It is important also for the church to understand that if this great task is to be successful, all must be involved in the process. The resource Christian Education Ministry Overview states, “The Christian Education ministry of the church is not a one person job. It takes many people working at different levels and in different capacities…Listening to a sermon in the corporate worship service is not enough to facilitate true growth. Discipleship also needs to be happening on the personal level, one-on-one with fellow believers, in small groups, and in midsize groups. Each of these levels offers a different dynamic to the growth process” (Mintools.com, 1).
One of the strategies a church can examine is the use of small groups for example. Julie Gorman, one of the contributing authors from the book, Introducing Christian Education: Foundations for the Twenty-first Century states, “In the race to survive, many churches have responded to this phenomenon by developing small group programs with a specific focus on accomplishing biblical mandates…The challenge for the church is to find a way to integrate the benefits of small group ministry in such a way that it is done with theological integrity and programmatic quality” (176). The author Neal F. McBride in his book, How to Lead Small Groups, adds some fundamental input when he states, “Jesus Christ is pictured as the greatest small group leader in history. He is our model. Ephesians 4:1-2 (NIV) admonishes us, ‘Be imitators of God…and live a life of love.’” (15).
When a church has established programs and strategies, it must not forget the importance of understanding “who” they are teaching. It is important for a church to understand the beliefs regarding how people learn and grow in the Christian faith. The church must take the time to understand what effects cognitive, moral, and faith development have on the learning process. There are different learning styles one may utilize in teaching. All of these things must be considered when trying to teach in a way that is developmentally appropriate.
In the book, Introducing Christian Education: Foundations for the Twenty-first Century, the contributing author, Ellery Pullman states, “Piaget maintained that there are four major periods of cognitive development. Each period is age-related and has certain characteristics that permit various types of knowing and understanding” (68). According to the author, understanding these stages will help one better prepare for teaching different ages in an appropriate way. In the Sensorimotor Stage (0 – 2), for example, children learn about themselves and their environment through handling and experimenting with things around them. During the Preoperational Stage (2 – 7) children become more and more capable of thinking, using words to represent the objects and events they experience. The child’s imagination becomes more exposed during this stage. In the Concrete Operations Stage (7 – 11), the child develops the ability to think operationally. “An operation is a thought or mental action. Children are able to think more logically about their environment and execute mental operations that they previously had to carry out physically” (Pullman, 69).
The last of the stages, Formal Operations (11 – 15) is when children/youth are able to manipulate abstract ideas. Thought arises from a combination of maturing and experience. “A distinguishable feature of formal operational thought is the ability to think outside the box – to think of possibilities, not jus present reality” (Pullman 69). Understanding these stages, allows programming that is appropriate for each stage that will help the teacher meet the needs of the student. “There are several guidelines for applying Piaget’s concepts. First, the teaching of biblical concepts needs to focus on what learners at each stage can do and avoid what they cannot meaningfully understand. This implication needs to be understood very carefully, as recent research has shown that children in the preoperational and concrete operational stages can do more than initially believed by Piaget” (Pullman, 70).
The author’s James Riley Estep Jr. and Alvin W. Kuest, contributing writes in the book, Introducing Christian Education: Foundations for the Twenty-first Century states, “What is moral development? This question is often asked throughout society. Interest in the development of morals in children and adults has even reached into the arena of public education” (73). The authors inform the reader that the theories with the most impact on education have relied on cognitive development.
When theories are used in creating appropriate programs, the teacher has more tools available to them to provide what each group needs to grow. “Moral development is a critical concern for Christian educators, both in theory and practice. By gleaning insights from Scripture and the social sciences, we are better able to fashion a more complete understanding of moral development as well as provide more effective ministries in our local church… Understanding the development processes associated with moral development will allow us to be better educators in the classroom, in our Christian schools, and in our homes” (Estep, Jr. and Kuest, 81). (Come back next week for the next installment)