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Lesson 2 Definitions of Christian Education & Religious Education

Christians should be strong proponents of education both in churches and in academic settings.
As you examine education in the church, you will find writers and teachers use the terms
Christian Education and Religious Education interchangeably. This is a mistake.

Christian education usually refers to academic settings as opposed to secular or
church directed education. As local church programs of education developed, they were called
religious education. This helps to provide a designation that differentiates between the two
educational settings. This class is dedicated to a study of religious education in a Christian
education setting. A basic premise for our study is that each of you in called by God to ministry.

In the book A Fish Out of Water George Barna writes:
“As followers of Christ, you and I are called to emulate Jesus’ life and practice his teaching.
Jesus instructed his followers—including us to be ‘the salt of the earth’.
If the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything,
except to be thrown out and trampled by men. Salt is often preached of as a preservative.
Salt is also an agent of change. For instance, sprinkle it on meat and it will change
the meat’s flavor, color, texture and shelf life. Spread it on highways and city streets
after a snowstorm and it will radically change the snow—into mush.
Salt is an aggressive instrument of transformation.”

Most Christians do not have Barna’s understanding of their call to ministry.
They must be taught that Christianity is a dynamic life transforming relationship with the living God.
That is the task of education in the church.

Barna’s research has determined that the most dynamic effects of Christian leadership
do not come from the efforts of pastors nor do they emanate from activities that happen
on the church campus. The impact of Christianity is not primarily felt through the words
and behavior of the institutionalized church and its ordained clergy. It comes in the day-to-day ideas,
conversations, choices and activities of individual believers in the work force, the marketplace,
the halls of leisure and other public forums.

According to Lawrence O. Richards in the book A Theology of Christian Education,
“As religious educators we should insist that serious and reverent attention to Scripture is
critical for spiritual growth and health, and critical in any attempt at Christian education.” (P. 309).

Those of us involved in religious education must teach these purveyors of Christian though what is
doctrinally sound and morally right. The only right we have to be teachers of the Gospel is a call from God.
We are sinners saved by grace just as are those we serve. Good intentions and great skill do not
qualify us to lead people. God’s appointment is the requisite credential.

The teacher is a model who should not present himself/herself as an authority but as one
who is subject, with the learner, to the authority of God. The teacher will learn with the student.
The teacher is a guide and mentor.

The church educator will serve as an example to the student. He/she will build a personal relationship
with the student. The student will know the teacher as a person as well as someone with information
|to purvey. Much of religious education will take place in a formal classroom setting.
However, there will also be opportunities for interchange and learning outside the class.

Our understanding of “teacher” has shifted from an organizational role to that
of an interpersonal function. Teaching in a church context is more than a job.
Most of academic secular and Christian education is concerned with helping students know
what their teachers know. Education in the church is concerned with helping people become
what their teacher are. Religious education has broken out of the classroom.
We need to explore dynamic ways to affect the world with our message. We must find ways
of modeling rather than indoctrinating.

Lawrence Richards states:
The Servant teacher does and by doing sets the example.
The Servant teacher is among the people encouraging them to know him.
The servant teacher through his/her ministry equips others to minister as well (p.151)

There are millions of people young and old who are struggling to understand why they exist
and what life is all about. Religious education is about pointing these lost souls toward
a lifelong pursuit of God’s will for their life. Life and death are basic Bible themes.

From God’s early warning to Adam, “the day that you eat of it,
you shall die:” (Gen. 2:17),
on through the final invitation to ‘take the free gift
of the water of life” Rev. 22”17),
death and life are portrayed vividly as realities
to be experienced here and now, and as ultimate realities stretching beyond time.
(A Theology of Christian education P. 11)
        
In Foundations for a Philosophy of Christian Education, Lawrence C. Little suggests
that those engaged in various Christian education ministries seldom “understand the
real nature of their work and the full significance of what they are attempting to do (p. 5).

A simple open-ended list of questions asked of teachers and leaders in your church can demonstrate
the truth of his thinking.
        Some helpful questions are:
    Each Sunday I try to….
    I use the Bible in my ministry because…
    I’ll be satisfied that God has used me if….
    The reason I teach is…
    The purpose of the church is….

In Anthony’s Foundations of Ministry, he lists five misconceptions
of ministry.
1. Ministry is not a social agency. Part of the church’s responsibility is
to meet social needs. We provide food, clothing, housing, and counseling. The mandate to provide
social ministry is found in James 1: 27 and Matthew 25:35-36. However, there are many government
and private agencies that do a superb job in providing social needs. We are not a bunch
of “do-gooders” who help others out of the goodness of our heart.
2. The church is not primarily an educational institution. Even though this class is
a study of education in the church, the main purpose of the church is not just to educate.
Remember there is a difference in Christian education and religious education.
Our religious education programs are to lead people to a live changing relationship with Christ
and to mature believers.
3. The church is not a program. Many churches have formed their entire
ministry system around programs. Sunday School, Vacation Bible School, Youth Programs,
Mothers Day Out, and a multitude of other programs become the end in themselves.
Programs are means by which the church evangelizes and educates.
  1. Ministry is not a building. The ministry of the church should
never be limited to a physical structure. The church is more than the building.
The church is a dynamic growing organism. It is the people who have accepted Jesus as Lord.
Buildings contribute to the ministry of the church. However, it is incorrect to view the building
as the ultimate purpose of ministry.