By Allen Curry. Financial advisors often recommend that people have a number of utilities or blue chip stocks in their portfolios. Brokers reason that although these stocks may not be the most glamorous, they are the most consistent performers. They don’t always go up as high as the glamour stocks and seldom do they drop as precipitously.
In many ways, the ministry of Christian education in the church is a blue chip ministry. It certainly does not have the glamour of some other ministries in the church. Nevertheless, it is a consistent performer in almost all congregations.
In most churches there is no other ministry that involves as many people. When one considers Sunday school, youth ministries, Bible studies, etc., it is easy to see how extensive this ministry is in most congregations.
The ministry of Christian education affords more people the opportunity to learn to exercise their gifts and serve others in the context of biblical ministry. The vast number of tasks that must be done in the areas of teaching and organization in any Christian education program involves many people. These people are engaged in Christian service.
Christian education also provides the most effective means for preserving people’s relationships with the church. The Search Institute did a major study on what was the most important variable in churches where people continued in the church from childhood through adulthood. To no one’s surprise the answer was Christian education.
A large PCA congregation did an informal survey of where people felt they were most influenced in their Christian life. Again, no one was surprised to find that it was in the Christian education ministry they received as young people.
Probably few people within the context of reformed churches doubt the usefulness of the educational ministry of the church. Traditionally these churches have emphasized educational ministry. Nevertheless, it is often a ministry that is under-utilized.
One of the reasons for this is the churches sometimes lose their focus in dealing with Christian education. All too many people look at Christian education from the maintenance point of view. They don’t expect very much from it, they aren’t sure how it got started, but since it’s there they feel they should keep it going. Although this could be described as a shameful attitude, it is still surprising how well Christian education continues to function within churches, even with this attitude.
Responding to God’s Revelation of Himself
How does one maintain focus in Christian education? First of all, it’s a good idea to have some notion of what Christian education is. Let me suggest that one way to view Christian education is the people of God responding to God’s revelation of Himself to them. If God says to His people, “I want you to know me and I am going to show you who I am,” it stands to reason that we should study and learn who He is. In its simplest form, perhaps this is how we should see Christian education.
A church that centers its Christian education ministry on understanding God and His revelation to His people will certainly reap major dividends. The repeated and sophisticated use of the Word as a means of grace transforms churches. People who are saturated with the Word are more likely to love God and their neighbors and to engage in acts of Christian service.
In churches where the people learn to look at the world from the point of view of the Creator, there most likely will be people who engage in social, political and cultural pursuits that honor Christ.
Readers of this article are probably saying to themselves that this is not new and they are right. It may be rare but it definitely is not new. That is the point. Recapturing the focus of Christian education as discovering and appropriating God’s revelation of Himself forms the church into a Christian body where the essentials of the Christian religion are prized and practiced.
A Covenant Phenomenon
Christian education also should be seen as a covenant phenomenon. Just as one of the major ways in which God reveals Himself to us is through His Word, the book of the Old Covenant and New Covenant, so He desires for His people to know Him within the special relationship that He has as the God of the covenant. He has given us these books of the Old and New Covenant to help us understand who He is and how we should serve Him. Most of all, the covenant calls us to relationship with God.
So also should Christian education. The study and learning that goes on always should be to the end that we see that we are related to God through our Savior Jesus Christ. This is where our education has its distinctively Christian identity.
If our people learn to live covenantally, in relationshipto God, dramatic results occur in the church. Families see themselves as responsible to God for the rearing of their children. That responsibility is not onerous but a privilege.
Again one is reminded of the strength of the reformed tradition where children were trained in homes where Jesus was honored and then went into the world to honor Jesus. A covenantal Christian education ministry can accomplish the same things today it did a century ago in our nation, in Scotland and in the Netherlands. One of the major differences in family practice between that day and ours is that the parents thought of themselves as responsible to God for the nurture of their children. They were taught this in church and obeyed the teaching in their homes. One of the results was a stable family life. Almost everyone who reads this article has probably bemoaned the decline of the stable Christian family not only in the society at large but also in the church. Covenantal education addresses that problem and offers a solution. I am not being simplistic. I recognize that there are differences between the society of today and that of a century ago. Nevertheless, the family of a century ago was steeped in the Christian notions of being related to God and making sure the children of those homes recognized and prized the relationship.
Christian education also is a kingdom enterprise. This is one of the ways that we serve God by establishing His hegemony over all of life. The heavens and the earth declare the glory of God. As people come to learn this, they come to be more effective citizens of the kingdom. Because Christian education is a kingdom ministry, we should have great confidence in its efficacy in God’s economy.
In a society committed to pluralistic relativism and to no other values, Christians struggle to understand and to propagate their faith. But if we have a kingdom focus in our educational ministry, then people will understand that they live in enemy territory and the enemy has a different, really contradictory, value system. Followers of King Jesus need to be taught how to prize being right without being arrogant. A kingdom perspective in our educational ministry enables us to give people a framework in which they can battle those who disagree with them without denying that their enemies are image bearers of God.
Central to our Lord’s teaching was the announcement that the kingdom of God was at hand. He ushered in the kingdom and rules now as King over all the earth. Christian education focuses on helping people to understand this truth and equips them to implement it in their lives. We dare not deny that the battle is real. And if the battle is real then people need to be equipped to fight the battle. Because people are ignorant of the differences between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of the world, they are like soldiers in a battle who have only blanks for ammunition. If a Christian educational ministry does not equip people to do battle against the evil one then it has failed to accomplish one of the central thrusts of the enterprise.
Establish His Relationships
Within the covenant context we not only develop our relationship to God through our Savior Jesus Christ, but we also establish our relationship to the brothers and sisters in the church and to those people outside. As members of the covenant we learn how to serve our great King and how to do battle with those outside of the kingdom.
No one should be surprised at how closely related Christian education is to the center of what the church does. I would argue that it, therefore, ought to have a central role to play in the overall ministry of the church. That’s what I mean by getting Christian education back into focus. In many churches Christian education seems to have a place at the periphery of ministry rather than at its heart.
Some may wonder if the effort can pay the sort of dividends that have been suggested. Can we expect that a clearly focused Christian education program in the church will equip people to live as Christians in the midst of an ungodly society? I believe that the answer is yes.
Besides the arguments that can be made from the history of our tradition, there are a number of cultural reasons why Christian education can be effective in our day. All one has to do is look at his or her property tax bill to see that we are a people who expect a great deal from education and invest a great deal in it. North Americans are particularly prone to believe that personal and social problems can best be handled through the educational process. Since this is the way we think, it seems wise for the church to exploit the educational ministry to the fullest.
When people see a need, whether it be national or congregational, they frequently suggest that education is the way to address the problem. With this mindset, it seems to me that Christian education ought to occupy a center part of any congregation’s life.
Since people are more likely to get involved in Christian education than any other ministry of the church, it stands to reason that we should make sure that it is properly focused. Because more people learn how to use their God-given gifts for service of the Savior in the educational ministry of the church, does it not make sense to make sure that there is a self-conscious effort to equip them and others in accordance with the demands of the Christian faith in the church and out of it? Christian education certainly is a blue chip ministry in the church’s ministry portfolio. A church without an adequate Christian education ministry is impoverished. Christian education is always there to do its job. It deserves more than simply a maintenance mindset. If one ignores his portfolio it will probably perform adequately over a long period of time. But if one analyzes the focuses his portfolio the dividends will grow. So it is with the church. Most churches have and can continue to depend on their educational ministry to bring God’s blessing to the congregation. Why simply strive for maintenance? Why not try to bring it closer to the central focus of the ministry of the church? Even blue chip ministries need to be examined regularly and evaluated periodically.
1. Has your church done a Christian education audit recently? The article suggests a regular evaluation of that area of your church’s ministry. (CE&P has resources to help in this process.)
2. Are you, as a leader in your church, aware of how much of your church’s ministry is considered Christian education? Do the people in your church understand that?
3. What new thought or thoughts did you have in reading this article? For example: most people tend to think of education as an objective theoretical process, not as something relational and covenantal.
3. Dr. Curry states that Christian education is a key to the church’s relations, both vertically and horizontally. Can you identify ways that your education program encourages not only good understanding of the Christian faith but also building relationships in the congregation as well?
4. What is different about doing Christian education from a kingdom focus?
In the article, Curry refers to those who do Christian education mainly from a maintenance mode in contrast those who are innovative, creative, and intentional. How would you describe your church in that respect?