The End Of Christian Education

Sometimes names linger long after their relevance is gone.
Do we really believe that education (in the classic, traditional sense) can make us more like Jesus?
Theoretically, our purpose in Christian Education is to help ourselves become more like Jesus; to live as disciples no less. We are talking life transformation here. This is a major endeavor, given our tendency to prefer lesser ways of living. Perhaps we should rename our Christian Education ministries, “Come discover real life is the opposite of everything your culture tells you and then start living that way” ministry.

Or better yet, perhaps we could design our formational ministries after the learning process Jesus demonstrated with his original disciples. A person could enter this transformation process at any point; anywhere in the process, since it’s not sequentially based.

Teaching in the traditional sense was involved (cognitive information sharing), primarily through stories, parables, and examples. Jesus engaged in a teaching ministry, though the content we have is remarkably small in comparison to his three-year ministry. Evidently one doesn’t need years of study to follow Jesus.

Modeling appears to be a large portion of how Jesus shaped his followers. Regularly, the gospels describe the disciples’ surprise when Jesus would do this (welcome children) or that (engage loud paralytics). Afterwards they would question him, discovering the teaching/learning moment based on observation of the Master’s modeling.

Doing was just as much part of this process as any other kind of learning. It appears as if Jesus was a “learn by doing” kind of teacher. After the disciples saw him heal and restore people, Jesus sent them to do the same. The simple theory behind this way of teaching seems to be, “Watch what I do and then you do it.” On The Job Training (OTJ) was integrated right into the disciple development process.

Reflection on real life experience helped clarify experience and harvest the gains. Now that they were living as disciples, Jesus invited them to reflect on their life engagement (What happened when you went out two-be-two?). Through learning (teaching), observing (modeling), doing, and reflecting, these first followers became disciples.

Now, consider our Christian Education models. They appear so impotent when compared to this powerful transformational process demonstrated by Jesus in the gospels. We are producing disciples with large over-developed brains perched on small under-developed bodies. How much more does our understanding need to grow before we integrate modeling, learning, and reflecting into our disciple development processes? Where are apprenticing, mentoring, experimenting, and celebrating located in our models? Could it be that these are too dangerous; knowing our resistance to living in the Way of Jesus is directly confronted through these other forms of development? Or is it just too much trouble…maybe we are content doing church as we have known it? Either way, can we at least retire the phrase “Christian Education?” Instead, let’s engage in Christian Formation, or better yet, Disciple Development. These process names make room for action and life transformation. If becoming like Jesus is actually our calling, can we engage in anything less?

Next week’s e-news will describe another image for Disciple Development – The Jesus Dojo.

Mark Tidsworth, President, PLA