Christian Education's Greatest Challenges, Part 1

Republished, with permission, from Voice magazine, Jan./Feb. 2012.

The Bible places great emphasis upon the need of the local church to educate its adults nd children in the Scriptures. Christ Himself was a teacher (“teaching in their synagogues,” Matt. 4:23; “taught them as one having authority,” Matt. 7:29) and the title “Teacher” was used for Him at least forty three times in the Gospels. The apostles taught (Acts 5:21, 42; 11:26). Paul commanded the Ephesian elders to teach “the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27). He testified to the Colossians that he admonished and taught every man (Col. 1:28). The Romans who were gifted to teach were urged to concentrate on teaching (Rom. 12:7). Elders of the church must be able to teach (1 Tim. 3:2). Timothy was to give particular attention to reading, exhortation and teaching (1 Tim. 4:13). The heart of Timothy’s ministry was to be teaching training, with the goal that the teachers he trained should train others as well (2 Tim. 2:2).

The ministry of Christian education within the local church is a crucial ministry! And I believe the greatest need we have in local church Christian education are teachers who are devoted, knowledgeable, competent, Spirit filled leaders seeking to sincerely serve the Lord through their teaching ministry.

But any pastor can attest that finding teachers like this is not easy, keeping them seems even more difficult, and training them is especially difficult (if it is even attempted in the church). But recruiting, motivating and training workers are the three greatest challenges in local church Christian education.

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A Resolution on Resolutions

This year my New Year’s Resolution is to celebrate New Year’s at a time more conducive to change and renewal—oh say, spring instead of the dark, dead of winter when I’m just coming off the sugar high of the holidays. Somehow I think we Gregorian calendar devotees have got this one all wrong.

Historically, New Year’s Day hasn’t always fallen on January first because our calendar hasn’t been a consistent entity. Factor in a few mythological gods, Roman emperors, and a pope or two. Add a dash of Protestant Reformation and you’ll find that in the past, the New Year occurred anywhere from January 1 to March 25. (Surprisingly, it wasn’t until 1752 that England and the American colonies began celebrating New Year’s on January 1st.) That’s nothing to say of the multiple cultures that celebrate it in recognition of their own calendars.  And if you really want your head to spin, don’t forget all our dear southern hemisphere friends who experience the seasons opposite to us and whose Christmas and New Year’s celebrations include BBQs on the beach.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that, in my experience, making resolutions on January 1 is a bad idea.

Because there’s nothing particularly organic about celebrating the New Year this way. For most of us, it’s simply a function of the calendar and happens primarily because we’ve reached the end of the month and need to turn the page (or in my case, glue magnets on the back of my 2012 office-sized calendar from Target and stick it to the side of the refrigerator.) Think about it—there is no seasonal change or religious celebration that would motivate us to make resolutions; it’s simply a cultural obligation. Or, in my experience, the result of the guilt from eating too much, exercising too little and overspending in the last six weeks since Thanksgiving.

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Book Review - Following Jesus, the Servant King: A Biblical Theology of Covenantal Discipleship

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Mark 2:14 says, “And as he passed by, he saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And he arose and followed him” (ESV, emphasis aded). It is here that “Jesus summarizes His call to discipleship” (p. 25). So what does it mean to follow Jesus? This is what Jonathan Lunde seeks to answer in his book Following Jesus, The Servant King: A Biblical Theology of Covenantal Discipleship.

The title of the book is loaded with meaning, making a brief explanation of the words and phrases necessary. As Jesus, He calls people to follow Him as their leader. As Servant Jesus “has come to serve, and give his life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). Throughout Jesus’ ministry, Jesus is seen serving various kinds of people, culminating with His death on the cross, thus fulfilling the role of the suffering servant of Isaiah 53. As King Jesus gives commands to His disciples which “mirror the relationship God had with Old Testament Israel” (p. 26). Jesus is the promised Davidic king who rules His disciples and makes sure “God’s covenantal stipulations were upheld in the nation” (p. 26). As a biblical theology the book explores discipleship as the theme progressively unfolds from the OT to NT. Finally, as a covenantal discipleship, Lunde explores the overall meaning of discipleship through the lens of the covenants (Noahic, Abrahamic, Mosaic, Davidic and New Covenant). He defines this covenantal discipleship as,

Learning to receive and respond to God’s grace and demand, which are mediated through Jesus, the Servant King, so as to reflect God’s character in relation to him, to others, and to the world, in order that all may come to experience this same grace and respond to this same demand. (p. 276)

On the grand scale the book is structured around answering three questions. First, “Why should I be concerned to obey all of Jesus’ commands if I have been saved by grace?” (p. 28). If Jesus has fulfilled the righteousness of the Law for me, why does He give me any commands to follow? Lunde seeks to counter both “lackadaisical” and “legalistic” disciples (p. 30). Second, “What is it that Jesus demands of his disciple?” (p. 29). To answer this question, Lunde focuses on a few of Jesus’ many commands as examples for how to understand them all. Finally, “How can the disciple obey Jesus’ high demand, while experiencing His ‘yoke’ as ‘light’ and ‘easy’?” (p. 30?). Obeying commands seems to be such a burden. How can Jesus say His “yoke is easy” and his “burden is light” (Matt. 11:30)?

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Shortcut Christianity

Duty binds me to inform my readers of some astonishing news. If you’re not sitting down, you may want to do so. We received a fax at our church office recently announcing—and I quote—“A Genuine College Degree in 2 weeks! Have you ever thought that the only thing stopping you from a great job and better pay was a few letters behind your name? Well now you can get them! BA, BSc, MA, MSc, MBA, PhD. Within 2 weeks! No Study Required! 100% Verifiable! These are real, genuine degrees…Order yours today! Just call the number below.”

There you have it: a PhD without study! You’re but one phone call and two short weeks away from unlocking the door of unprecedented opportunity and taking a quantum leap in societal status. Cheers!

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Get Guilt out of the Way

Men and women, young and old, rich and poor—they all gathered at the square by the water gate. They wanted to hear the Book of the Law read. Ezra was more than willing and read from dawn to noon while everyone stood with rapt attention. Teachers helped translate and explain words grown unfamiliar after decades of neglect.

As they listened, some began to cry. They heard about the life God had offered His people and understood how badly they had failed to keep the terms of the covenant. They saw why they had been taken into captivity and had only recently returned to ruins and chaos and had struggled to rebuild the walls. And they felt deeply why, even now, they were vassals under a mighty empire.

Soon more were crying, then more. Guilt and shame filled hearts and overflowed in tears.

But Ezra, Nehemiah, and the Levites cut it short. “This is a holy day,” they insisted, “not a time for weeping! Go home and rejoice! Celebrate with good food and drink. Make sure everybody has plenty. This is not a sad day, but a holy day, a time for joy. The joy of the Lord is your strength!” (Neh. 8:9-11, author’s paraphrase.) The people were reluctant, but finally did as they were told.

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