Tag Archives: higher education

Threefold Office in Christian Education

In doing some research for a project I’m planning to work on with a friend, I had the chance to contemplate and learn about the threefold office. The concept of the threefold office refers to Jesus’ earthly ministry and roles as prophet, priest, and king. Loosely described, the prophet represents God to the people, receiving proclamations from God and delivering them to the populace. The priest represents the people to God, making sacrifice and intercession on their behalf. The king acts as God’s agent on the earth, ruling and reigning over the people. In doing so, the king also provides an example of how to live, often bearing responsibility for the blessing or curse of the people.

So how does this impact Christian education?

CE happens in one of three places: the church, the home, and the academy (school, as in primary, secondary or higher education). While each commits themselves to CE, they  have differing emphases. It also occurs to me that those roles correspond with the threefold offices, and have a primary educational domain in which they focus. For your consideration (and recognizing the idealism in these descriptions):

  1. The church. The church’s CE role corresponds to the priestly function. At the church, we learn what to value (the affective domain) and where we should place our priorities. The Old Covenant priestly function includes some aspects of teaching, as the priest must instruct the people on the proper ways to approach God, and how to understand and value the sacrificial system. This “priestly” function carries over into the church (I know about the priesthood of all believers and as a dyed-in-the-wool protestant I affirm that belief) where we practice the ritual aspects of faith and experience communion.
  2. The home. The home’s CE role corresponds to the kingly function. In the home, we experience the rule and reign (the parents) who model the proper behavior as set forth by God, and wield the authority granted by God with grace and wisdom. In doing so, parents help children understand their role in the body, in society, and train up a child in the way he should go (Proverbs 22:6). In short, the student in the  home learns conation, and the home teaches mainly to the conative domain.
  3. The academy. The academy’s CE role corresponds to the prophetic function. Like the prophet, the academy seeks to receive and understand the revelation of God, and then communicate that to the people of God. As such, the academy studies not only the inspired word of God (the canon) but also that which God spoke into existence (creation). In doing so, the academy teaches the content of God’s revelation (the cognitive domain).

The domain and teaching content are not exclusive, but primary. The parents in the home have primary responsibility to help a child find their way, but will also work to shape the values and knowledge of that child. When that family goes to church, the pastor will primarily shape the values of that family, but will also teach the knowledge and practices of the faith. When the child goes to school, he will learn knowledge of God, but that knowledge will shape his values and methods.

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Leadership in Christian Higher Education

I have observed an odd phenomenon.

If I wanted to hire someone to run my business, I’d look for a person who studied Business Administration (e.g. an MBA). If I wanted someone to run my hospital, I’d look for someone with a Masters of Healthcare Administration (MHA). If I wanted someone to run my non-profit organization or an agency of my government, I’d look for someone with a Master of Public Administration (MPA). So when I want someone to run my seminary, I’d look for someone with a Higher Education Administration degree, right?

Wrong.

In Christian Higher Education, we look for people with training in Communications, Theology, New Testament, and Bible. Rarely, you may find someone who studied Leadership. Now, I can hear the objections.

1. “But it’s a seminary! Don’t you want someone who understands the Bible to make sure we stay true to the Word?” Yes, but a Seminary is an educational organization. If I want someone to run my educational organization, I want someone who understands (a) how to lead and run an organization and (b) how to educate someone. That means, in part, an understanding of Bible and theology, but it primarily means someone who has studied and understands Education and Leadership.

2. “But isn’t the Bible sufficient?” There are leadership and educational principles found in the Bible, true. However, the Bible speaks to many things, but not all things, and we do well to study the things related to carrying out ministerial tasks that are not in the Bible. For instance, if I’m going to run an non-profit educational organization, it would do the organization well if the one running it has studied finance, fundraising, and accounting. I don’t recall Jesus’ sermon on the principles of accounting, employment law, payroll and non-profit organizations.

3.”But if you studied enough Bible and theology, won’t it help you do those things?” Studying Bible and theology helps, especially when it comes to the ethics of running an organization. Managing the intricacies of Student Development and Academic Affairs, however, requires a specialization. Yes, I want my teachers to be experts in exegesis and to be top notch theologians. However, the people running the school should have expertise in, well, running schools.

We wonder why theological education is on the decline and why people question its value, and yet we continue to employ educational methods started by D.L. Moody. As a result, churches wonder why they should invest in a pastor who utilizes antiquated methods which cannot reach the people. Then our parents, educated in the church, cannot pass on the faith to their children because they don’t know how to disciple them. We need students and scholars committed to understanding the strengths and uniqueness of Christian education, who are willing to study and expand the understanding of the field so that practitioners can then take that knowledge and apply it in the academy, church and home.

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Student Development in Christian Education

As I reflect on my personal experiences and observations of student development and student development theory as it applies to Christian education, I find our practice of it severely lacking. While I do agree with current movements and secular theorists that the entire educational environment contributes to the student’s education, I would say that a Christian educational institution should also concern itself with Spiritual Formation and the spiritual development of the student (of course, I would argue that the entire curriculum should work toward this aim as well).

We talk about this a great deal, and schools dedicate entire departments and degrees to such (see Biola University, Wheaton College, and Fuller Theological Seminary, to name three). Unfortunately, these usually boil down to mandatory chapels and quiet times interspersed through the semester. That little-to-no research exists in spiritual formation as student development exists indicates that Christian educators and scholars have not recognized the need to take seriously the art and science of shaping the spiritual growth and development of students in Christian education. We then wonder why our seminary-trained pastors remain out of touch with their congregations, unable to communicate the wonders of the word to the world. We gape in amazement (and a bit of condemnation) at our pastors who spend years studying the word but then indulge in inappropriate behaviors when the pressures of ministry bring deeply buried sins to the surface. We stare in astonishment at our students who go through years of Christian schooling only to live lives we find contrary to our values and practices.

I do not hold institutions responsible for the sins of others, but I do suggest that we need think through the training and formation we practice in Christian education. I think we need to start by engaging in serious conversation, deep evaluation, and contemplative study guided by historical practice, current social science research, solid theological guidance and careful biblical exposition. Some have begun, but we need to do better. We must do better.

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