by Richard H. Gentzler, Jr.
A married couple attends worship and church school on Sunday morning. The next day, the husband is rushed to the hospital. He dies two days later.
Across town, a nine-year-old girl is kidnapped and brutally murdered.
A single parent, raising her three school-age children, is told by her supervisor that she and 500 of her fellow employees will be laid off at the end of the month.
A young couple coping with the stress of being newly married and facing financial burdens wonder if divorce is a solution to their problems.
A young boy is taunted and teased by other children because he is not a good basketball player.
A husband and wife, both recently retired and preparing to spend time traveling, learn that the woman's mother has Alzheimer's disease and is no longer capable of living alone.
Life isn't easy for many people in these rapidly changing times. Loved ones die. Relationships end. Dreams go unfulfilled. The desire to remain faithful is a constant struggle. People stumble along, uncertain about today and fearful of tomorrow. Cynicism, suspicion, and anger rule many people's lives.
When people are confronted with the struggles that are part of the human condition, some may feel that life is hopeless. Some turn to drugs or other means of escape. Some people just give up.
It is within this context that many people in our world are looking to religion for help. People want to know that God exists and that God will help them in times of need. Whether they know it or not, many people are on a spiritual quest.
Although many people see no reason to have faith or hope, they still want something more out of life. Despite the violence that pervades society, the greed that tempts persons, the rampant sexism, racism, and ageism, and the addictions that threaten to destroy them, people want answers to their basic questions: "Why do we live as we do?" "How can our future be assured?" "Where can we find answers to the questions that frighten us?"
Our high-tech society cannot answer questions about the meaning of life. While we may be able to transmit entire books by computer and eat meals on three different continents in the same day, we find ourselves disabled before the fragmentation of God's people. Although the "information superhighway" and scientific advances are impressive, they have no real answers for the substantial longings of the human heart. People live in communities, not as friends, but as strangers or even enemies. Many neighborhoods are ruled by chaos and fear. Wholeness continues to escape us as individuals, communities, and congregations. Disillusionment, disappointment, and discouragement disrupt and often threaten to destroy lives.
How can people survive -- much less thrive -- in such a world? Where do people find the courage and faith to keep going?
Christ Offers Hope
As Christians, our answer is found in the reality and truth of God in Christ, the Christ revealed in the Bible and revealed as the living Christ in the minds and hearts of women and men throughout the ages. Our hope is in the One who ate with sinners, healed the sick, gave sight to the blind, and set the captives free. Christ offers hope to all who live in fear, despair, or discouragement. God's Spirit strengthens and encourages us in our Christian lives.
However, the Christian life and the assurance one has in and through Christ cannot automatically be achieved. Individuals must grow in their faith. It is only wishful thinking to believe that children, youth, and adults become Christians without careful thought and planning. We cannot leave faith to chance. As Christians, we are called to teach others the faith. Christian education is the guided process of helping persons grow in faith.
Through Christian education, we invite people and communities to be transformed as they are inspired and challenged to:
(from Foundations: Shaping the Ministry of Christian Education in Your Congregation, Discipleship Resources, 1993, page 5)
- Know and experience God through Jesus Christ.
- Claim and live God's promises and
- Grow and serve as Christian disciples.
While it is important for persons to know about God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, sin, salvation, and the Bible, Christian education invites persons to be transformed by God's love. Christian education helps persons come to know God personally through Jesus Christ, to accept God's love, and to grow in faith as disciples. The life in Christ is the goal of Christian education.
Christian education teaches children, youth, and adults the truth of Jesus Christ and equips them to be in ministry both within and outside the church. As people's lives are transformed by Christ's love, they understand the responsibility of using their gifts for the good of all people.
The need for Christian education has never been more urgent than it is today. Adults are searching for a life that has meaning. Youth are searching for identity and acceptance. Children are searching for love and security. The need for Christ is real.
Christian education is more than the Sunday school program. Christian education must be a central commitment of the congregation. It should permeate the life of the community of faith.
Of particular importance to Christian education is the teacher -- whether pastor, professional staff, or volunteer. The teacher, who is growing in Christ, helps children, youth, and/or adults know what Christ did, who Christ is. How the teacher models and lives out her or his faith is as important as what he or she teaches.
©Richard H. Gentzler, Jr., is an adult ministries specialist with the General Board of Discipleship. Permission is granted to download and reproduce this article.
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