April 1, 2019—At a gathering of congregational educators the discussion centered on teaching in the church. We discussed the perennial challenges of training church teachers. Those challenges include getting teachers to participate in training events, getting them to see the value and necessity of continuing education and training, and the challenge of moving staid and recalcitrant teachers to move beyond their comfort zones and learn more effective teaching methods. Church staff educators are prone to coming close to ranting when this topic of discussion comes up. The members of this group were above that, however, and they handled the discussion rather responsibly.
At one point a group member asked, “From what you observe in your congregations, how do your good teachers become good teachers?” The question stumped the group for a moment. A consensus was that in many instances good teachers came that way. That is, they tended to have already been good teachers before they took up their teaching ministry in the church.
In a way that answer is not too surprising. But, it can be disheartening as it leaves us wondering if the case is that there really isn’t much we are doing to help create good teachers in the congregation.
I’m of the opinion that a church’s Christian education enterprise is only as good as its teachers and educators. That means the matter of developing and training teachers remains a critical task of church leaders. In other words, part of the Christian education program in any church must include the education and training of its teachers.
One major dilemma is that most congregational leaders lack sufficient knowledge about educational processes and practices to provide much leadership in this area. The declining emphasis in seminaries on attention to rigorous study from the field of education and pedagogy, with the growing focus toward softer courses on “formation” has all but ensured that graduates landing a staff education program position in a church have little expertise or capacity for leading educational programs. I don’t think the choice is one over the other, but it appears that we’ve swung so far in one direction as to be doing ourselves, and our congregations, a disservice.
From my observation, much of what passes for “Christian education” in many churches is hardly educational. The sad part is that most congregations don’t seem able to recognize that. And when they do, they find it a challenge to find the expertise to help them move toward a more rigorous and effective educational enterprise. How do good church educators become good? You have to ensure you help them become so.
Israel Galindo is Associate Dean for Lifelong Learning at the Columbia Theological Seminary. He is the author of the bestseller, The Hidden Lives of Congregations (Alban), Perspectives on Congregational Leadership (Educational Consultants), and A Family Genogram Workbook (Educational Consultants), with Elaine Boomer & Don Reagan, and Leadership in Ministry: Bowen Theory in the Congregational Context.