The Case for Christian Education
Dr Rod Edwards
It’s not rocket science! We agree! Learning is crucial for vocations – and life itself. We need educated kids. And adults. What about church, though?
“Go…teaching…” So said Jesus. Really? Is the “Great Commission” (that clarion call for evangelism and discipleship) also a call to teach? Obedient to “Go into all the world…” many have committed to Christian service. Their goal? To share the Good News. To see discipled, baptised, and obedient followers of Jesus Christ. But how? How is this goal achieved? What is the process? Jesus himself demystifies this – he says it is by teaching. Teachers. Teaching. Learners. Learning. “Go…make disciples…baptising…and teaching them…” So – “Go…teaching…”
Confronted with the supernatural work of the Spirit, the miracle of birth into the family of God, and power encounters somehow the idea of education can seem inferior. The allure of the spectacular can eclipse the “ordinary”, the seemingly pedestrian processes of learning. And in societies captured by the immediate, the quick, the now, the time needed for understanding and growth can be irksome.
Yet Jesus himself was Rabbi, Teacher. And more: Master Teacher. Not all of his students quickly grasped his teaching. Some failed the test. Others were confused, bewildered, and many just misunderstood. They needed correction. Patient guidance. Further instruction. Clarification. Time. Time for growth and understanding. Time to learn.
Education is not modern. Teaching and teachers have deep biblical roots. In the Old Testament prophets, priests, and Levites were teachers, the “Wise” taught, so did parents and grandparents. Even the nation of Israel was charged to teach other nations. Laws, instruction, symbolic actions, altars, monuments, music and song, and popular culture as well as the theological writings that today form part of our Bible – all are concerned to educate. Not only the young (“Bring up a child…”) but also adults are the focus of education.
Christian education has this Old Testament heritage. But there’s more! Jesus modelled teaching, guidance, instruction, training, equipping, discipleship, education. He used visuals and analogies, questions and riddles, parables and stories, sermons and reflection. He taught. In the same way the whole of the New Testament communicates a compelling charge that applies today – to us all, young and old – the charge to grow, to learn, to be instructed and taught, to understand, to know.
The mantle falls on Christian education. Where this fails there is weakness. The critique of the church as “a mile wide and an inch deep” reflects this. Shallow thinking has a consequence: weak discipleship, unquestioning adoption of cultural lifestyles, superficial beliefs, over-dependence on professionals, insularity, unresponsiveness to the weak and the poor, carelessness toward the planet, failure to address injustice, moral compromise, and functional secularism – these challenge the gospel and our faith. The call to “be strong in the Lord” requires depth.
Depth takes time. Depth requires comprehension. Depth is an attitude, one that initiates investigation and ignites a desire to understand and then to communicate biblical responses to our challenges and dilemmas. Depth inspires. Depth demands educated leaders.
In the complexities facing both emerging countries like Myanmar and post Christian societies like New Zealand, the urgency of Jesus’ command to “Go…teaching…” has never been greater. We need leaders who understand how we learn and how we understand, leader-educators who enable understanding in others, who nurture growth both in grace and in knowledge. The call is for education that is Christian – for Christian educators who know both content and process. Who will nurture depth? Those who will “Go” and “Go…teaching…”
Rod Edwards trained as a primary school teacher, taught in Taranaki, studied at BTI (now Laidlaw College), and Auckland University. He was student dean and lecturer in Christian education at the Bible College of NZ and following doctoral studies in education became HOD of practical theology. Post retirement he has consulted and lectured at CLTC (PNG), MEGST/KCBC (Myanmar), and SAIACS (India) as part of LeaDev-Langham’s short term “Adventures” for Kiwi Consultants. A widower, he has two adult children and three grandchildren. He is an elder at Massey Community Church, Auckland.