By Brian Franks
There are several misconceptions about Christian Education out there. Below are five of the most common ones.
#1—CHRISTIAN EDUCATION IS JUST ABOUT MEMORIZING INFORMATION
Some think Christian education is just about memorizing and repeating information about God and religion. However, this does not describe any good Christian education, whether in the local church or at a ministry training college. Good Christian education is not about stating information and students parroting it back for a grade. Rather, proper Christian Education is transformational.
The goal is for the student to be transformed into a mature believer in God who understands their calling and gifts. The student should be able to live an effective and faithful life before God and humanity as a result of their Christian education.
Jesus’ example with his disciples clearly shows such an intention. He didn’t spew a bunch of facts and require memorization of charts; instead, he pressed his hearers towards the fundamental issue of knowing God and being aligned to His will.
Jesus exposited scripture, told parables, explained nuances, performed miracles, debated, made judgments in real life situations, predicted his death, and evangelized. Through these things he taught his disciples to see God, see things God’s way, and follow him. This is the goal of any good Christian Education—bring them to God!
#2—CHRISTIAN EDUCATION IS NOT NECESSARY
Some believe Christian Education is not necessary. All we need to do is read our Bible and pray, and we’ll know everything we need to know. Indeed, it is possible to do it this way, but even the Bible reveals examples where simply reading the Bible is not enough.
The Pharisees and other religious leaders of the first century surely knew the scriptures, yet the Messiah didn’t fit their ideas of who he should be and what he should do. They seem to have willfully rejected him because Jesus’ teachings were often the antithesis of theirs.
The average seeker of God today probably isn’t a Pharisee; so, consider others who benefited greatly from having a good teacher:
- Joshua had Moses.
- Elisha had Elijah.
- the company of prophets had Elisha.
- the returned exiles had Ezra.
- the Ethiopian Eunuch had Phillip when he didn’t understand the scriptures he read.
- Cornelius had Peter.
- the disciples of John the Baptist had Paul show up and fill the gaps in their understanding about the Spirit of God.
- Timothy and Titus had Paul.
God clearly and repeatedly sends teachers to teach others in depth. Consider Ephesians 4:11-12, “God gave… teachers to equip the saints for the work of ministry.” Some of these examples were one-time encounters set up by the Spirit; others were ongoing relationships. Some were one-on-one, others were groups. In any case, it is rare that anyone ever achieved their mature faith by themselves.
The reality of all these teachers above is they were trained; they were educated in some way. Often, they went through multiple phases of education, as God led.
#3—CHRISTIAN EDUCATION IS NOT BIBLICAL
Some believe Christian education isn’t biblical. They say there were no colleges in Jesus’ day, so we don’t need them now. Or they might say there is no command that says: “And you shall go to college and get an education.” The model of colleges today was invented much later than Jesus’ time. Sabbath school was invented even later.
However, various methods of intentional training of disciples have always existed. Some of these examples were already mentioned: the school of the prophets that Elijah and Elisha oversaw; priests and Levities being trained and then teaching the people so they can understand the ways of God. There are also examples when leaders taught evil and led many astray in their own ideas. This shows us even more the need to teach properly.
Consider also that the book of Deuteronomy records Moses teaching the new generation what they need to know about God now that they have grown up and are about to enter the Promised Land. This and many other passages do command the people of God to instruct others in the ways of God. This is Christian Education! It comes in a variety of forms.
#4—CHRISTIAN EDUCATION IS NOT VALUABLE
Many times, Christian Education at a college is derided as not having any value. “You get crazy ideas and a piece of paper.” What is odd is few will argue that the Christian Education administered at the local church level in Sabbath schools is not valuable. People don’t make this argument no matter how little effort is put into its design, no matter how little training or gifting the teacher has, and no matter how few students. Indeed, the work of the local Sabbath school teacher is of great value!
How much value then should be placed on a Christian institution which intentionally reviews its curriculum with many levels of input and revisions, and seeks out and hires the most gifted teachers they can find to instruct students eager enough to learn, they will alter their schedules and life to attend?
To be sure there are Christian institutions that run amok of such principles and are not valuable for the student. However, we should never take the worst of something and substitute that it represents the whole. There are Christian Education ministries that honor God and transform their students into mature followers of Christ. That is of inestimable value!
#5—CHRISTIAN EDUCATION JUST HAPPENS
The final misconception of Christian Education is that it just happens. No planning or thought is required. Everything of value will be transferred by mere physical proximity. The old saying applies: “just standing in church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than standing in a barn makes you a horse.” Of course, something will be passed on with such a casual approach, but there is no telling what that might be.
Many casual experiences of Christianity seem to leave the uninitiated confused and maybe even hurt by their lack of understanding. Does it seem like Jesus was intentional about what he said, showed, and taught his disciples, or does he seem to just wing it? Consider His act of foot washing in John 13, or virtually any part of the Last Supper recorded in the gospels. Likewise, Paul writes letters to instruct the churches he has worked with in matters specific to them and their contexts. There is a clear intention to teach!
This is how any good Christian Education program, whether college or local ministry, should work: with intention. A student will learn more under the direction of a teacher, vetted by others, determined to have experience and knowledge about a given topic, who lives a life honoring God, than not having a teacher at all. Christian Education is marked by many intentional choices to help form disciples.
It should be clear that any good Christian Education program is about transformation, is needed, is valuable, is biblical, and intentional. Young believers should seek out whatever form of Christian Education available to them, and churches should strive to invest in their education ministries to better equip the saints for the work of ministry.