Equipping the Saints: Request for Reader Info


The last couple months at Cerulean Sanctum have seen the discussion turn toward how the American Church makes disciples. In the days ahead, I hope to further unpack this issue and discuss ways that we can achieve better results, not only in leading people to Jesus but also in growing them deep in Him.

Below are a few questions about the nature of the educational process in your church, the larger question being, “How does your church actually make disciples?”

1. What is the general educational philosophy at your church? Has anyone ever stated this philosophy publicly so that the members understand the educational goals of the church?

2. What adult educational programs exist at your church? Which do you participate in? What types of educational  materials do those programs use? Have those materials been purchased from a third-party curriculum developer, provided by your church’s denomination, or developed in-house?

3. Does your church use a targeted catechism program to ensure that youth understand the basic doctrines of the faith? If yes, has it been purchased from a third-party curriculum developer, provided by your church’s denomination, or developed in-house? If no, what is your church using instead to ensure Christian maturity in their youth?

4. On a 1 to 10 scale, with 10 being the greater amount, how much would you say that your church relies on its members to be responsible for their own Christian education (or in other words, how much does your church rely on members to feed themselves spiritually)? In what ways do you believe this number to reflect a strong or weak educational philosophy?

5. What does your church do best in preparing people to be mature Christians? What do they do poorly? What suggestions would you make at improving the educational programs at your church (and please be as specific as possible)?

6. (Updated) How successfully are the members of your church putting into practice what they have learned? In what ways? Do you ever feel your church members increase in knowledge but don’t practice what they know?

Thank you for your time and the willingness to answer these questions. I hope to use them as the basis for my next post.

Have a great remainder of the week!

Thoughts for a Rainy September Friday


It’s one of those soggy days in southern Ohio that presages autumn. It’s also one of those days where my mind reels from a whirlwind of small thoughts, many inspired by the political season now upon us. So consider today a showcase. Maybe one of these will grow up and become a bigger post someday.

  • I’ve been thinking a lot about silence. (I guess if you perceive silence as a friend, you HAVE the ability to think.) If “Be still and know that I am God” is one of the hallmark verses of the Old Testament, what does it say about our ability to know God that we fill our days with noise and a blur of activity? I find it strange that I know adults, not children, who confess that they can’t sit in silence for a half hour without squirming and whining about it.
  • One other verse that strikes me as unknown in America 2008 is “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” If we treat fellow Christians who disagree with us like the spawn of hell, how is it possible that any of us could muster even a mustard seed of love for our genuine enemies? And why is it that we are so quick to disagree angrily yet so slow to pray for opponents? Notice, too, that I use the word opponents. It’s a long road from opponents to enemies. Someone please invite me to the next prayer meeting wherein Christians spend an hour praying for their enemies. I sadly suspect I’ll need a very expensive plane ticket to get there.
  • If Jesus is the Prince of Peace, why is it that American Evangelicals seem to have no concept of what it means to practice peace or work as ambassadors on behalf of it? Time and again, it seems to me that Evangelicals who discuss political issues are quick to include that they are “for the war effort,” yet NEVER, EVER say they are “for the peace effort.” Does a peace effort even exist in American churches outside of dead, liberal mainline denominations and a handful of Quakers?
  • Every year, the comment that “America is a Christian nation” loses more of its cachet. Consider that four people out of five in this country self-label as Christians and then ask a critical question: What would our nation look and act like if those four out of five were replaced by Christians from Palestine circa 70 AD? Am I the only one believes the difference in practice and influence would be a startling one?
  • What is the goal of an education? For much of the history of our country it was to create adults with a high, lasting understanding of civic responsibility. In that, education was never viewed as self-serving, but as a necessary means to strengthen society and the body politic. Now it’s viewed as only a pathway to greater amounts of personal income. Is it any wonder then that our nation is in trouble economically, socially, morally, and spiritually? When George Barna polls Evangelicals and finds that a greater percentage are worried about getting their kids into a prestigious college than ensuring they know Christ, then the wheels have not only fallen off the last vestiges of Christian education in this country, but the entire vehicle has burst into hellish flames.
  • It’s bizarre to me that people seem to be baffled by the denominational affiliation of Sarah Palin. Since when were the Assemblies of God considered to be a fringe group? This is what happens when all your political pundits are lapsed Episcopalians or Presbyterians-in-name-only.
  • An independent is running in the 2nd Congressional District in Ohio, my district. This has long been considered one of the most Republican districts in the entire country. Republican candidates have in the past won this district with nearly 80 percent of the vote. This has not been the case recently as the GOP has consistently let conservative voters down. In fact, when a real alternative was offered to the GOP incumbent now in office, game-playing by party reptiles snuffed out his candidacy. This is just part of the reason why I will be voting for David Krikorian (I). I think many other people will be voting for him also. That an independent has received the endorsement of the Cincinnati Fraternal Order of Police is astonishing to me in these days of party politics. The irony is that the GOP alternative candidate who was torpedoed by the GOP bigwigs in town had consistently garnered the Cincy FOP’s endorsement in the past in the local offices he held.
  • More than anything else politically, I long to see genuine orators and statesmen return to lead our country in the days ahead. I believe they will not be these men and women of privilege, these millionaires we keep electing, but average Joes and Janes of principle and conviction. Those people are out there. We just need to stop voting for the ones who keep them down. I think that every Christian in America needs to stop supporting parties and start support worthy candidates. If that means abandoning long-held party affiliations, then we must. Character counts, and too many people in office today are sorely lacking it.

With the local forecast for the next five days filled with clouds and rain, I suspect that I’ll be doing more thinking in the days to come.

What are you thinking?

A Bag Full of Wet Tribbles


A couple weeks back SF Gate columnist Mark Morford wrote an op/ed piece called “American Kids, Dumber than Dirt” in which he quotes a longtime teacher friend as saying that kids today are stupid to the point of verging on inert:

It’s gotten so bad that, as my friend nears retirement, he says he is very seriously considering moving out of the country so as to escape what he sees will be the surefire collapse of functioning American society in the next handful of years due to the absolutely irrefutable destruction, the shocking — and nearly hopeless — dumb-ification of the American brain. It is just that bad.

I know that I’m perpetually saddened (yet oddly amused) by what people don’t know. And that’s not in some kind of snobbish way. Watching a high school graduate grossly mis-tally a simple three item receipt from a restaurant makes me wonder how such a lapse can exist.

You long-time readers know that I have a degree in Christian Education and know all the educational theorists. You know that I homeschooled up until this fall. You also know my child is in public school right now. You know that I believe that no educational system is perfect.

But as much handwringing goes on today about education, I keep returning to one inescapable truth:

Kids are only as smart as their parents are.

The apple doesn’t fall very far from the tree, and in most cases today, a lot closer to the trunk than some would like. A classroom (and a home?) full of dunces...But when it comes right down to it, smart parents have smart kids—no matter what kind of education (public, private, or homeschooled) their children receive—because the parents themselves value education and pursue it in their own lives.

If the parents of a child are about as sharp as a bag of wet tribbles, then how can we expect the child to exceed the parent? That rarely, if ever, happens.

We expect most homeschoolers to be winners of spelling and geography bees, but look at the parents in those cases. They’re engineers, scientists, academics—the national brain trust, in other words. The only way they’re going to turn out a dim bulb is if they give birth to a brain-damaged kid. And even then, that’s going to be the brightest brain-damaged child of the lot.

But even when it comes to homsechooling, the weak link in the chain is the parent. A parent with smarts that rate a 6 on a scale of 10 is probably not going to teach their kids to a level 8 or higher. Why? Because that parent will be uncomfortable exceeding his or her own knowledge. This leads to what is known as the law of diminishing returns.

Parents are never going to feel adequate to teach their kids to the limits of their parental smarts—ever. That truth wipes out most distinctions of public, private, and homeschool. As much as a we’ve castigated public schooling, smart parents who put their kids in public school are not going to turn around when that kid is eighteen and find a numbskull. This truth works in the opposite, as well. If parents can barely tally three lines on a restaurant bill, why should we expect their children to? Yet we’re perpetually astonished by the seeming ignorance of youth today.

“But Dan,” you say, “isn’t your blog about the Church in America? How does this fit with your theme?”

If we wonder why the youth of today can’t theologize their way out of a damp paper bag, we have to look at the parents.

Christian parents suffer from a few maladies that make them inadequate to the task of teaching their children about the Lord:

  1. They’ve been told that they are inadequate for the job… – This same instructor superiority afflicts parents in all types of learning environments. The educational elites turned up their noses at the bourgeois attempts of parents to teach their own children and slapped their knuckles with a mighty big ruler in the process. And just as it afflicts the public and private school systems, it afflicts Christian education.
  2. …so as a result, parents have abandoned their role in education – This is not only the parents’ fault for being weak-willed and lazy in their children’s Christian education, but also the willingness of most church people to treat the educational staff at their churches like divine oracles who can do no wrong. Worse, those so-called oracles believe the hype and even fan it into flame. That’s got to stop, on all counts.
  3. We’ve made the Faith either too complex or too rudimentary. – It seems we can’t find the balance. We either make the faith into an intellectual exercise of splitting infralapsarian and amyraldian hairs (or whatever esoteric argument floats your ark) or we make it a brain-dead exercise in being nice to people. Well, shame on us—all of us. So parents think they either have to possess a seminary degree or else they think they can skate because there’s nothing to “this Christianity thing.” Either mentality jumps the educational tracks.

So how do we get parents into the right mindset and smarts-set to do this important job?

  1. We emphasize the importance of the work—and our willingness to help. It seems to me that part of the problem of Christian education today stems from either asking for the world of parents or asking nothing at all. We need to find a solid middle ground. But more than that, churches need to understand that they must partner with parents to ensure the next generation gets some theological smarts. Not by being condescending. Not by dumping all the load on parents. Not by pointing a rifle at anyone’s head. But by walking alongside parents and helping them learn how to teach their own kids. (I’ve long contended this should be the primary role of the youth minister!) The Christian education conducted by the church should always be viewed as a gap-filler, not as the primary source of education. That’s the parents’ job.
  2. We teach the parents what they need to know. As I’ve noted, kids will only be as smart as the parents. If the parents can’t grasp the atonement or what it means to die to self, there’s not a chance their kids will. If the parents won’t talk about those topics outside church (where the greatest growth occurs), their kids won’t hear it. Churches, this is your core emphasis in Christian Ed: Instilling a solid Christian worldview and theology in your adults, particularly those adults with children.
  3. We set attainable educational goals. Every child the age of seven should know why it was necessary for Jesus to come. That should be right on their lips if asked. Littler ones should at least know who Jesus is. A solid Christian curriculum should not only repeat the basics at every age level, but also add onto the previous age level. There’s no reason our teens can’t be asked the differences between the different views on the atonement. Or to explain covenant theology. Or to be able to stand up and expound a rational pneumatology. (In my Lutheran catechism, I got a one hour grilling on theology in a private session with the pastor and youth leader.) But to get there, set appropriate, attainable goals.
  4. We work to counter culture. Our society is in the brink of disaster with our busyness. Sadly, modern Evangelicalism contributes to our harried schedules by adding more and more things we MUST do that, in the end, aren’t necessary. Educating the next generation about the Lord is about as necessary as it gets. Getting your kid into a time-intensive soccer program that will score them a spot in an Ivy League college DOES NOT MATTER ETERNALLY. Yet this is what too many Christian parents want. A recent Barna poll, one of the most disturbing I ever saw, showed that Evangelical parents thought getting their kids into elite colleges outweighed whether those same kids knew Jesus Christ or not. God help us! We have to start demolishing these strongholds that entrap us if we’re to be a vital Church.
  5. We stop the school choice derangement syndrome. Homeschooling parents must desist in their schismatic, judgmental, and outright wicked accusations against non-homeschooling parents. This is not just an issue of “secular” education. If we wish to utterly negate the truths of the Gospel in front of our children and nullify Christlikeness in them, then by all means, let all sides on the school choice issue treat each other like vermin. That’ll teach the little ones the right people to hate and for the correct reasons. We all know that’s why Jesus came, right?

So yeah, it IS all about the parents. If we want smart kids, we better make smart parents. And there’s no better time to start on that path than today.