In his excellent book on Christian Ecclesiology (Sojourners and Strangers: The Doctrine of the Church), Gregg Allison has some really important stuff to say on the importance and role of Christian education in the life of the church, as part of the church's ministry of discipling its members. The really short way I'd summarize what he says? An intentional, coordinated teaching and educational ministry is really important for the health of a church.
Obviously, there's much in here that both drives and shapes what we do with the Brookside Institute. So let's look at the helpful stuff Gregg Allison has to say. I'll quote him at length, from Sojourners and Strangers, pp. 441-444:
"Though discipleship can never be reduced to teaching and learning, education is a very important aspect of this work. As James Smart insists, 'The Church must teach, just as it must preach, or it will not be the Church....Teaching belongs to the essence of the Church and a church that neglects this function of teaching has lost something that is indispensable to its nature as a church.' Robert Pazmino adds that 'Christian education is a vital ministry that deserves our best efforts and can be a source of joy and renewal in the life of the Christian church. Without effective education, the faith is not faithfully pass on to the rising generations and Christians are not obedient to their educational commission (Matt. 28:18-20).'
"For education to avail for discipleship, it must be Christian education. But what does this mean? As James Estep emphasizes, 'If education is to be Christian, it must be theologically informed on a variety of levels. "Theology is more than the content of Christian education; it is a process of instruction and discernment by which persons are educated in their identity, interpret the realities of their lives, and are sent into the world....[This is] the task and vocation of practical theologians of education."' Such Christian education includes, among other things, a theologically informed purpose (for the glory of God, growth in the faith, and advancement of God's kingdom), a theologically informed selection of content (from, for example, Scripture, theological tradition, and church history), and a theologically informed design (regarding the relationship between teacher and student, the educational environment, and instructional methods. Such theologically robust education should benefit the church's discipleship ministry in various ways, particularly by providing a pastoral focus:
"Theologically rich Christian education contributes to the church's ministry of discipleship.
"According to Michael Anthony, Christian education for the purpose of discipleship takes place in three general formats. In formal educational settings like Sunday school classes [or the Brookside Institute!], 'learning is intentional, structured, and institutionalized by a set of predetermined learning objectives and methods primarily in a classroom environment.' In nonformal educational settings such as seminars or training sessions, 'learning is intentional but not necessarily institutionalized like a school. Learning has objectives, but it is typically related to the performance of a task or to a piece of content.' In informal settings like home groups [or community groups], 'one learns by living in and experiencing a culture or society. Learning may or may not be regarded as intentional, but it does take place. In fact, socialization is often the most life-changing learning format in any setting.' Importantly, 'Education in the church occurs on all three levels.' Additionally, 'Beyond the local level the local church cooperates with other churches to carry on specific aspects of their instructional task. For example, theological seminaries and divinity schools equip pastor-teachers and others to instruct people in the Word.' Any an all of these formats and their various permutations - if intentionally planned and executed, theologically oriented, and empowered by the Holy Spirit - may serve the church's educational ministry for the purpose of producing wholly devoted, fully mature followers of Jesus Christ.
"A church's educational ministry consists of several foundational elements. Concerning its goal, this ministry is intentionally directed towards making disciples of Jesus Christ. Its objectives include indoctrination, the formation of doctrinally sound and theologically driven disciples (orthodoxy); character building, the formation of Christlike disciples who faithfully and obediently engage in good works for the glory of God out of love for Christ and others (orthopraxis); worldview development, the formation of gospel-oriented disciples in terms of their feelings, assessment of moral and social issues, and purpose for living (orthopatheia); and ministry preparation, the formation of missional disciples who are able to evangelize, disciple, show mercy, and engage in other church ministries.
"To accomplish its task, the educational ministry provides a full-orbed agenda of discipleship opportunities, which may include new members orientation; Sunday school classes for children, youth, and adults; men's fraternities and women's groups; specific seminars and training opportunities (e.g., spiritual gift identification and development, leadership training, church safety policies and practices); one-on-one and small group mentoring and accountability; intergenerational relationships; family-oriented ministries; church-wide retreats; and a plethora of other opportunities. Regular evaluation of existing educational offerings in light of its goal and objectives will help the educational ministry maintain and strengthen opportunities that are bearing fruit, either rehabilitate or drop others that are no longer needed, and initiate still others that will enhance the church's making of disciples."
- Gregg R. Allison, Sojourners and Strangers: The Doctrine of the Church. Crossway, 2012. pp. 441-444.
I'd love to hear what stood out to you from this excerpt from Allison's Sojourners and Strangers - questions you have, "aha" moments, or any other related comments.
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