I read the following excerpt from an article written by Nathan Finn of Southeastern Seminary about the fifteen factors affecting the SBC since 1979. As a person with deep roots in education ministry, I found this article insightful. I also found it interesting that of all the points he makes, this point had zero comments. (The pic to the right is of our Minister of Education Learning Community in Oklahoma City)
To view this entire article by Nathan Finn, go here
6. Changing Paradigms in Education Ministry
Whatever happened to the old-fashioned education minister? There was a time when virtually every SBC church with at least 300 regular Sunday School attenders employed an education minister, even if that staff member also (often!) led the youth or music ministry as well.
Now some of you may be thinking, "We still have an education minister, and Bro. Joe does a great job on our staff." Frankly, a couple of the strongest churches in my home association back in Southeast Georgia have education ministers who do a fine job. So I'm with you on that. But once I went off to college and then two different seminaries, I was struck with how many churches are dispensing with the education minister model-and much of what that paradigm entails. Fewer and fewer churches (especially those outside the Deep South) are following the "evangelism through the Sunday School" strategy dominated SBC life for three quarters of the 20th century. Fewer and fewer churches are using a strictly graded Sunday School model, at least at the adult level. And when was the last time you attended a Sunday School assembly? How many of you don't even have a clue what I'm even talking about? (And I'm just focusing on Sunday School-we could discuss the myriad of other programs that education ministers help administer in medium-sized and large churches.)
The paradigm shift happening in education ministry is fascinating to me for a number of reasons. First, Southern Baptists pioneered "Christian education" in the local church. Southwestern and Southern seminaries in particular developed very specialized programs that were cutting edge for the better part of the last century. Second, the Christian education paradigm was at the heart of most of our churches' evangelism and enlistment, and some of our most prominent denominational programs (particularly "A Million More in '54") were directly tied to this approach. Third, a great deal of "Southern Baptist ethnicity" I discussed in my first article was cultivated through the church's cradle-to-grave education program. Finally, most churches of which I am aware continue to prioritize Christian education, but they often call it something different (like "discipleship" or "spiritual formation") and many have "tweaked" (and sometimes rejected) the earlier paradigm.
I could spend all my time on this one, but I have to move on.
I sort of wished Dr. Finn had gone on! From my position as the state director of Sunday School (Oklahoma), I can share that we have a remarkable group of education ministers here. They are great workers and have a strong desire to reach their communities for Christ and develop disciples. However, I am concerned that we do not see many young ministers who are hearing the call to this field of service. I believe there are six factors behind this phenomenon:
- The "behind the scenes" role of the education ministry prevents church members from understanding what their ministy is about. As a result, education ministry often is devalued;
- Education ministry when applied is often unpopular. It is very difficult to get classes to plant new classes, develop new leaders, etc. For example, when is the last time your church "promoted" its adults? Yet this simple practice is essential to the prevention of ingrown groups.
- Education ministers, as a general rule, have done a rather poor job developing their networks. Education ministers generally lead from isolation. Leading people to make correct but unpopular actions is emotionally draining. Most educators do not have a strong support network.
- Education ministers and churches have not updated and adapted their ministry model to the changes of the culture. Many Sunday School (and churches) still use the 50's model of attractional evangelism rather than the 21st century model of incarnational evangelism.
- Economic or budget issues that affect education ministry positions in the church structure.
- The move from "education ministers" to "adult ministers". Many people serving as ministers to adults do not lead the entire education ministry of the church. Coordinating the different age-groups is difficult and affects the overall direction of the education ministry.
It is critical for the church and for education ministers to develop a viable ministry model that reflects the critical role of small communities within the church. We have all heard this quote, "Life change happens best in small groups". We need to figure out how this value can be tangibly developed so that our people can have a greater opportunity for spiritual transformation.