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.


Tami Martin said...

Very good points! However, I got bogged down on this comment: "Is it appropriate, as the adult in the room, to be learning along side the students?"

When I teach, it's the middle and senior adults in my church. I left that position for a while but have recently been asked to return to the post and I am considering it. But I'm the youngest person in the class! I may have more technical knowledge in certain areas or maybe a broader biblical knowledge base despite not having a seminary degree...but one of these folks was MY teacher in junior high! I think in teaching adults if you're not willing to learn along with your students, you might not have the right skillset for this group of learners!

Sarah J. Flashing said...

Tami, thanks so much for the comment! I don't mean to suggest we'll never learn in the classroom, I am speaking more about those who are regularly learning alongside the students. I hope that's clearer. I do hope churches will consider more training for their teachers!

Tami Martin said...

Absolutely! From the technical skills of teaching to foundational doctrines of the church you're teaching in, it takes more than a warm, willing body to teach a class. Perhaps that's why America is in such a bad state regarding biblical literacy.

Birdie Sue said...

I really enjoyed your article Sarah. This is something that needs to be given more attention by churches. It shouldn’t just be about having someone to watch the kids while service is going on or a check box of the youth programs that are offered. They need to be trained and equipped. In the end it’s the children who will miss out. Thanks again!

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Rosalie G said...

Firstly, if they aren't paid staff you can't require certifications, etc.

There must be a reliance on God putting people into place and working through them regardless.

Unfortunately a lot of churches do believe the only ones really qualified for anything is paid staff, disregarding talented lay people.

I had a vision for a series of leadership modules for women. I saw so many women who had raised their children and had free time and didn't know what to do with themselves, and I feel every women can lead in some area of their gifting. The modules would be for identifying strengths and training and equipping them to carry out God's work with more confidence. Kind of like "releasing the women".

But...the women's ministry team could care less about my vision. It was a bit of a clique and since I wasn't in the clique or staff, I was at a disadvantage.

Your blot isn't about pessimism as much as it is about idealism I think. Unfortunately, many of us have great ideas, but unless others are thinking the same and motivated to make changes, our dreams go unfulfilled.

Dennis Norton said...

WOW!!! After reading your post and the comments after....I only have one question. Where did the gift of teaching go? I have a degree in Christina Education and Biblical Literature and was trained by the best....Campus Crusade, The Navigators, The Billy Graham Evangalistic Association and Youth for Christ. But if I don't have the spiritual gift of teaching, I am not going to be an effective teacher. I am not a Charasmatic, but I do believe strongly that until the church starts to recognize the fact that the Lord gives those gifts for the leadership of the church, for the equipping of the saints, and until they are put into practice, all the training in the world will take the church no where. Teaching has to be Spirit lead in the church to better equip the children of God.

Sarah J. Flashing said...

I agree, teaching has got to be recognized as a gift and we all seem to know when someone has that gift. But we also know that sometimes these gifted teachers learned how to be better in some way from the time they first began teaching to the point when we acknowledge their giftedness. I guess the point I'm making is that while there are people with the spiritual gift of teaching, there are some teachers who are in place, not necessarily with the spiritual can we encourage them to be better teachers?