March 18, 2019—A couple of days I received that phone call I enjoy so much. It goes like this:
Caller: “Hello, Dr. G? You probably don’t remember me, I was a student at the seminary a couple of years ago and never took a class with you. Now I’m in a church in an education staff position and . . . “
Me: “So, how’s that working out for you?”
Caller: “. . .Ummm. Well, I need some help. I realize I don’t know what a church educator does. Can you help me?”
At that point I resist two conflicting urges, (1) to laugh with inappropriate glee, and (2) to tell them to return to seminary and complete the lacuna in their education.
If I’m successful in being more sympathetic, I try to be helpful, point them to some resources, and give them the short list on what (real) church educators do:
- Envision. Church educators have a global vision of the educational enterprise, and, a contextual understanding for the enterprise as it needs to be in their local church context. This vision is informed by two things: (1) clarity of their theology, and, (2) commitment to their philosophy of education. You need both if you hope to shape an effective Christian education program.
- Plan and Design. Church educators know how to plan and design an educational program, including its curriculum (by which we do not mean the material you order from a publisher). Effective educators plan at least four years out into the future.
- Develop. Church educators spend a lot of their time in development of both the program and the people: church members, faculty, workers, volunteers, and, let’s not forget, the pastor. Job 1 for most church educators is to educate the pastor. Effective educators develop for five years into the future.
- Assess. Church educators practice rigorous educational assessment. They can evaluate the effectiveness of the educational activities in the church. The bottom line for every educator is: are we actually helping people grow in their faith? In their discipleship of obedience? In maturity?
- Equip. Church educators spend a lot of time and energy equipping people for ministry, from teaching to serving, from ministry to mission. Effective church educators are not overfunctioners, they do what they are responsible for with excellence, but they equip others to work out their calling, within and outside the church walls.
- Persevere. Effective church educators persevere. They know that it takes years of commitment and cultivation to see the fruition of their vision for an authentic and transformative Christian education program.
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.