In the early 90’s, Search Institute, a leader and partner for organizations around the world in discovering what kids need to succeed, did a study on effective Christian education. The study is available for download online. What was clearly identified as a problem over two decades ago, continues to be a much discussed topic in meetings, at conferences, and is often seen in many online conversations. The results of this study are relevant in most congregations and parishes today.
The results were:
- Effective Christian education is the most powerful single influence congregations have on maturity of faith.
- Many of the factors needed for effectiveness in Christian education are not currently operating in large numbers of congregations.
The study went on to describe, “A need for reform in Christian education is clear. If congregations heed the call for strengthening Christian education, many of the problems now plaguing mainline denominations may be arrested, including the highly-publicized loss of members and the equally troubling problem of member inactivity.”
I don’t know about you, but the fact that the results of this study still hold true today is quite troubling to me. What steps have been taken to redefine, reinvent, and rename how we do faith formation in our congregations and parishes since this study was done over 20 years ago?
Is the change of a name or how we describe what we do without being effective making a difference? In order to be effective, we need to be successful at producing results.
Children’s Ministry in the Way of Jesus by Ivy Beckwith and David Csinos was published in 2013. John Westerhoff III wrote the foreward in this book that reveals a better understanding of how we have perceived the role of Christian educators. An excerpt from John Westerhoff III:
- Consider how mainstream Christian educators have tended to place an emphasis on reason and the intellectual way of thinking and knowing while neglecting revelation, the imagination and the intuitive way of thinking and knowing. We have neglected the centrality of the arts (dance, drama, poetry, music, and the visual arts) and replaced it with the science of technology.
- The social sciences tend to turn people into objects to study and shape. Similarly we have turned the Bible into an object for study rather than a subject that addresses us.
- Christian education as we have known it is no longer viable. David Csinos and Ivy Beckwith are aware of these challenges and in this book have begun to address them.
- By baptism, we become a Christian (noun) and then we spend the rest of our lives becoming Christian (adjective).
Suggested reading from the past and the present:
The Teaching Church: Moving Christian Education to Center Stage (Abingdon Press, 1993) by Eugene C. Roehlkepartain, is a must read for congregational leaders working in faith formation. Based on the Effective Christian Education study completed by the Search Institute in the late 1980’s, the conclusions drawn by the author are as valid today as they were 20+ years ago.
Children's Ministry in the Way of Jesus (Intervarsity Press 2013) by Ivy Beckwith and David Csinos proposes a new way of thinking for modern churches—they suggest that children can contribute to our theological understandings, as well as invest in and practice Biblical justice just like adult church members. Here is a unique resource that explores children's ministry in light of true spiritual formation and discipleship.