Ideas That Work: “Hot Off the Press”
by Mary Holder Naegeli

reNews, Spring 2003

Over a year ago, I started an adult Sunday school class called “Hot Off the Press.” The idea was to engage in discussion of world and national events from a faith perspective. My agenda has been to model and teach “ordinary” Christians how to think, in a world that often values feelings more than rationality. Each week I bring a news story that begs for a Christian response. We read it together and brainstorm the issues it raises. We then consider what God might say about the situation and what actions we might take in response. We’ve talked about the Palestinian/Israeli question, human cloning, religion in political life, parenting issues, just war, and “What would Jesus drive?” I have been encouraged by the development of these folks, who are revealing fewer unsubstantiated biases, asking better questions, turning to the Bible appropriately, and loving each other better.

As teacher (referee?) of this class, I’ve found myself growing in

  • the ability to judge the discussion potential of a particular news item
  • the ability to ask open-ended, thought-provoking questions
  • my willingness to follow a method that gets facts straight first, then dives in to our reaction
  • the ability to manage the diverse opinions and feelings of the class members, demonstrating Christian love and discernment
  • my commitment to remain thoroughly and faithfully biblical, while messing with the grey areas of modern culture.

Some benefits that have fueled my participation this year:

  • The preparation is somewhat easier than a content-oriented class, for someone who has just preached the previous hour
  • It has turned out to be a marvelous forum for getting to know each other, although I have studiously avoided revealing my political loyalties
  • It has required me to stay in touch with the news, especially the print media
  • It is enormously fun and stimulating

Mary Holder Naegeli is senior pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Concord, a Confessing Church in the PC(USA).

A discussion class to help Christians learn how to think Christianly

Goals for the class:

  • to participate in meaningful conversation around a current topic which begs for a Christian response
  • to learn how to establish “evidence” and find facts relevant to the situation
  • to restrain one’s reactive feelings long enough to see the merits of a “case” from different angles
  • to experience cognitive engagement up the Bloom’s Taxonomy ladder (i.e. knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, evaluation)—that is, modeling and experimenting with “how to think”
  • to discover the relevance of Christian faith to everyday life
  • to become thoughtful, biblically reflective Christians who practice their faith as a way of life

The class assumes:

  • no student homework or preparation
  • a diversity of political opinions, but basic unity around biblical authority and essentials of the faith
  • civility in discourse (modeled and enforced, as a learning experience)
  • the discussion leader will not reveal political biases
  • the facilitator will choose the discussion topic with care, using the criteria below

Criteria for Choosing an Appropriate Article

The article itself must:

  • have appeared in the last week
  • be printed and distributed during the class, with attribution
  • be short enough to be digested during a 50-minute class period.
  • provide enough facts to fuel a true discussion, but suggest the possibility of various interpretations.
  • beg for some sort of Christian response

The issue the article raises must

  • be accessible—the average churchgoer can relate to it by virtue of its fame, common experience, or imminent relevance.
  • be a “chewable bite”—while possibly “global” in scope, nevertheless focused enough to be discussed by ordinary people.
  • link to biblical content and/or theological concepts.
  • move toward a do-able personal response.

Sample publicity blurb for church bulletin:

Hot Off The Press (Engaging the Culture)
Instructor: Pastor Mary Naegeli
Fireside Room, 11 a.m.

Pastor Mary will resume her unpredictable discussion-oriented class on current events. She picks a newspaper or magazine article from the previous week and brings biblical input to help us shape a Christian response or challenge our thinking. It’s fun, interactive, provocative, and you never know what’s going to happen! Suggestions for current topics are always welcome, and guests can drop in any time.

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