January 29, 2018—If there’s one thing to learn from lone rangers, it’s that communal congregational life cannot be healthy and effective when one, two, or a few people run the show with agendas that do not consider the overall educational life of the congregation. This is why congregations need an education leadership team whose responsibility is to plan, coordinate, and oversee the educational life of the congregation.
The Advantages of an Education Program Leadership Team
There are distinct advantages to doing educational program planning through a central leadership team. A faith community approach to educational planning works best with a primary educational team that gives oversight to all educational and formation aspects of congregational life. This central coordinating team structure helps ensure that the educational church ministries are programmed for integration and balance, with a view toward meeting the educational and formation needs of the congregation as a whole. In addition, this team helps avoid fragmentation and the competition for resources that often develops when individuals or narrowly-focused groups have responsibility for particular ministry areas. This does not mean that other teams are not necessary to carry out the educational work of the church. In fact additional teams are necessary, and more so, as a congregation becomes larger and the educational ministry grows more complex. But the function of educational leadership for a community of faith is best attained when the entire scope of congregational life is addressed by a leadership team that has been assigned that purpose.
In medium-sized congregations (150 to 300 average worship attendance) it is common that educational program planning and oversight is given over to a single congregational staff member. Too often in those program-sized congregations staff persons work in isolation, and typically are given responsibility for multiple areas of ministry programming. (1) For a fuller treatment on how the size of a congregation affects the communal life of the congregation see Israel Galindo, The Hidden Life of Congregations: Understanding Church Dynamics (pp. 77-94).
For example, many congregations support their education staffing needs with persons who have combination positions—music and youth; worship and education; youth and discipleship; etc. As a result one of two scenarios often happens. In one, any existing educational ministry planning group will likely disband when the new staff person arrives, happily giving over leadership and oversight to a program they’ve struggled to make work. Or, in the other, with no existing team or committee in place the new program staff person neglects to recruit, train, and develop a leadership team and winds up working as the Lone Ranger in the program areas assigned. It does not take long before ministry programs are seen as belonging to the staff person, created in his or her image. And it won’t take long to burn out the staff member who must bear the burden of carrying out multiple ministry responsibilities that grow more complex and demanding with each year.
Many program-sized and larger-sized congregations use an exclusively age-graded programming approach for educational leadership. Smaller congregations (with 50 to 150 average worship attendance) struggle to get enough leaders on committees or ministry teams. If yours is a smaller congregation the Christian Education Leadership Team approach and organization will work if you scale down the number of persons on the team. The key to effectiveness is not the number of persons on the team, rather, it is clarity about the function of the team: planning, coordinating, and evaluating the formation education ministry of the congregation.
In fact, it is easier for a smaller congregation to put this integrative model in place and grow with it than it is for a larger congregation to have to re-organize after things get fragmented. These churches may develop separate age-graded leadership teams or committees and give them the responsibility for planning and carrying out ministry for a particular age group. For example, many congregations have a children’s leadership team, a youth leadership group, and, perhaps, an adult education committee.
More often than not, however, the educational programming for the church will fall on a professional paid or volunteer staff person who gives vision and oversight to these ministry areas but who often tends to work in isolation. This is problematic for several reasons. First, it sets the congregation up for a fragmented educational program. Second, it works against the nature of the church as a community of faith—the church is a faith community, not a school made up of departments with specialized topics of study or particularized populations Any approach that segregates the leadership and planning process of the community of faith is not supportive of, or congruent with, the inherent communal nature of the church. Effective planning requires systemic integration.
(1) Smaller congregations (with 50 to 150 average worship attendance) struggle to get enough leaders on committees or ministry teams. If yours is a smaller congregation the Christian Education Leadership Team approach and organization will work if you scale down the number of persons on the team. The key to effectiveness is not the number of persons on the team, rather, it is clarity about the function of the team: planning, coordinating, and evaluating the formation education ministry of the congregation. In fact, it is easier for a smaller congregation to put this integrative model in place and grow with it than it is for a larger congregation to have to re-organize after things get fragmented.
Adapted from Galindo and Canaday, Planning for Christian Education Formation: A Community of Faith Approach.
Israel Galindo is Associate Dean for Lifelong Learning and Director of Online Education 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 and Don Reagan.
His books on Christian education include Mastering the Art of Instruction,The Craft of Christian Teaching (Judson), How to be the Best Christian Study Group Leader (Judson), Planning for Christian Education Formation (Chalice), and Leadership in Ministry: Bowen Theory in the Congregational Context.