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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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