The Need for Christian Education

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Evangel – Christmas 2015

Articles

We live in a time of rapid change that calls into question almost everything. No surprise then that the nature of Christian education is being reassessed. For some people, Bible colleges are relics of the past best allowed to die—and several have indeed died. Some church leaders today are not sure of the role of formal Christian education in ministry training and formation. As one who cares deeply for the role of Christian education and for the highest quality of ministry in the church, I, too, am among those who want to find the most efficient ways to train people in Christian spiritual formation for effective service and witness for Christ.

Having said that, I would like to make the positive case for why we need formal Christian (or theological) education for both members and ministers, lay people and leaders. Good theological education is not just about information, but about transformation and learning together the best ways to practice ministry.

 

In the work of the local church, we hire people for certain technical skills (preaching, leading worship, etc.). New staff members however soon discover that they have been inducted into a theological/ministerial conversation. In other words, church staff, we should wish, needs to be able to discern what God is doing among the staff team as well as the congregation and how they can respond in faithfulness to what God is doing.

At the very least this discernment requires knowledge of both the Old and New Testament, but a good sense of church history is immensely helpful. Knowing something of the development and practices of Christian spiritual formation is important since a primary purpose of “church” is the spiritual development and maturity of its members. One of the easiest places to get up to speed, particularly if new staff is coming from a background of secular education, is at Bible college. I know of several churches who have hired for the right technical skills and then sent their new staff to ABC to fill in theological and ministerial gaps.

 

The complexity of modern life and the decline of the influence of the church in our culture require us to have deep roots in the Christian tradition, both in terms of the Restoration Movement (out of which the churches came that began and then supported ABC), but also deeper roots that reach back to the time of Jesus and his apostles.

Our culture is increasingly biblically illiterate. People do not know the Bible the way previous generations did. For this reason alone, having colleges like ABC is vital because such a college maintains a Christian witness in a secular and evermore hostile world. Such colleges hold out the possibility that the Bible will not be forgotten in our time. Furthermore, colleges like ABC serve as great resources for the church.

 

One value of studying in a formal setting under supervision is that you will be invited to study and read those you might avoid because they are either not fun to read or not of interest to you. This is important because if you only read that which is easy to read or only study those with whom you agree, you are not very likely to grow. Growth occurs best when we are challenged to think anew about the faith we have embraced.

 

The need for community and networking is a central benefit of being connected to an institution of Christian education. When I need help with something or need someone with whom to talk, I often turn to those I met in the context of formal Christian education and spiritual formation. Sometimes it is a friend who was in class with me; sometimes it is the professor who had that little something extra that I needed or wanted. Either way, I don’t need to feel alone even when the challenges of ministry are great.

 

There remains, therefore, a great need for formal Christian education. This is a great work. This is necessary work. Thank you for your continued support, prayers, and words of blessings.

Stan is the current president of ABC, and has recently joined us with his wife, Pat Helton. They have one daughter Rachel, who is married. She and her husband just finished a short-term mission trip to Zambia. Rachel is completing her Masters in Theology through Abilene Christian University. Stan has earned degrees from Oklahoma Christian University (BA), Abilene Christian University (MS, MDiv, DMin), and the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary (ThM, PhD). He has served in a variety of ministry settings including New Orleans and Chicago; he taught for six years at Western Christian College in Regina, Saskatchewan where he also served as Dean. Pat is a teacher whose specialty is Adapted Physical Education. She has served people with special needs most of her career, most recently among the urban poor of New Orleans. Stan and Pat are excited to have returned to Canada and seeing what God will do with them next in this mission.

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