Lecture 2: Misconceptions
I. Christian Education equals Sunday School
As we think about these three commitments that need to be reaffirmed, one of the reasons that we are taking such an approach is that we need to address some misconceptions that have crept into the church in many respects. There are a number of these misconceptions that are well in place which are troubling the church. After this, we will try to get a more biblical conception of the faith.
One of the misconceptions is that Christian Education equals Sunday school. If we spoke to a number Christian Education leaders, pastors and churches and ask them to describe for us the Christian Education ministry, that discussion would often begin and end with Sunday school. There is something very troubling about that on a very practical level. If the teaching ministry of the church equals Sunday school, then we could ask the pastors how many of their people are involved in Sunday school. Often those numbers are very low; a very small percentage of people in many cases. So, by itself that presents a problem. There is also a historical problem. Sunday school is a recent phenomenon; it was only developed in the 18th century and only became a fundamental part of the Western Christian movement in the 19th and 20th centuries. So we wonder what the church did before that time. When the Sunday school movement began, it wasn’t even explicitly a Christian Education ministry as we think of Christian Education today. It was much more of an outreach of compassion and evangelistic ministry. So the movement has been helpful and done many wonderful things in the ministry of the church today but the movement cannot be equated with Christian Education. If the church only has Sunday school as its teaching ministry, we are looking at one hour or one and a half hours a week where people are taught about the faith and that just isn’t going to be enough. So equating Sunday school and Christian Education is a serious misconception that troubles the church today.
II. Christian Education is only for Children
Another misconception is that Christian Education is only for children. This misconception may have grown out of the first one. If we see Sunday school as Christian Education and Christian Education as only Sunday school, Sunday school in most churches is dominated by children. You find a lot of people who have grown up in the faith basically have come to think of doing their Christian Education thing as kids and they no longer need to be taught or instructed in the faith. Of course that is a strategically wrong and a troubling attitude in the church. May God forbid that any of us ever stop learning! There is much more to know than we could ever know in this life time and we must always be diligent to learn. As we saw with the great commission, Jesus commanded the church that they were to teach believers to obey everything whatsoever that Jesus has commanded. Certainly, just understanding all that Jesus taught would take a life time of education, and learning obedience to all that Jesus taught is more difficult and challenging. We need to encourage people in the church to always view themselves as disciples in the making; learning and growing in Christ. We need to challenge adults especially to continue to be faithful learners of the faith.
III. Children’s Ministry isn’t as Important as Adult Ministry
On the opposite side of that misconception, some think that Children’s ministry isn’t as important as adult ministry. Sometimes adult ministry takes precedence over children’s ministry. People have a Christian Education focused on children in their church but the church may not really see what is going on with children as truly Christian Education of teaching. Sometimes, it is a little more that baby sitting or fun and games for the kids. There are a lot of adults who feel that children are simply incapable of profound spiritual growth and commitment. Sometimes you find that this lack of interest in the children’s ministry in the church by looking at budgets, staffing and space that is available. Often, children are given the leftovers overs of budget and staffing. One of the clearest examples of this is considering who is in charge of teaching children in the church. In many cases, it is whoever wants to, can teach the children in the church. If we are thinking about teaching adults in the church, we would expect someone who is highly qualified, educated and has been called and gifted and equipped for that ministry. But in many churches, whoever wants to teach children is accepted as a children’s teacher. You often hear the desperate announcement from the pulpit about the urgent need for Sunday school teachers for grade three. The message that is communicated, any warn body that is willing will get the job. This is of course tragic; Jesus warned us how serious it is to deal with Children for if they are mistreated, it would be better that they had not been born. Jesus also made it clear that Children’s ministry should be very significant and very thorough and highly regarded as a critical ministry, equal with adults.
On one occasion, some mothers brought their babies to be blessed by Jesus and the disciples rebuked the mothers, telling them not to bother the rabbi with these things. So the disciples’ attitude was that Jesus couldn’t be bothered with children because he was too busy doing real ministry. This was probably their attitude. Jesus rebuked the disciples, being angry with them. He said let the children come to me for these are what the kingdom is made of. On another occasion when the disciples who were supposedly mature adult learners were involved in a dispute as to whom would be the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus took a young child and had that child to stand in the midst of them saying that they needed to study this child and learn from this child. Throughout the Bible there are numerous examples of young people who did great feats of courage and faith, having profound faith on display. We could think of Josephus in the Old Testament or Daniel or David. In the New Testament, there was Mary who was very young with the angel first appeared to her. So, young people are capable of great acts of faith and the church should honor them as Jesus and the Scriptures honor them. There are numerous misconceptions that trouble the church today when it comes to educational ministry. We need to try to understand the true conception of the teaching ministry would be.