciples: The Significance of Jesus’ Educational Methods for Today’s Church on discipling as it is presented in the Epistles of Paul (pp 127, 136-137):

[W]hile no evidence exists for the schooling-model of teaching being practised by these early faith communities there is evidence for both formal and informal teaching in the Epistles. When the church gathered as a whole those with recognized gifts taught or proclaimed God’s message to the assembled whole. This was an important component of its life. Although the discipling model of teaching is not explicitly mentioned, various informal learning processes were evident. These included the exercise of diverse spiritual gifts within the life of the faith community which led to mutual ‘upbuilding’: oikodomeo-teaching. Believers were encouraged to learn by imitating Christ’s example and observing the life of faith as it was demonstrated by others. Active involvement in ministry and its accompanying hardships, in fellowship with other experienced and more mature believers, led to further learning.

Within the living, growing, working, faith communities three different situations in which discipling operated were evident. It was present in master-apprentice or parent-child relationships between two individuals when one person who was seen to have greater knowledge, maturity or skills worked alongside and lovingly nurtured another, resulting in their learning. It occurred among members of the mission teams as they went out together with the message of Christ on behalf of the faith communities, and sought to nurture those newly established in the faith. In these small teams, leaders and members were seen as examples, teachers, proclaimers of the faith and encouragers of the work of ministry. Finally, discipling occurred within each local faith community as individual members exercised their spiritual gifts within the loving, caring body of believers. While some accepted greater responsibility for teaching and building up the body, no one member was always teacher or always learner. Men, women and children learned from one another, as they shared their lives in worship of God and participated in his mission to the world.

Thus intentional, largely informal activities abounded, in which two or a small group of individuals typically in a community, and holding to the same beliefs, voluntarily committed themselves to each other to form close, personal relationships for an extended period of time, to enable one to learn from the other.


Here are some thoughts from Sylvia Collinson’s book, Making Disciples: The Significance of Jesus’ Educational Methods for Today’s Church (pp 91-92) on discipling in the early Johannine community:

Not all chose nominated as ‘disciples’ in John displayed the qualities of discipleship. However the record of the first five followers of Jesus clearly shows the intention of discipleship. It was to be a relationship in which Jesus and his followers devoted themselves each to the other in an exclusive commitment. These five came to Jesus seeking to learn from him, stayed with him and saw the truth behind his words demonstrated in his life and actions. True disciples joined in community with other learners, progressed to understand him and bore testimony concerning him to others.

Jesus sought to teach, nurture and increase me faith of those who were following him. Much of his teaching was delivered to the Jews (crowds or Pharisees) in his own defence but his disciples received additional specific teaching. His many miraculous signs displayed different aspects of his divine character and led those who believed to see “his glory, the glory of the one and only Son who came from the Father” (1: 14). These were visible illustrations of his words of teaching. Those who saw the signs but disbelieved his authoritative words were not true disciples and eventually withdrew.

John’s Gospel provides new insights and fresh information concerning the lives of some of Jesus’ closest followers who were only briefly mentioned m the Synoptics. Our understanding of his close personal discipling relationships is thus enriched, and the concept of community is broadened to include the offering of hospitality from one’s own home and the sharing of communal meals. Prayer and pastoral care for other community members is encouraged and the understanding that potential members are to be brought to the Shepherd is important.

The most outstanding contribution which John ‘s Gospel makes to our understanding of the relationship between Jesus and his disciples is  that their relationship is derived from and should be modelled on the relationship of the Father to the Son. Thus knowledge, understanding, common purpose, unity and love coming from the Father and the Son to all faithful disciples should permeate the whole discipling community, so that all share in it together and the work of Jesus is continued on earth through his people in the power of his Spirit.

Further facets of discipleship have emerged from our examination of John’s Gospel. Discipling requires the development of a committed relationship over a period of time. It is valid to teach on a single occasion, but the encounter may only be described as ‘discipling’ if it continues for an extended period of time. There may be, however, a period of time in which a learner weighs up the validity of the teachings presented until the full extent of the teaching becomes known. If the new teaching is at variance with previously held beliefs, learners have only two choices, either to accept the new, or to reject it and the discipler whose teaching it is. Discipling requires that both parties hold to a shared body of basic beliefs.

The close personal relationship between teacher and disciple is not just an academic relationship. The teacher also cares for the physical, emotional and spiritual well being of learners within the discipling community by praying for them and offering appropriate pastoral care.

Discipling requires that both discipler and disciple be oriented to life beyond the discipling relationship. Disciples not only share in the work of the discipler, but the work itself becomes their work. The mission of the discipler becomes the focus of the life of the learner.

Week 4: Early Christian Foundations and Models


  • Critical engagement with the tradition of catechetical teaching, liturgical mystagogy and Christian formation in the early church
  • Applicability of models within early tradition to the contemporary church


Before our fourth class, choose one of the following four texts from the early church:

What does the text describe or imply about catechesis and discipleship (in both approach and methods) in the early period of the church? How does this compare to the working definition and principles of discipling discussed in week 3 (and as summed up by Heywood and Collinson)?

And watch the following short lecture:

Week 4 Recording

Week 5: Adult Learning in God's Kingdom


  • The adult learner and the kingdom of God
  • Visions of adult learning
  • Characteristics of adult learning
  • Recovery of virtue and character
  • Learning character


Before our fifth class, please read the following article by Stanley Hauerwas:

Then read the remainder of chapter 1 of Kingdom Learning:

  • Heywood, pp 38-71

And watch the following lecture in which Dean Brittain reviews some of the key themes in the opening weeks of the course, and sounds some cautionary notes that ought always to be kept in mind when developing and implementing ways of discipling others. He uses some of the language in the Hauerwas article to tease out some of these concerns and addresses them by reminding us of some essential themes in a wider theological understanding of Christian faith and formation.

Download presentation >

Background Reading to the Lecture (Optional)

Week 5 Recording

Week 6: Learning to Connect Life and Faith


  • Virtue ethics model: narrative, telos, community, mentoring, practice and virtue
  • Theological reflection and learning, Christian formation
  • ‘Pastoral cycle’
  • Use of narrative in pastoral practice


This week’s overarching theme is “learning to connect life and faith.”

We will tackle two main topics:

  • Exploring the ‘teleological way of life’ (aka ‘virtue ethics’) as a model of formation (building on the last part of chapter 1 in Heywood’s Kingdom Learning)
  • Discussing the process of ‘theological reflection’ and its connected to formation (as described in chapter 2 of Heywood)

Before we get started with those, we will begin with a case study, or rather more of a thought experiment, that sets the scene and helps us to unpack some of the powerful ways in which we are formed as human beings. Watch the video below (and, if you like, follow along with the case study text) and then reflect on the following questions:

  • What is the goal or purpose of life that is implied here? What is the vision of ‘human flourishing’?
  • What are the means of achieving that goal? In other words, what are the practices or habits that are designed to reach the vision of flourishing?
  • What are the models or exemplars of success that are used to guide these practices and habits?
  • How is this all a shared or community experience?

After reflecting on this case study, proceed with the following short lecture in which Fr Geoffrey explores how the recent revival of (so-called) “virtue ethics” in a post-critical context might provide us with a very helpful conceptual framework for how human beings are formed in a myriad of ways. It is the framework behind much of Heywood’s presentation in Kingdom Learning (though he only briefly sketches this at the end of his chapter 1).

Download presentation >

Then, before our sixth class and discussion together, please read Heywood, chapter 2, focusing on “learning to connect life and faith” through the practice of theological reflection:

  • Heywood, chapter 2, pp 75-116

Background Reading for the Lecture (Optional)

Week 7: Leading the Learning Community

Please note that there is no in-person class this week. We will meet online on Zoom at the normal class time of 2.10pm ET.

Zoom link:


  • Experiential learning
  • Planned programmes vs learning in the life of the church
  • Church as community ‘practice’ (cf MacIntyre) integrating knowledge, skills and virtues in unified whole
  • The process of transformative learning
  • Forming a learning community
  • Cultural and intercultural aspects of community learning


Before our seventh class, please watch the following short video which reviews the pastoral cycle model in relation to related models of the learning cycle:

Week 7 Recording

Week 8: Learning for Ministry Together


  • Learning ministry as a ‘community practice’
  • Reimagining leadership, knowledge and theology to meet new challenges
  • Shared Christian praxis
  • Discussion of catechetical/Christian formation project (scope, format, and other requirements)


Before our eighth class, please read the following texts:

Information on “Belbin team roles” referred to in Heywood:

Final Catechetical Project

In this video, Fr Geoffrey provides further information about the final project for the course, incorporating some elements from chapter 5 of Jane Regan, “Adult Formation in the Faith Community” from this week’s readings.

Week 9: Liturgy: Narrative, Embodied Participation, and Formation

Week 9 Recording

Week 10: Critical Reviews of Practical Models of Christian Formation


  • Liturgy as the principal “event” of Christian formation
  • Two practical models of adult Christian education and discipling will be reviewed critically


Before our tenth class, please watch this short lecture in which Fr Geoffrey reviews what we’ve explored so far with regards to liturgy as the principal “event” (in space and time) of formation. He reports on a practical parish-level study of narrative liturgical formation and from that proposes a model for the way liturgy may work through narrative engagement.

Blog article referred to at the end of the lecture: “Liturgy and Starbucks” by Quinn Fox

After watching the video, read the following article:

And please also review the following curriculum models:

In class our discussion agenda will be as follows:

(1) Identify the strands of theology and pedagogy upon which the resource is founded, as well as the goal (telos) of the resource

(2) Using one or more of the models explored in the course, evaluate the theological/pedagogical framework

(3) Choosing one or two discrete (but representative) units from the resource, evaluate whether the materials given are consistent with both the underlying theology and pedagogy as well as the overall goal 

Week 10 Recording

To follow