Effective Education for Effective Laity

The failure to truly educate the Christians in the churches is the reason the church is in the state it is today. We have the idea that certain items of knowledge are not to be consumed by the masses. The information needs to be kept away from them, so that their faith will be strong. Pastors are acting as gatekeepers to the ivory tower when God wants to pave the streets with ivory.

I'll wrap up the thoughts of Elton Trueblood today because I'm going to be passing the book on.

"The idea of the ministry of the laity is a great idea, but there is no magic in it; it will not succeed unless it is undertaken with great care. There is no doubt that the layman often has a signal advantage in the ministry, as against the ordinary priest or clergyman, but this initial advantage will not carry him far unless he has something important to say and unless he learns how to say it effectively. "

This is where I'm beginning to worry about the whole lay-led ministry being successful at the church I am currently attending. The people have not been trained for the responsibility. We have Sunday School classes, but I do believe that people can attend Sunday School classes across America for 50 years and still not grow in knowledge all that much. Sunday School, Sermons, and all other educational opportunities in the local church have become more of pep rallies and motivational speeches than they are about the dissemination of knowledge.

I also fear that things are going to get forgotten because the present leadership has not set up a plan of responsibility. I don't think anyone knows who is in charge of what. This will eventually bring conflict because two people will think they are in charge of the same thing. But that is another topic all together. The moral, before moving on, is to give people clear-cut responsibilities. The pastor of a church has multiple responsibilities. If you don't delegate who is in charge of those responsibilities when he is gone, chaos and failure will ensue.

This leads me to another quote of Elton Trueblood's:

"Many modern pastors, far from being the respected teachers of the Christian community, are chore boys, spending a disproportionate amount of time and energy as business managers. They give their major time to tasks for which they have virtually no training, while they leave out those tasks for which they are elaborately trained."

I think many churches hire paid pastors because they really don't want to do all of the work. It is more out of laziness than a call to have a paid minister. We hire youth pastors in churches that aren't really of a size to need them because none of the parents want to step up and fill the role. If we're going to hire a pastor for our church, it needs to not be because we are too lazy to do any of the work. Churches need to free their paid pastors from the mundane acts of financially running the church and free them for educating their flock.

"The truth is that there are countless churches in which no such educational program is followed or even proposed. Our shame is not that we have failed to live up to the Christian educational ideal, but that we have even forgotten what the ideal is...We have allowed thousands of adult classes to proceed on a trivial basis when they could have been the means, over a period of years, of remarkable growth toward an intelligently conceived end."

We need to quit sending people to colleges for their Christian education and start bringing the college to them. True, the education won't have the credentials to go with it. That's fine. Most of the laity already have jobs that they are trained for. They don't need credentials to do the most effective work they can do in a church; however, they do need education.

Elton Trueblood proposes a five year education program. The sad thing is that I feel I would be even more educated through this process than I was through my years at Great Lakes.

I will type the section in its entirety.

Year One. The Hebrew Prophets.
This course would introduce students to the scholarly study of the Bible, with documents read in historic sequence. The Biblical material would be carefully read in large units and studied with the aid of the best commentaries. Older works would be mastered as well as contemporary interpretations. A useful procedure would be to read, during the year, the Biblical material in the following order, Amos, Hosea, Isaiah 1-39, Micah Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Isaiah 40 ff., Jonah.

Year Two.
The Synoptic Gospels.
Each of the Synoptic Gospels would be read slowly, first Mark, then Matthew and finally Luke. The similarities and dissimilarities of the three accounts would be carefully observed, the chief documentary theories about the oral discourses would be considered and students might be encouraged to produce, with the aid of scissors and paste, their own harmonies, in three parallel colums. A general grasp of the life and teachings of Christ might be expected from this study, far more profound than anything known in previous experience.

Year Three.
The Christian Classics.
This course might follow the essential techniques of the Great Books Movement (this was a movement in the 50s where people got together and read discussion-provoking works like Plato, etc.), but concentrate on acknowledged classics of Christian thought and devotion. Since this is a field in which the average Christian is even less at home than he is in Biblical studies, interest may confidently be expected to be high. A good method is that of using the full time of class for discussion of the interesting material already read, with little or no time given to lectures. A tested selection of books is as follows: Augustine's Confessions, The Little Flowers of St. Francis, The Imitation of Christ, The Prayers and Devotions of Lancelot Andrews, Pascal's Pensees, John Woolman's Journal and The Prayers of Doctor Samuel Johnson. This makes an exciting study for one year, all volumes being easily available in cheap editions, so that each student can own and mark his personal copy.

Year Four.
The Intellectual Understanding of the Christian Faith.
In this more mature study the class should consider all of the major and cumulative reasons for believing in God as well as the questions concering God's nature and the Christian revelation. The hard problems should be faced without hurry, and every effort should be made to arrive at a coherent system of belief. The reasons for believing in immortality and the doctrine of the resurrection should be handled after the other subjects of the course have been studied.

Year Five.
The History of Christian Thought.
The greatest gap in the knowledge of most concerned Christians is the historical one between the Bible times and the recent past. Countless classes in Sunday School have studied various parts of the Old and New Testaments year after year, but very few have ever studied Christian history. The rise and decline of various heresies, the growth of the Papacy, the beginnings and completion of the Reformation, the origin of contemporary denominations, the conflict with science, all these and many more topics can be exciting for both teacher and student alike.

"Such a five-year plan may not be sufficient, but it would provide us with something so much better than anything we now enjoy that the results of following it faithfully might be revolutionary in the growth of the Christian cause."

A church that took education as seriously as Elton Trueblood proposed would be the type of church I would love to be a part of. What additions would you make to his plan? What would you leave out? Do you think it would be effective?

We need to begin viewing the education of the flock as one of the top priorities of the church. We need to stop gearing our education so that it can be understood by the least intelligent amongst us and begin educating the flock to maximize their knowledge about Scriptures and the call of Christ on their lives. True education would bring about an empowered laity that would bring genuine revival to our communities.

Watch out for the potholes