Guiding into Completeness
In this issue
Sundoulos recently joined the Department of Christian Education for a wide-ranging conversation about academics, ministry, and life. The department includes Richard Leyda (Chair), Michael Anthony, Klaus Issler, Kevin Lawson, Jonathan Kim, and Jane Carr. Inside jokes and off-topic ramblings had to be edited out…
Sundoulos: What are some of the current trends in the academic areas of Christian Education that could really help a pastor or an associate or youth pastor at a church?
Kevin Lawson: There’s a lot of work in the study of the spiritual lives of children and trying to better understand the Christian nurture of children. I think children have been marginalized, both in the church and in the academy, and it’s nice to see some renewed interest in research and writing about children as a key part of what Christian Ed. is about.
Klaus Issler: Kevin has been a part of a couple of conferences, one in Thailand and one in Houston, Texas, and some of us have written chapters in a book on children’s spirituality.
Sundoulos: What’s the book?
Lawson: Children’s Spirituality, edited by Don Ratcliff, published by Cascade.
Issler: We’re looking at children’s issues from the empirical and ministry side, and also from the theological side. But the broader issue of spirituality is another area that has great importance for the church, a recovering of some of our heritage, such as Puritans and pietists.
Richard Leyda: Here’s another direction that the discipline is tending to move: For quite a while we were fairly enamored with the social sciences, but I think there’s a movement back to our theological base. It’s exciting to see somebody with an MDiv coming into CE. It’s important to understand that Scripture contains not only the content of education, but also has a lot to say about the method of education and how we’re supposed to do what we do.
Lawson: Ken Gangel, who’s kind of an elder statesmen in the field of Christian Education, especially in the evangelical group, was on a panel at the NAPCE [National Association of Professors of Christian Education] Conference and commented that Christian Ed. is a theological discipline that incorporates the findings of social sciences, rather than a social science discipline that throws a few Bible passages on for support.
Michael Anthony: One of the trends we see is the traditional Director of Christian Education role, which was so prominent in the ’70s and ’80s, transitioning over to other avenues of specialization, of pastor of discipleship, evangelism, pastoral care, even executive pastor. In a mid-size church, someone had to coordinate and administrate the staff, the human relations end of things, the legal and financial parts. You get into the annual strategic planning process and senior pastors just weren’t equipped or didn’t have the time to deal with those things, so it always fell on the Director of Christian Ed. because that individual seemed to have the most management background…
Sundoulos: The most free time? [laughter]
Anthony: No, not necessarily, but in our discipline we multitask, and as a result, many have transitioned into what has now become known as the executive pastor role, the chief operating officer of the church. So the Christian Ed. director of the ’80s has morphed into about six different kinds of professional roles in the church. This makes it difficult to say precisely what a Christian educator in the 21st century church really looks like.
Lawson: I like the way Michael put it a year ago at a conference, where he said it really is a sign of the success, the growth of the field that has resulted in these different specializations, and that’s something that ought to be celebrated rather than bemoaned.
Jonathan Kim: It’s clear that postmodernity brought many unanticipated changes to educational ministry. One of the emerging trends in Christian Education is the comprehensive study of the relationship between culture and spirituality. With the arrival of a new millennium came a major shift in cultural contours — ministry is now global. As a result, many educators are seeking to develop an appropriate pedagogy toward multicultural and global ministry as they seek to explain the relationship between culture and spirituality on the basis of biblical theology.
Jane Carr: I might add that it seems like there are more and more females coming to Talbot to study Christian Education, specifically children’s ministry, because they’re beginning to see that there’s finally an avenue that’s widely accepted for women…
Sundoulos: In a professional role…
Carr: Yes, in a professional role. Children’s and women’s ministries are widely accepted roles for females, but beyond that it is still a struggle for women in most churches. One thing we need to do as a seminary is to begin addressing the theological issues that surround women in ministry. A lot of women in the church are confronted with this issue every day, and yet male leaders have given so little attention to developing a solid theological stance to support their own views.
Leyda: We are seeing an increase in the number of women at the undergrad level who are looking at youth ministry as a viable career, as well as some at the master’s level.
One of the things we’ve been able to do recently, because of a grant from Bible Study Fellowship International, is to sponsor conferences in the spring. We had a conference on Generation X ministry. Last year, we held a very well-received Children’s Spirituality conference, focusing on issues that Kevin talked about earlier, and we didn’t have enough space for everybody. There was a real, pent-up demand for the topic. This coming spring we’re offering a conference related to the “emerging church” and the seminary.
Sundoulos: Changing gears here: How do you see your dual role as scholars and ministers? How do you keep one foot in the rarified atmosphere of academia and the other foot in the church? How do you keep practical and yet up to date? Do you feel a tension in that?
Anthony: We just never sleep, that’s all! [laughter] I think a lot of us have hands on in different avenues of ministry. At the moment, I’m a police chaplain, and Tuesday we had a jumper on the freeway, so they called me over to help out and counsel the girl who drove over the guy who jumped off the bridge. I get a lot of hands-on ministry counseling officers and their families — the divorce rate of police officers is 74%, and the suicide rate among police officers is the highest of any career — so there’s never a shortage of crises to deal with. And then I bring that into class, and I say, “Okay, this is what happened at 2 o’clock this morning when I got a call.” I go on to say, “As children’s pastors and youth pastors, you will be brought in on these same calls, because they often times call you first when a crisis hits, and when you get called in, what are you going to say? That’s not the time to start digging through your files and your books — you need to know now.” I bring that stuff into class and break them into groups and do case studies, trying to come up with real-life biblical solutions to contemporary problems.
Leyda: I think that because we are an applied discipline, we don’t have as much difficulty as some of the other disciplines in terms of making it practical. So whether it’s remaining active in the church, on search committees, elder boards, or serving on other boards, I find that’s an important thing to keep me thinking about things that I teach. We are blessed with Jane because she’s actually on a church staff at Yorba Linda Friends, but also we have her full-time…. I don’t know how she does that…maybe she never sleeps. [laughter]
Carr: I do think that it’s a difficult balance. I never wanted to leave the church; that was part of the difficulty in making my decision to come to Talbot in the first place. Most of the time I feel like I’m on a treadmill, trying to keep both going, but when I see students light up because you’re telling them something that happened to you yesterday at the church office, not ten years ago, that’s the blessing that keeps me going and doing it.
Leyda: And absolutely critical is the internship program that we have. The university is pretty good at the theoretical, but it’s not very good at giving a real-life experience, so unless we partner with a church to be able to immerse students in a specific experience where they can get on-site mentoring, their education is just chopped in half. As director of our undergraduate internship, I see the program as critical for us to make a bridge with the church.
Kim: I try to ease the tension between classroom teaching and ministry by connecting theory and practice in what I do as an educator. I often volunteer to serve churches, especially small, ethnic churches which often are run by a single pastor. What these churches often lack is the ability to provide training resources and workshops to equip their lay leaders. That’s where I come in as I try to provide training and assistance to these churches.
Sundoulos: What sort of research projects are you working on? Do you have articles or books coming out? Kevin, how about the journal you’re editing? What’s bubbling up that our alumni can be looking for?
Lawson: The Christian Education Journal is one thing. We have taken on the ownership of the journal, and our third issue is out this fall. I’m the General Editor, and Klaus is the Book Review Editor. Working on it with other Christian Education faculty across the country has just been a great experience.
And one more thing I’ll mention: I did a casestudy of a group of women who have been part of a prayer and Bible study group for 40 years, looking at the impact of that kind of a group on those who participate over that length of time. So many people in the past have talked about the danger of long-term small groups, that you really ought to split up or start multiple groups. Yet, this is a group that has stayed together, and I’m interested to see what I can learn and share that with others in small group ministry.
Anthony: I just had a book released with Broadman & Holman called Management Essentials for Christian Ministry, looking at the organizational management aspect of how we manage religious non-profit ministries. I’m also working with Gary McIntosh, writing a book entitled Front Door Side Door, also for Broadman & Holman. We’re surveying 1,500 new members in churches around North America, ascertaining what is it about the church that attracted them to the degree that they wanted to actually join the church. And I’ve recently contracted to co-author a book with Dr. Mick Boersma entitled Sojourners: Career Directions for Pastors in Transition, based on a survey of nearly 100 pastors. The book is designed to provide assistance to pastors who are making frequent career changes. It will be published by Zondervan next year.
Sundoulos: Michael, you also edited a dictionary…
Anthony: Yeah, the Evangelical Dictionary of Christian Education, as well as a relatively new Introduction to Christian Education text, both with Baker. I think that’s great for Talbot, because people are reading these foundational books in Bible colleges all across North America, and of course, they ask the obvious question, “If I’m going to go into this field, rather than just reading these books, why don’t I go the school where these professors are housed?” And so they come to Talbot and they get the professors who are the authors of these chapters, the editors of these books.
Issler: I’ve got a book with J.P. Moreland coming out next February on the area of Christian living and spiritual discipline, published by NavPress.
Carr: I initiated a web-based networking arena for children’s ministry professionals called CM Pros, an online e-group. To subscribe to it, you go to firstname.lastname@example.org, and once someone has subscribed, you interact online with hundreds of professionals from around the world. I moderate it to keep things focused and headed in the right direction.
Sundoulos: As you look back to your own days in seminary, what have been some of the most influential factors that God has used to make you the person you are today? Has it been people, books, habits, conferences, associations?
Leyda: I’d have to say my wife and kids, my family. God seems to have a way of getting at issues in my life through my kids, bringing theory into stark reality. You can’t insulate yourself from your family.
Lawson: I would echo that, and then add ministry failures and successes. I’ve learned more from the failures than the successes. I think that the years of experience in church ministry and continuing to have some participation now as a volunteer is very important in shaping who I am and what I’m about. Good reading has also shaped me.
Issler: Along with those things, writing projects have really helped stretch me — reading the books, connecting with colleagues, asking questions, auditing courses, the conferences you need to go to.
Kim: For me, doing research and reading outside of my discipline sharpens my thought and writing. Lately I’ve been doing a lot of reading on theology and philosophy, which is helping me deepen my understanding of many foundational issues in Christian Education.
Carr: I would just say definitely the difficult days of ministry are the most influential on my life. They have shaped me, they’ve caused me to rely more on God and less on myself, they have given me a greater sense of calling to ministry and clarity about what God wants to do in my life.
Anthony: You know what really drives me, honestly, is because I remember my roots. I remember as a high school kid being a long-haired surfer kid on the beach in San Diego with most of my kids, my peers, on their way to jail. And I recognize that God really did a miraculous work to grab me from that context and put me where I am today.
Sundoulos: The life of a church staff person is so busy these days, so many competing demands on time, resources. What advice would you give our alumni with respect to staying current with developments in the field of Christian Education, and remaining faithful for the long haul in their ministry?
Lawson: In the Christian Education Journal, the book review section by itself helps you keep up with new things coming out and do some assessment on them. As for the question about remaining faithful in ministry for the long haul, I would put it in this phrase: “Don’t feel guilty about taking care of yourself” in a variety of ways: rest, exercise, good friends, golf, surfing — I think one of the greatest struggles people in vocational ministry have is that strong sense of call to give and to serve, but not really taking time to care for their own needs and to see God’s goodness to them when they’re not on the job.
Issler: We talk about caring for our bodies, which is very important, but also we need to care for our souls, to tend to those things that will help nurture us down deep. Friendships are really an important part of that, and also entering into some of the disciplines to connect with God more in our soul in solitude and silence, meditating on Scripture.
Leyda: Kevin did a study of what made for a successful associate staff ministry, and part of what I gleaned out of that is that the relationship one has with a senior pastor was a fairly critical element. Also — and Klaus alluded to this — nurturing your community, being refreshed by the key relationships in your life.
Carr: I’d say be a reader of a wide variety of things, both Christian and secular. Interact with non-believers, get outside of the church. I think far too many people in our field only know Christians and have lost touch with the real world.
Anthony: In terms of vibrancy for the long haul, as Jane said, staying connected with the lost should be a passion. And I think a key to the long haul is relationships.
Kim: Having a constant focus on the big picture is very important in ministry — we must remember why we do what we do, and for whose sake we are doing it. Having the big picture not only provides a clear directional movement in ministry but also gives meaning and purpose. Also, upholding the Scripture in teaching is very, very important. A key to the success of Christian Education in the 21st century lies in the church’s ability to provide a truth-based vision of the future. As long as the direction of Christian Education is guided by Scripture, there will be a continual improvement in ministry. Pastors must cultivate lay people with principles grounded in the timeless truths of Scripture, so they can appropriate scriptural knowledge in life.
Sundoulos: Is there something you’d like to add that I haven’t asked, that you’re dying to communicate with our readers?
Lawson: The Christian Education department here at Biola and Talbot is a very strong one. The people here, as you can hear, are pretty diverse. We’re not all majoring in the same thing, and the field of Christian Education is a big field, and we have a lot of good things to offer. So as alumni are reading this, pray for us; be thankful that God is pulling people together in this department to provide a good experience for those who come to study. There are good things happening here.
Leyda: I am probably more impressed than ever at the quality of the students coming in — their desire to serve the Lord, the richness of their experience, and their commitment, and that just stirs me to want to teach better and to encourage them as best I can.
Sundoulos: Thank you all very much. What a delight it is to serve alongside such a great department, as you help our students understand how to equip faithful men and women who can pass along the faith!