What is a Certified Christian Educator?

This year, presbyteries throughout the denomination will be considering a proposal [Amendment D] to require that churches pay certified Christian educators the minimum salary they set for pastors. It is important that before they vote, they understand what a certified Christian educator is.

This article is intended to help explain what a person must do to become a certified Christian educator, written from the point of view of one who is enrolled in the certification process.

People often ask me why I am working to become a certified Christian educator, assuming that since I have my doctorate in education and many years experience in both public and church education, I surely wouldn’t need any further schooling to be able to work in this field. But when I retired from my job as curriculum coordinator at a K-12 public school, I wanted to be more than just a good-hearted volunteer. I wanted to have the knowledge and experience to offer valuable service to Christ and the church as a consultant in Christian education (or whatever God may call me to do.)

When I first felt called to pursue these studies, I didn’t even know what a certified Christian educator was. After looking into it, I discovered that it was a well-thought-out program of studies and practical experience that has been developed and is overseen by an educator certification council on behalf of the General Assembly Council. This group establishes standards, designates a certification advisor in each presbytery, develops and evaluates certification exams and grants certificates. They report to the General Assembly through the National Ministries Division.

The purpose of certification is to recognize the professional preparation and performance of persons employed as educators, to set standards for educational competency and to provide support for professional development. Currently there are 414 certified Christian educators (active and retired) in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). In addition, 279 persons are working toward certification and in the past five years another 300 have inquired about the program.

After being accepted into the program, I began my work at Shenango Presbytery as assistant director of the resource center and staff person for Christian education. Being employed as a Christian educator is a requirement of the certification program because it is important that applicants get practical experience in the field, not just academic knowledge. The requirement is for at least one year of full time, two years of half-time, or three years of one-third-time employment.

The academic preparation to be a certified Christian educator includes gaining knowledge and skills in the areas of biblical interpretation, Reformed theology, human development (including faith development), religious education theory and practice, and polity and program & mission of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). At the certification level, studies must be completed at both undergraduate and seminary levels. These requirements can be met by taking regular college and seminary courses, by workshops followed by directed studies (studies that you do at home by reading the texts and completing the assignments) or by taking special certification courses offered by seminaries. The course on Presbyterian polity has even been offered at General Assembly!

When all the academic and work requirements have been met satisfactorily, the Certification Council approves moving on to the final phase: the examination. This final exam has three parts: Part I — biblical interpretation; Part II — educational design with both an essay on foundations of Christian education and an original curriculum that is planned, presented, and evaluated; and Part III — educational practice, in which situations are given and the person has to respond in ways that show that he or she possesses the necessary knowledge and skills and how to apply them. The final must be completed within six months of when it is received.

When a person enters the examination phase, a reference group is formed, made up of a staff colleague, another Christian educator, a member of the employing agency and the presbytery’s representative. This group will support the person through the final exam period, giving advice and feedback before the final is sent in to the certification council.

In the coming months, as presbyteries vote on the question of minimum salary standards, they should not be confused by the fact that there are many, many excellent people laboring in ministries of Christian education. However, what is to be voted on is the question of appropriate compensation for those who are actually certified. Remember, the word “certified” means that the educator has successfully completed a specific program of preparation that in many ways is as rigorous as that completed by those ordained into the ministry of Word and Sacrament.


Margaret Campbell Trautman is a retired educator who serves as volunteer assistant resource center director for Shenango Presbytery.