By Rev. Ambrose Massaquoi (B.A., M.Div., Th.M., Ph.D. Studies)
Provost, Africa Centre for Theological Studies
In this brief article, I present a threefold framework for pursuing and establishing an educational or training agenda within the context of a Christian community of faith. Throughout, I have preferred to use the term “Christian education” to cover all forms of church-related trainings, including Sunday School and various forms of classes and seminars aimed at Christian growth. I here define Christian education as an instructional undertaking by Christians to develop Christ-like leaders for effective works of service and Christian living in both the Church and all domains of life. I outline below the threefold framework for prosecuting a Christian educational agenda.
1. The PURPOSE of Christian Education
In His parting words to His disciples, Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you” (Mt. 28:18-20 NIV). This commission to Christ’s disciples was not only for them, but also for all who would believe in Him through their message. Thus, the Church today has as much responsibility as the original disciples to fulfill the Great Commission. Considering Christ as their supreme Lord and King, Christians are to obediently take the initiative to make disciples for Him in every nation, to the extent that those they disciple would in turn go out and make many more disciples.
This is the heart of the Church’s task and, consequently, the ultimate focus of Christian education. As Graendorf (1981, 17) puts it, Christian education is a “teaching-learning process with the overall focus (purpose) on Christ the master educator’s example and the command to make disciples.” The primary purpose of Christian education then is to develop growing, Christ-like Christians who bring honor and glory to God through Spirit-led lives and witness.
It should be underscored that the purpose of Christian education as prescribed here should not be limited to spiritual maturity for life within the four walls of church. Rather, Christian education should seek to develop Christians in the other dimensions of life—social, physical, political, intellectual, etc—for a greater Christian service and impact in our world. This, indeed, is the heart of the Christian imperative to extend the Kingdom of God into the heartlands and fringes of nations. God longs for that day when Christians will be the key leaders and influencers for Christ in various domains of society as seen in the case of Biblical characters like Abraham, Moses, Joseph, Daniel, and Nehemiah.
2. The PRODUCT of Christian Education
It has already been noted that the purpose of Christian education is to capacitate the Church to make mature disciples for Christ. Thus, the end product of Christian education is a critical mass of Christians growing unto maturity in Christ (Rom. 8:29). Paul clearly expressed this when he wrote of “teaching every man with all wisdom, that we may present every man complete (mature) in Christ” (Col. 1:28). This Christian maturity unfolds in the way each disciple relates to God, other believers, him/herself, and the world. In this regard, each disciple manifests growth and maturity in four critical areas: (1) communion with God, (2) fellowship with the community of believers, (3) personal character development, and (4) commitment to fulfilling Christ’s Commission.
On the one hand, this mature product ultimately translates into a mature Church, where God works in a congregaton of Christians, inscribing His Word on their hearts, and blessing them with the various gifts of the Spirit so that they will all “attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ" (Eph 4:13).
On the other hand, the product of Christian education translates to holistic Christian leadership for the world. According to Luke 2:25, Jesus Christ “increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.” Christ’s life was holistic. He was knowledgeable in the scriptures, but was also informed about His world. He loved God the Father, but was also passionate about sinners. He taught His disciples, but also spent time helping and instructing the public, meeting both their real and felt needs. Mature disciple should emulate Christ in His various roles as priest, prophet, servant and prince (royal). As priests, disciples should be able to foster worship to and celebration of God. As prophets, they should be keenly aware of the times in which the live, address the various issues pertinent to that and call people’s attention to God. As servants, they should be able to translate their faith into acts of service to their communities and to God. As royals, disciples of Christ should take initiatives and assume leadership of both the people of God and wider communities in which they live.
3. The PROCESS of Christian Education
The transforming process of Christian education targets the whole person—intellect, emotions, and will. To see life change and maturity in each of these areas, a conscious effort must be made to form life-change objectives for each area. As the believer goes through discipleship, he/she is taught to have orthodoxy (right doctrine/knowledge), orthopathy (right passion/attitude) and orthopraxis (right practice/actions) with regard to Christ. Concerning orthodoxy, Downs (1994, 18) notes, “Part of spiritual maturity is knowledge of God and knowledge of His word.” He thinks of orthopathy as “commitment to the truth of God and a heart that delights in the truth” (1994, 19). Orthopraxis is that commitment to Christ which “translates into active obedience” (1994,19).
This transforming process should not be seen as a goal that can be necessarily achieved within a specified period of time or within formal institutions of of learning, even though both are critical aspects of it. Rather, it should be seen as a lifelong teaching-learning process which best takes place in the school of life. The process of discipleship could take place on a one-to-one basis or in a group setting. In order to achieve the best results, using the Bible as the basis of instruction, Christian education should target all three life-change areas (intellect, emotions, and will) at the same time, rather than attempt to change one and hope that it will result in changes in the other areas.
For a holistic and comprehensive development of Christians, Christian education must carefully investigate and integrate other related fields of study into its disciplines. The world in which we live is a changing world with changing needs, and Christian education should be able to address those needs. A look at the life and work of Christ easily reveals that he related his ministry to the needs of society. Similarly, Christians can greatly impact their societies by developing ministries that focus on specific needs in different communities. Therefore, though Christian education should be solidly based on Scripture, it nonetheless should be integrative enough to provide training for people from diverse backgrounds and professions.
Summary in a Diagrammatic Framework
The foregoing can be illustrated thus:
From what I have described above, and as seen in this illustration, there are three interacting fulcrums on which every fruitful enterprise in Christian education should be established, viz.: purpose, process, and product. Each of these has an interrogative mechanism which, when applied from a biblical perspective, generates objects or ends that are supposed to be characteristic of Christian education. Let me break this down in a tabular form:
|Fulcrum||Interrogative Mechanism||Objects of Christian education|
|Purpose of CE||Why should CE be done?||For Christians to grow in Christ, witness for Christ, and lead for Christ|
|Process of CE||How should CE be done?||CE should be a process that is integrative, holistic, and complete|
|Product of CE||What should be the outcome of CE?||Christians who are mature disciples, Christ-like disciples, and multiplying disciples|
This essay is, no doubt, inexhaustible on the issue of Christian education. Christian education is a wide-ranging and complex discipline with so many moving parts that cannot be captured in a few touchstones. What I have sought to do here is to lay out the contours of what many experts in the field see as the essentials involved in understanding and developing Christian education within the contexts of Christian training and ministry. Such basic framing can serve a practical purpose for would-be Christian educationists and curriculum planners, who can use the outlines presented here to develop enduring and life-changing Christian educational programs and structures for their faith communities.
Downs, Perry G. Teaching for spiritual growth: An introduction to Christian education. Harper Collins, 1994.
Graendorf, Werner C. Introduction to biblical Christian education. Moody Pub, 1981.