A History of Christian Education (1993) by James E. Reed and Ronnie Prevost was required reading for my Foundations of Christian Education class for Gateway Seminary. In 377 pages, the book walks you from ancient Greece to the twentieth century via the path of education. Within each time period, the text focuses on the purpose, context, content, and purpose of education at that time, as well as they key players in the field.
At the end of the journey, while there is a great deal to be gathered and learned, there was a common theme. Whenever Christian education became about more than a transformative relationship with God, it became less effective - to a varying degree. In each time period, great men and women sought to teach their children and families the principles of the Scriptures. However, each time their focus was misplaced. Either the focus became the physical Bible itself (Medieval), the betterment of the people (Renaissance), or basic survival (Ancient Greece).
Christian education today is still fighting this battle. Christian education today takes place in three primary venues: the home, the church, and private schools or universities. I have the privilege of working in a church that deeply values good Christian education for the people who attend. As the director of Children’s ministry, I have the unique task of making sure that our church's children receive the education and training they need.
So what is that education? I have two goals for each child who comes into my classroom.
Goal 1: They know who Jesus is and that He loves them.
Goal 2: They have the skills and resources they need to be able to always remember that.
We use a method that is based on purposeful relationship-building and purposeful training. The training we use is a Bible study curriculum by LifeWay Publishers called Explore the Bible. The curriculum does a child level-appropriate study of the Bible, book by book. It also encourages students to learn how to use their Bibles and to memorize Scripture.
The other unique feature is that this curriculum is multi-generational. As the home is a key place of learning, it is important that parents are able to communicate with the children about what they are learning. On Sunday morning, our adults are learning the same biblical passages as the children - at their own age-appropriate level.
As for the relationship portion of our method, that comes through invested time. It means getting to know each of your students. It means celebrating their victories and mourning with them through their defeats. We do this several ways.
1: Engage with their school. Our church partners with the local elementary school, which the majority of our students attend. We help with prep at the beginning of the school year, as well as with holiday meals and other needs the school may have. As a teacher, I make a point to help with any students fundraisers as well, if they have them.
2. Prayer. Each day we share the requests and praises from our week, and we celebrate and pray together.
3. Birthdays. This is an easy way to let the students know you care. This can be done by sending a card or by celebrating on the Sunday closest to their birthday.
The lesson I learned from A History of Christian Education was to allow for relationships. This cannot be done without the Holy Spirit in the lives of the learners. Whether the learners are 8 years old or 80, the true goal of relationship through transformation can only be accomplished by the work of the Holy Spirit in them. Therefore, it is our job as educators to provide the best venue and plant the best seeds we can, so that the Holy Spirit can work.
Finally, we are to help along the journey as learners become disciples who make disciples, or as we say: "Kick It Disciple Style!"
Children's Ministries Director
Riviera Baptist Church