March 25, 2010

Christian Ed. and the Risks of On-the-Job Training

Just about every evangelical church has lay people positioned as elders and teachers, rarely with formal theological training. Obviously, formal training doesn’t necessarily make one a good teacher, but it gives warrant to the belief that the person has a certain degree of knowledge of what they are trying to teach. But as a teacher, how much more does he or she need to know beyond that of the students? Is it appropriate, as the adult in the room, to be learning along side the students? (This may be an overstatement.) That’s something of a rhetorical question, because my current position on this is that, while teachers don’t need to know everything to the degree of having seminary education, they must have basic familiarity with the concepts whereby they can refresh themselves in further study and can actually lead the students without hampering their learning with on-the-job training. I’m curious what kind of training your churches offer in order to equip each teacher for their particular context.

I recently brought this up to a friend who suggested  leadership development whereby teachers can learn to relate with their students and learn about the role of character in their leadership, becoming better teachers as a result. But that escapes the nature of my concern because even if a teacher is equipped at the most basic level, I’m not sure we are doing enough to take them to them further. Has the church made so much out of leadership development that we have neglected the equipping our teachers with the content they need to be truly effective? Not every teacher is a leader, yet the church is inundated with leadership conferences, books, and other materials. Everyone wants to lead and learn how to lead. But who wants to study? With anti-intellectualism rampant in the church, I say few really care to study.

Currently, I have one of the best teaching pastors I have ever known, I am blessed.  But I’m unconvinced that Sunday morning is sufficient for equipping teachers for their own work. Whether Sunday school or youth ministry or adult studies, the gambit of information runs from basic Bible knowledge to apologetics and theological understanding. Pastors can’t do it all, and they definitely can’t do it all on Sunday morning, but maybe they could do more in the church if more direct training is required for all engaged in teaching ministry. Unfortunately, so much of teaching has been reduced to nonteaching. What I mean is that women are often not teaching Bible studies, they are facilitating, plopping in a video and asking “how does that verse make you feel?” The same may be said of Sunday school teachers who use prepackaged curriculum and are simply guiding 3rd graders in self-study. Can’t we do better?

The picture I have drawn here may be overly pessimistic. I know many good lay teachers are out there. But I also know a lot of theological incompetence exists, but the training available for non-pastors is limited, especially when the teacher doesn’t quite know what he needs. This is a local church issue and we need to do more than hope lay teachers find iTunesU or read a few interesting blogposts.

March 22, 2010

What Would Jesus Do? Compassion in Conflict

From a Christian point of view, the virtue of compassion is rooted in the character of God and exemplified by the saving work of Christ. His was an example (though not merely an example) of ultimate compassion, giving completely of himself not out of compulsion but out of pure sacrificial love and devoid of political motivations. It is a model of compassion that we can only live out analogously because we fail to meet the standard of pure selflessness. For Jesus, he willingly chose to lose when he had already won. He is God! We strive, and with God’s power we achieve, but due to the fallen state of things, someone inevitably encounters our weaknesses. But we still seek to be compassionate.

Caring for society’s most vulnerable is part of our mission as the church and one that Christians take very seriously and act upon on a daily basis. The poor, the widows, the children—these are a few segments of society to which scripture explicitly challenges us to give of ourselves. And God’s church understands that the gospel without a cup of cold water isn’t very good news. Could we do better? Obviously.

As it pertains to the recent passage of health care reform, some left-leaning Americans suggest that conservative, especially Christian conservatives, lack compassion because some—ok most—have been opposed to the health care reform bill in question. They abide by the bold assumption that the health care reform bill sits above other acts of compassion. It is better than creating jobs, it is better than smaller piecemeal options like opening of the state borders to more health insurance competition. It is better than simply working at the elimination of fraud and wasteful spending.

What would Jesus do? What would he think?

Some liberals think he would do what they did on Sunday night, the Lord’s Day as one representative reminded us. That was disorienting. He said it was time for the representatives to “walk by faith” and pass the bill. Would Jesus do health care reform as they have penned this legislation? Probably not. Jesus would turn over the tables in congress and tell them to stop making deals that squander funds that could help those in need…..if Jesus were invited to comment on the dealings, that is. The bottom line is left-leaning Americans seem to be saying that godly compassion necessarily includes health care insurance. Furthermore, they seem to think that health care is a need that overrides other acts of compassion and ought to be raised to the level of rights. Maybe Jesus would ask us to be better stewards of our financial resources or maybe he would ask us to view the economy as a fishes and loaves opportunity. None of us can know for sure what Jesus would say, he’d probably call us all out as fools. But what we can know is that we are often faced with moral conflicts and the methods of compassion can also conflict.

I know of no Christian conservative who takes joy in anyone lacking health care resources. But economic utopia is not possible on this side of eternity. Safety nets are in place like Medicaid to help families in need, and I know because I benefited from prenatal care through Medicaid in 1992-93. And by the way, it was top-notch. Yes, we can probably do more.

Like jobs and education, healthy families and hunger-relief, access to health care is something we would love for everyone to have. Which one takes priority?  To suggest that health care is a natural right is to reduce rights to consumer goods. Rights cannot be sold or traded or granted, they can only be recognized in that they are inherent to being human. But a non-evolutionary view of humanity is required to agree with that statement. Or maybe it is true that Darwinian theory impacts absolutely everything, including health care policy. Public funds can only go so far and private industry will pass on additional expenses and tax hikes on to consumers because business doesn’t exist primarily for benevolence, and it shouldn’t because then it ceases to be a for-profit entity.

Compassion comes in a variety of forms, some better implemented than others. We might also ask who has the most to gain when compassion is implemented. The dignity of an individual is infringed upon when, in the name of compassion, someone profits from exploiting what others lack. But at this point, compassion is no more.