By Rev. Dr. J. Patrick Bowman, DBS
In the postmodern, increasingly post-Christian culture we live in, there is a need for community-based Christian educational opportunities. This article will share reasons why this is so and explore ideas in implementing these opportunities.
One of the most significant reasons for needing community-based Christian education (CBCE) is a trend in churches toward reducing or eliminating adult Christian education programs. Christian educators began looking at the problems in adult Christian education decades ago. Scottish Baptist Dr. David Robin Goodbourn (1948-2014) gave voice to several challenges to adult Christian education in a 1996 article published by Ministry Today (UK). He listed six factors leading churches not to provide adult education, followed by eight factors leading Christians not to opt into adult education. Here is a summary. Factors leading churches not to provide adult education include:
1. The confusion between preaching and teaching. Proclamation in preaching on Sunday mornings can give a false impression that education happens during the sermon. This impression contrasts the interaction, discussion, discovery, and hands-on aspects needed in effective adult learning and not present in preaching. A sermon may be informative without being educational.
2. A confusion between fellowship and education. Although excellent venues for education, many home groups have no accountability to move beyond fellowship to engage both mind and emotion.
3. An uncertainty as to the purpose of adult Christian education. Education has moved from a venue for holistic growth and maturity to an avenue only for the ends it serves. Why pursue adult Christian education outside future “professional ministry” goals? No longer appreciated are the “value-added” benefits of an educated congregation.
4. Fear of its effects on fragile faith. Education causes questioning and growth, which often can be uncomfortable and produce painful doubts along the way. There is a lack of resolve to help people tackle the hard questions of faith and practice.
5. A belief that adults do not want to learn. The association of learning with youth and adolescence creates age bias regarding eagerness to learn. Adults exhibit a willingness to learn when subjects and methodologies fit their unique interests and learning styles.
6. Uncertainty as to how to proceed. There seems to be a lack of vision even among professional educators on implementing compelling learning opportunities in a congregational setting.
Factors leading Christians not to opt into adult education are as follows:
1. Antipathy to “education.” Failures in or being failed by earlier formal education systems create a hesitancy to engage in anything described as “education.”
2. Not taking account of why and how adults choose to learn. Often overlooked are the motivation and preferred methods of learning in adults. Felt needs are a formidable motivator that adults respond to at a high level. Many adults like self-directed learning in association with anticipated changes in lifestyle as they age. A less formal context for learning is often necessary for success.
3. The wrong “learning style.” Research shows that congregants tend to be pragmatist and reflective, while ministers tend not to be high on pragmatism. There is hesitance to join a learning community where our dominant learning style is not employed. This fact calls for a diversity of teaching styles not often seen in most programs.
4. Infantilising faith. The trend to keep faith confined to the home, neighborhood, and family and minimizing its exploration and expression in other areas of life.
5. The cost of spiritual growth. The instinctive awareness that growth is going to cost a person their comfort zone. There is a hesitance to engage in activities that will likely trouble the waters of thought and action.
6. Anti-rationalism. Education often values rationality, which a postmodern culture based on personal feelings and experiences has a problem. Heart and head should work together in faith matters.
7. Situational barriers. Scheduling, child-care costs, and transportation are examples of situational barriers not always considered or accounted for in programming.
8. Antipathy to groups. Adult learning tends to organize in small groups. Those with fear of sharing will avoid these types of situations along with those who prefer a lifestyle of solitude and repose.
Part of the strategy for overcoming the obstacles mentioned above involves taking a holistic approach to adult learning by recognizing that transformational aspects of education are as crucial as informational aspects. However, these transformational aspects must occupy space in the up-front objectives for learning opportunities to encourage participation.
We will now explore ideas for implementing CBCE opportunities based on three achievable goals that consider personal growth and development, intellectual development and experiential learning, and spiritual and social growth and developmentin their implementation.
The first goal is raising standards of achievement in learning for adults through community-based lifelong learning opportunities incorporating communications, working with others, problem-solving, and information technology (IT).
The second goal is to engage with young adults to facilitate their personal, spiritual, social, and educational development and gain a voice, influence, and place in society.
The third goal is building community capacity and influence by enabling people to develop the confidence, understanding, and skills required to influence decision-making and service delivery.
Inherent in these goals must be the consideration of how personal growth and development, intellectual development and experiential learning, and spiritual and social growth and development influence and advance the achievement of these goals. Let us look at these factors while defining their make-up and influence.
First of all, personal growth and development. Personal growth and development includes self-esteem, personal efficacy (sense of worth and competence), ego and moral development, exploration of new roles, identities, and interests, willingness to take risks, question assumptions, accept new challenges, and taking responsibility for, and accepting the consequences of one’s actions.
Secondly is intellectual development and experiential learning. These include higher-level thinking skills, content and skills directly related to community experience, learning skills (observing, asking questions, applying knowledge), motivation to learn, retaining knowledge, and developing insight, judgment, and understanding.
Thirdly is spiritual and social growth and development. Included here are spiritual maturity, knowledge and exploration of community-related systems, and the understanding and appreciation of, and ability to relate to, people from a wide range of backgrounds and life situations. All three of these factors have the potential of fulfillment within a supportive CBCE environment.
Another aspect crucial to achieving the goals is formal or informal mentoring of those learners by staff or peer support within the community. Formally, learners and staff can come together by learners querying assistance in specific areas. Informally, learners can discuss and discover among themselves their needs and available expertise. The informal approach may require activities that open up the possibilities of self-discovery among participants. If done correctly, this approach can span the boundaries of age that separate learners in a traditional educational or religious setting.
Self-described philosopher, Bob Proctor, is credited with saying, “A mentor is someone who sees more talent and ability within you than you see in yourself, and helps bring it out of you.” Benjamin Franklin quipped, “Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I may remember. Involve me and I learn.” Community-based Christian Education opportunities employing the goals, factors, and mentoring just discussed can only build and edify the people involved and, therefore, strengthen local communities.