Thursday, April 29, 2010

The saturating element

This post comes from Dr. Ralph E. Enlow, Jr. in the latest eNews mailout (subscribe here) from ABHE:

A recent Orlando Sentinel under-30 “new voices” guest editorialbible_study feature by a 19-year old college student arrested my attention. The young lady is a student in a nearby nominally Christian, historically church-related college. The essay’s headline reads: Divining the presence of God: group think? Reflecting on sociologists Michael Donahue and Bradley Hertel’s assertion that the “collective conscience” effect (postulated by Emil Durkheim) of parental style correlates strongly with children’s image of God, the student posits that the “spiritual energy” associated with the manifest presence of the “Holy Spirit” may be simply an emanation of collective thought. Upon what authority does she base her conclusion? “Ultimately, one’s own personal experiences and beliefs become the judge of Durkheim’s idea.”

Seldom do we witness a more naked acknowledgement of the postmodern worldview’s self-validating subjectivity. What can be known is an unimpeachably personal matter and what can, thus, be asserted as truth is at the same time both speculative and unverifiable. Truth is validated by self-interpreted personal experience, nothing more. Such is the product of higher education from which biblical engagement is absent and in which divine revelation is regarded as intellectually inadmissible.

Whatever else biblical higher education means, it must involve an epistemological commitment to the Bible as a relevant, authoritative source for knowing and to study of the Bible as central to the pursuit of life and truth. We do not make the Bible central to our curricula merely because we are preparing people for church occupations but because deep and lifelong engagement with the Scriptures is the key to every field of human inquiry and flourishing. Study of the Bible must not be merely a curricular supplement; it must be a saturating element. Now more than ever we must neither diminish nor shrink from our commitment to ensure that our education is substantially and functionally biblical higher education. Otherwise, we may become places of religious symbolism and pious sentimentality engaging our students in group think.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Universal church board functions

According to well-known church consultant Aubrey Malphurs, inMalphurs his book Leading Leaders (Baker Books, 2005), the key to effective leadership in the vast majority of today's churches lies as much with their governing boards as it does with their pastor. But Malphurs is concerned that many churches are led by those who volunteer because there is a need, yet they have little leadership training to help them succeed. He asks, “How can well-meaning but sometimes ill-prepared lay people guide the path of a church body?”

While church boards are necessary, I doubt serving in this role has ever generated the kind of enthusiasm that other forms of church ministry do. Perhaps if boards reacquainted themselves with some crucial theological and practical aspects of church leadership, those involved in this vital ministry might feel reinvigorated. Therefore, let me illustrate some universal “best practices” of boardmanship in local churches, drawing upon insights from Malphurs book and the Bible:

  • Praying (Malphurs, pp. 66-67). Boards can lead by praying for the congregation, for the pastor and staff, and for themselves. Taking their cue from Epaphras, board members can lead through wrestling in prayer for everyone’s strength of faith, maturity and full perception of God’s complete will for them (cf. Col. 4:12). Paul urges the churches at Colossae and Laodicea to “Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ…” (Col. 4:2-3 NIV).
  • Monitoring or Overseeing (Malphurs, pp. 67-70). In the spirit of the way Paul instructed Timothy to “Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Tim. 4:16 NIV), there are four crucial areas that require board oversight:
    • The church’s spiritual condition: Boards can monitor the church’s spiritual vital signs, such as passion in worship, attentiveness to the Holy Spirit’s voice, relational health, regular and meaningful fellowship and active participation in Christian mission.
    • The church’s essential biblical doctrine: All this assumes that board members have a working knowledge of the Bible and theology. Church leaders must remember there are essentials and non-essential doctrines. I recommend taking direction from Mohler’s guidelines for “theological triage.”[1] Boards can offer a different pulse on the congregation’s teaching needs that will help pastors be more relevant.
    • The church’s ministry direction and philosophy: Certainly this includes both mission and vision but also the church’s ministry style. A church’s direction and philosophy of ministry is often an area of conflict and intense competition. Someone must clarify what kind of church this is lest strong personalities attempt to highjack it around their own interests.
    • The Senior Pastor’s leadership: Depending on the functioning of the church’s governance model, monitoring, encouraging, protecting and evaluating a senior pastor is the board’s responsibility. Good policy along with trust and wisdom in these matters will help ensure the long-term health of a local church’s leadership.
  • Deciding (Malphurs, pp. 70-71): A crucial meeting that determined a theological and cultural tenet occurs in Acts 15. Here, the apostles and elders met to consider the question of Gentile observance of Jewish customs in relation to salvation. After much listening and discussion, Scripture records a wonderful phrase: “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us…” (Acts 15:28), that illustrates the persons involved in and method of vital decision-making in church leadership. Ultimately, it is boards and pastors who should be meeting to make the church’s key decisions in concert with the direction of the Holy Spirit.
  • Advising (Malphurs, p. 71): Having been in diverse leadership roles, I have found there is indeed much to gain from several advisers. Proverbs 15:22 states “Without consultation, plans are frustrated, But with many counselors they succeed (NASB). Boards must not shrink back from advising pastoral staff on ministry issues because they believe the pastor knows better. Having been a pastor and now a board member, I can testify that neither party holds the lion’s share of wisdom or expertise on church ministry.

[1] Learn more about this at (accessed Feb.12, 2008).

Monday, April 19, 2010

The Craft of Christian Teaching

Released in 1998 by Judson Press, Israel Galindo has writtenGalindo1 mostly from the perspective of teaching in a local church, Galindo writes that at the heart of this book “is the question of what are authentic skills and approaches to Christian instruction in the local church and related settings” (p. 4). The book intends to help teachers by providing a basic orientation to an authentic approach to the craft of Christian teaching. For Galindo, Christian teaching lays a solid base for the uniqueness of Christian education’s sanctifying role in helping people “become” and that learning equals change. It is clear that Galindo is a passionate teacher who clearly articulates the importance of skilled teachers being present at key teaching moments in someone’s life.

Strangely, Galindo seems to suggest that a teacher’s ability to teach is not as important a value in the learning experience compared to the learner’s participation (p. 156) and people who don’t feel they can teach are “just the people we’re looking for.” While I agree with his concern that over-emphasizing teacher performance could produce passive dependent learners I think this is an odd remark that undermines the importance of the spiritual gift of teaching and the individuals who serve with this gift. I think he is getting at the common assumption that education is centered on the teacher who is loaded with content. While I agree that the fruit of Christian teaching is someone who learns, the tree on which that fruit hangs in not any old tree!

Especially meaningful and applicable to me was chapter 2, “What Makes Christian Education Christian?” From this, I constructed the following diagram with only a slight modification from Galindo’s order:


If Galindo  is correct in stating that the goal of the intentional educator is to help persons “become”  and the tremendous power and potential of education is to “help shape and make different persons, hopefully, better persons,” (p, 15) then the most fundamental implication on the Christian teacher is to nurture “becoming.”

Friday, April 9, 2010

And Jesus said...

Graffiti found on a wall of St. John's University:

Jesus said unto them: "Who do you say that I am?"

And they replied: "You are the eschatological manifestation of the ground of our being, the omnipotent ecclesiastical authority, the absolute, divine, sacerdotal monarch, the kerygma in which we find the ultimate meaning of our interpersonal relationships."

And Jesus said: "What?"

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Education System: One Body, Many Parts

Approaches to assessment often highlight the power struggles, clashing interests, competition over scarce resources, and differing perspectives that complicate the relationships between teachers, students, districts, and government or accrediting bodies.

I’ve paraphrased this portion from 1 Corinthians 12 to help me engage the multiple perspectives and seek justice for the various interests that make up our education systems:body_parts

One Body with Many Parts

12 The human body has many parts, but the many parts make up one whole body. So it is with the education system. 13 Some of us are teachers, some are students, some are administrators, some are community leaders and parents, and some are governing bodies. But we have all been baptized into one body by one society, and we all share the same purpose.

14 Yes, the body has many different parts, not just one part. 15 If the teacher says, “I am not a part of the body because I am not a politician,” that does not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the community leader or parent says, “I am not part of the body because I don’t work in a school,” would that make it any less a part of the body? 17 If the whole body were an accrediting agency, how would you love? Or if your whole body were a student, how would you learn anything?

18 But our bodies have many parts, and God has put each part just where he wants it. 19 How strange a body would be if it had only one part! 20 Yes, there are many parts, but only one body. 21 The teacher can never say to the government, “I don’t need you.” The administrators can’t say to the students, “I don’t need to listen to you.”

22 In fact, some parts of the body that seem weakest and least important are actually the most necessary. 23 And the parts we regard as less honorable are those we clothe with the greatest care. So we carefully protect those parts that are often not seen (like late hours in preparation or interactions in classrooms),24  while the more honorable parts do not require this special care. So God has put the body together such that extra honor and care are given to those parts that have less dignity. 25 This makes for harmony among the members, so that all the members care for each other. 26 If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it, and if one part is honored, all the parts are glad. (paraphrased from 1 Corinthians 12:12-26, New Living Translation)

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Goodbye to Zoey

We had to bury one of our cats this week. We found her body after she’d been missing for two weeks. It seems she ingested some poison somewhere in the neighborhood. She was only with us for four months but she brought much joy to our home during a time when joy was hard to find elsewhere. We miss you Zoey.IMG_2492

A visitor from Heaven
If only for a while
A gift of love to be returned
We think of you and smile

With aching hearts and empty arms
We send you with a name
It hurts so much to let you go
But we’re so glad you came
We’re so glad you came

Having our say on how we are made.

Robinson Sir Ken Robinson says our education system works like a factory. It's based on models of mass production, conformity and standardization that actually prevent kids from finding their passions and succeeding. See his video here .

It seems the current motives for reforming US public education come down to protecting the future of the economy and basic hubris. President Obama appears driven to improve education for the sake of the nation's economy, saying it is directly tied to the education of its citizens. Also, it seems that no nation must be allowed to surpass the US in test scores. Is this really the grand mission that students and teachers should get out of bed in the morning for?

Notice the language of meritocracy in his plans when he goes on to say, “Good teachers will be rewarded with more money for improved student achievement.” Roger Schank responds here: “Really? Is that how professionals are treated these days? Do we measure other professionals by how those they mentor do on standardized tests? Would you, Mr. Obama, like to be measured by how your staff does on standardized tests? Treating teachers like professionals might include letting them actually teach to a student's interests and concerns rather than helping them raise their math scores.”

Furthermore, Mr. Obama has promised that by 2020, America will “once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world.” Schank responds in a another blog post: “Why does this matter?…I am sure what Mr. Obama meant to say was that by 2020 our population will be able to reason effectively, work well with others, and communicate well. At least that is something he quoted from me while he was campaigning.”

Instead of solutions that speak of even tougher and more rigorous testing, how about a discussion on the quality of the motives and vision driving all this? As Sir Ken Robinson argues, the current system of education is driven by the ambitions and principles of mass production and international competition. This is the system, Robinson believes, that prevents people from finding their true talents and passions. As he says, automobiles have no interest in how they are made, but young people do!