Make your own free website on

Lesson 7: Theories of Learning

Teaching is what one person does to or for another. It is a process in which a person engages in actions intended to help another person learn. Learning is what a person does for himself—both with and without a teacher. All religious education theories of learning are based on the idea that acceptance of Jesus, as Lord will bring about change.

Religious education goes far beyond a specified set of actions carried out in a classroom. It is a special sense of identity, a set of relationships, a lifestyle centered in an urgent desire to see persons grow in Christ.

The Bible Teaching Program
Sunday School, Bible Study, Small Group Time, Bible Teaching and Learning are all terms related to religious education. They describe a specific time and place where groups of people join in examining and interpreting the Scripture. The Bible is the focal point in religious education. There may be support curriculum but the Bible is the ultimate text. Every philosophy, organization and educational practice must have a strong biblical base or it falls short of being religious education. The Bible teaching program is the sum total of all that a church does to provide Bible study for the masses.

Sunday School
Sunday School began in England in the late 1700s when Robert Raikes hired teachers for impoverished children. The movement quickly came to the United States and became a force for social reform. By 1800, Sunday Schools could be found in New York, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and New Jersey. The main purpose was to teach moral and ethical lessons to children.

By 1800, Sunday School expanded its emphasis to include religious education and evangelism. The first national Sunday School program began in 1824. The purpose of the American Sunday School Union was to organize evangelize, and civilize. The Union trained leadership published literature and founded thousands of Sunday Schools by 1880.

Sunday School grew to be the teaching and evangelizing arm of the church. It began as a means of educating British children but 100 years later it was reaching every age group.

By 1900 about 30 percent of all new church members in American were introduced to church through the Sunday School. For two centuries Sunday School has been an affective means for teaching the truths of the Bible to all age groups.

This does not mean that Sunday Schools have not changed and grown. Effective Sunday Schools have adapted to the needs of changing generations. Archaic methods will kill any religious education process.

Sunday School should not be a long and boring lecture in an uncomfortable metal folding chair in a tiny hot room.

In the book Effective Evangelistic Churches Thom Rainer
Lists four general characteristics of a Successful Sunday School
  1. Sunday School includes systematic teaching of Scripture.
    It has some level of accountability and organization in place to insure that such teaching
    is offered to everyone.
  2. Sunday School gives regular Bible teaching for all ages. This is the “cradle to grave” concept.
  3. Sunday School provides small group ministry and fellowship within each class.
    Multiple small groups may be necessary in larger classes.
  4. Sunday School ensures regular outreach beyond the people in the class.

Notice that Sunday School was not defined as an organization meeting at a certain time, day, or place. Even though most Sunday Schools still meet in a Sunday morning format before the worship service, this is not the only way to do Sunday School.

When I was Director Missions in Tucson Arizona, most of the members of one of the Hispanic churches in the association worked in the pecan groves in the area. They worked seven days a week, usually from 6:00 AM until noon. The evening service had three times the attendance as the Sunday morning service. So Sunday School was held in the evening.

American Sunday Schools are one of the largest voluntary enterprises in the nation. The vast majority of Sunday School teachers are laity who have agreed to study and teach. It is estimated that up to 90 percent of new church members in evangelical churches have been introduced to the church through Sunday School or a small group study.

A study by Dean R. Hoge, Benton Johnson, and Donald A Luidens entitled Vanishing Boundaries: The Religion of Mainline Protestant Baby Boomers (1994) concluded that mainline churches are declining because we have failed to provide or
emphasize regular biblical training for all age groups. An entire generation grew up without comprehending biblical truths, the uniqueness of the Christians faith and the demands of discipleship. They had no anchor to hold them. Millions have left the major Christian denominations to join false faiths.

Our affirmation of the truth of the Scripture is of little value if we do not train our members in that truth. The church that fails to educate all generations is headed toward decline and possible extinction.

The challenge for those in charge of the church’s religious education program is how to sustain a ministry that will realistically challenge and develop mature believers and at the same time effectively reach an unchurched person, assimilate them into the body; equip them to be healthy, functional and productive believers.

Although churches may on the surface all appear to be alike, this is not reality. I grew up in churches that were mostly made up of military families. We were a mobile group. The pastor could not count on us to stay for more than a few months at a time. The education program of these churches was in short four to six week
cycles. These pastors seldom preached through a book of the Bible. Topical sermons were the norm.

Think about your church. What makes it different from neighboring congregations? What do you do better than other churches? What do you need to improve in your religious education program?

Today’s adults are too busy and under too much pressure to cheerfully give their time to activities that do not give result. Going to church because it is the right thing to do is an attitude of yesteryear. We must be relevant and dynamic in our programs of religious education. We are competing with television, video games, computers, theaters, theme parks and a host of other educational and fun activities. It is essential that we provide a diversified, streamlined schedule that does not compromise the integrity of the Gospel but does appeal to our sophisticated contemporary society.

Small group studies that meet specific needs have become a vital part of religious education programs. The objective is to equip people to live every aspect of their lives in a Christ like manner. Each meeting includes motivation, instruction, personal application, fellowship, praise, worship, and prayer. There is ongoing accountability and encouragement. The participants are challenged in a more intimate setting that relates to their learning readiness. These groups are usually lay led and have a prescribed topic or curriculum.

Relationships do not normally develop in large groups. They develop in one-on-one settings and in small groups.

Just as businesses listen to their customer needs, the religious education program of our church has an obligation to listen to its members and prospects. In this way we can develop a ministry that will be worth their time, energy and effort to attend.

The ultimate need of every person is to have a personal, life-changing encounter with Jesus. The religious education program of every church must focus its teaching on this premise.

Many people stumble through the doors of our churches after a week of being emotionally and physically beaten up. They need encouragement. They hope for a kind word. They seek answers to life’s mysteries. They want to leave their Sunday experience feeling better than when they came. They need a sanctuary, a place to replenish. It is difficult to meet the needs of these consumers. They are not ready to minister. They are hoping that someone will minister to them. Religious Education plays a focal point in helping burdened humanity.

The role of ministers of education includes organizing, implementing, and evaluating a comprehensive program of education for the church. One way to expand the educational ministry of your church is to understand that people are hurting, lonely, afraid, angry, frustrated, insecure, self-centered and greedy. They are also generous, loving, kind, joyous, caring, and seeking. Education in the church must speak to the human condition. We must expand the leadership base of our church by finding those positive mature Christians and equip them to establish a learning atmosphere. Vocational ministers cannot save the world alone.

We must organize classes and departments to provide experiences consistent with learning readiness. For example, a new convert may feel uncomfortable if dropped into an existing class of long time Christians. We need to help our people be comfortable. This does not mean that we don’t provide top quality learning experiences. However, it is beneficial to look at grouping beyond age, generation or life stations. One alternative method of assigning people to classes is by categories such as seeker, attendee, or follower. It is essential to know the spiritual level of the people to whom we minister.

In the book, Facing Critical Issues in Education one education minister states, “Each Bible study session must be Christ centered, biblically based, need oriented, and life focused. Ministry and teaching that embrace the resources of the world to the exclusion of biblical revelation will develop dysfunctional followers who are a mile wide and an inch deep. These converts will have great difficulty in responding to the disappointments of life and the valleys of despair that ultimately impact every believer’s life. We ought never to lose sight of our goal—to develop mature,
functional believers who can respond biblically rather than react by the world’s standards.”-

I have already said that the system of one teacher standing up in front of a group and lecturing on a scripture passage should be reevaluated. Through small groups we can develop a structure that allows dynamic interaction and the establishment of personal relationships and group intimacy. Teaching styles should incorporate a variety of resources and techniques. Our programs of education should be interesting and informative. Leaders must relate and apply biblical revelation, doctrinal distinctives as life lessons. People no longer want to study the Bible. They want to learn how the Bible can help them keep their children off drugs and away from premarital sex. They want to know how a relationship with Jesus will strengthen their marriage. They want to how to talk to God. They want to know how they can be a Christian and not be run over by an immoral world. King Jehoshaphat and the Prophet Daniel are not important to them unless they have practical application to real life experience.