Traditionally, evangelicals have approached Christian education as transmitting doctrinal truths, hoping that these doctrinal truths will inculcate spiritual transformation. However, Christian education requires more than doctrinal instruction; Christian education requires engagement with the Christian practices that form and transform our spiritual journeys holistically. Until we understand that education means more than acquiring knowledge, we limit our growth in the life of faith and will not experience the lively, robust, and exciting journey of growing in Christ. Christian education, then, is a whole-life practice that encompasses the mind, heart, and hands, and ensures the growth of the whole person and the whole Christian community in the life of faith. How can we conceptualize this approach to Christian education?
Engaging the Mind
Romans 12:1-2 exhorts all Christians to be transformed in the renewing of our minds. This entails robust engagement with the story of God found in Scripture and explicated in the doctrines and creeds formulated by the church throughout history. This occurs when we listen to a sermon, discuss ideas in Sunday school and small groups, read Christian classics, and conduct challenging inductive Bible study on our own. By engaging our minds, we grow in understanding God and formulate a world-and-life view that enables us to interact with the ideas put forth by other worldviews. Intellectual engagement deepens our understanding of the precious doctrines of our faith and solidifies in our minds why the Christian faith is the one narrative that truly provides hope and healing for a broken world.
Shaping the Heart
Participating in the liturgy, worship, and the sacraments shapes our character and reorients our affections toward God. Engaging in these Christian practices inscribe a habitus, or “way of being” within our hearts. We know Christ has paid the ransom for our sins, but we re-live this truth through remembering, tasting, and eating Christ’s body and blood during the Lord’s Supper. We know of God’s vivid splendor, but we feel His sheer glory through spiritually vibrant, aesthetically-pleasing worship. We understand the gospel extends an invitation to the marginalized, but we experience this hospitality when we welcome both stranger and friends into our homes. Orienting our hearts’ affections toward God through liturgy hooks us into God’s beautiful narrative and leads us to participate in God’s redemptive work.
Moving in Community
In Paul’s epistles, he encourages believers to love one another , encourage one another, rebuke one another, serve one another, sing to one another etc. Participating in the life of the church, regardless of the setting, renews our faith, encourages us to strive toward holiness, and gives us opportunities to grow together in holiness. Christian education is not an individualistic process, for Paul says as one part of the body suffers, so does another (1 Cor. 12:26). Participating in the stories of others deepens our awareness of our own stories and how our stories align with God’s story. Opening ourselves to the stories of others provides us with a powerful reminder that the Christian life is not a solo effort, but a communal project of striving toward holiness and oneness in Christ.
The Holy Spirit’s Place
Throughout this process of teaching, learning, growing, sharing, and loving, we must not forget that the Holy Spirit presides. The difference between Christian education and every other form of education is the presence of the Holy Spirit. Without the presence of the Holy Spirit, our efforts to help people grow in the life of faith will prove futile. Cultivating an awareness of the Holy Spirit will give courage to teachers, open the eyes of learners, illuminate our understanding of doctrines, enjoin on hearts with the heart of God, unite the fellowship of believers in the bond of love, and empower believers to engage culture with the heart and mind of Christ. Ultimately, it is the Holy Spirit who will cause our ministries to thrive and transform people’s hearts.
Christian education not only means biblical instruction, but engagement in the entire life of the church. It is the cultivation of our minds, hearts, and practices through the power of the Holy Spirit in the context of a loving and thriving community of faith. Studying systematic theology in a small group, worshipping with a large body of believers, or having a rich personal time of prayer all form and transform our walks with God and cause us to seek the transformation of the world.