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Lesson 9: Modern Religious Education Methods

Religious education has changed drastically during the last 100 years. During the early 1999’s it consisted mainly of a Sunday School program that was aimed a children. During the 1950’s the role expanded to include programs for youth and young families. Now Christian education has moved into self-help programs,
financial seminars, leadership training, new member orientation, and a variety of other training opportunities.

The modern church has divided and subdivided its educational systems. Models and delivery methods differ from congregation to congregation. No one model will work in all situations. However, the basis of Christian education should always be to bring people to a personal relationship with Christ and to nurture them in spiritual growth.

In the book Christian Education Made Easy, Howard Hanchey states there are five components in every program of successful Christian education.
    1. The nine-month school year has to be broken into manageable parts.
    2. Christian Education needed to be treated as a celebration.
    3. The Bible needs to have an important place in whatever written curriculum is used.
    4. The more everyone in the church is involved, the more likely the program is to be successful.
    5. God’s ministry has to be valued as the primary ministry.

Look at these five components and tell me why they influence a church’s religious education program.
In the same book Hanchey lists four other factors that deserve the attention of religious educators.

First, religious education must have a mission perspective. This mission perspective rejoices not in abstract ideas and study about God but in action that helps others come to know God. There are usually two mind-sets in every church. One is a mission mind-set and the other is maintenance mind-set. A church with a maintenance mind-set is primarily a task-centered church. Leadership in this type of congregation spends time worrying
about conservation and keeping the programs running. They worry about building and grounds, organization charts, constitutions, and policy handbooks.

The mission mind-set plans and organizes. However, it is concerned with people more than tasks. Tasks, buildings, grounds, constitutions, and organizational charts are the instruments by which people are reached and taught for Jesus.

Second, this mission perspective is energized by the study of the Bible. The Bible supports all that we do as religious educators. A good understanding of the Scripture will help us stay focused on our call from God.

Third, successful programs of religious education pay careful attention to the development of a goal for the year. There are priority concerns, goals and action plans. It is better to do a few things well than to do a multitude of things poorly.

Fourth, the size of a congregation makes a difference in Sunday morning religious education. Big and small churches express needs differently. (p. 8-9)

Worship and the Educational Ministry
Worship is seen by many as the focal point of church activities, with the sermon as the focal point of worship. While preaching is essential to the Christian experience, it does not provide all that we need. Proclaiming and witnessing should be a natural outgrowth of worship. Ministering to the ill, hopeless, hungry, lonely, poor, and abandoned is a vital part of the church’s function. However, ministry does not usually come naturally. The education programs of the church under gird all of these ministry efforts. Worship is much more meaningful if the worshiper knows something about the One being worshipped. The symbols and language of Christianity must be explained for them to be fully beneficial.

Proclaiming and witnessing are strengthened by education. We do not have to be Biblical scholars in order to tell others the truth about Jesus. However, we are better witnesses if we have prepared our selves. I Peter 3:15 states, “Always be prepared to make a defense to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence”. Witness training is one of the most important parts of religious education.

Religious education enriches the minister who is engaged in meeting needs. Through education, we can learn skills that open doors to helping real people in a real world.

A core concept about the church is that it is a group of people on mission for God. It is at the center of God’s redemptive work. Religious education supports and informs all the other functions of the institutionalized church.

It has also been misused by the church. The purpose of religious education is not to make “good Baptists” or “good Methodists” or “Good Catholics, or “good whatever denomination “you happen to be.

Thomas Groome makes this point in his book Christian Religious Education: Sharing Our Story and Vision by quoting Karl Rahner. Rahner believes, “Christianity is not an indoctrination into certain conditions or facts or realities which are always the same, but is the proclamation of a history of salvation, of God’s sacrifice and revelatory activity on men and with men.” (P. 264)

The point is that the Christian church is mandated by God to engage in making present the Kingdom of God and in transforming people into followers of Christ Jesus. When we recognize our church members as participants in a historical revolution, we will
approach them as valuable parts of God’s missionaries to a lost world.

Christian education is no longer the responsibility of just the Minister of Education. All aspects of church experience should teach. Every leader must be an educator. Every church leader must understand their responsibility as a follower of Christ.

The bottom line according to Howard Hanchey in Christian Education Made Easy is that when God’s ministry and mighty acts are celebrated in story, worship and play, Christian’s faith takes an increasing shape in our lives, and religious education assumes the shape of mission. (P. 14).