GA News: We’re still ‘imagining what God will do through Christian education,’ says Mendenhall

SAN JOSE, June 26, 2008 — “Why do we continue to do Christian education? Because we want our lives to be something bigger than just our own stories. We want to be part of God’s story,”

 the Rev. Dr. Laura Mendenhall, president of Columbia Theological Seminary, told the crowd at the Association of Presbyterian Church Educators (APCE) Luncheon on Thursday.

Accompanied by enthusiastic tabletop drum rolls, Mendenhall spoke on the “Top Ten Reasons We Continue To Do Christian Education,” using the reverse order style popularized by The Late Show with David Letterman. The list:

10. Because the Bible tells us to.

9. Christian education connects us to Jesus Christ and to Christ’s church. “Most of us want to live this life aware of God’s presence with us. We don’t want to live as if we are alone,” said Mendenhall. This connection is why many new churches start with Christian education, through home or storefront Bible study.

8. Our faith seeks understanding.

7. Faith does not always have understanding. “Christian education nurtures us into the covenant life of God’s people who will believe for us when we cannot believe for ourselves, who will give us a place to ask the big questions — the questions that have no answers — Why do children suffer? Why is love lost? Why does tragedy strike the helpless? Where is God?” Mendenhall went on, “Christian education gives us a community that will not become alarmed and cast us out when we cannot believe. Christian education allows us to probe the mystery.”

6. Christian education leads to worship, which leads to Christian education.

5. Christian education leads to mission, which leads to Christian education. Pointing out that very few people want to only be biblical scholars, Mendenhall said that Christian education prepares God’s people to join in God’s justice, reconciliation, peace, compassion and hope.

4. Christian education keeps us healthy — spiritually and physically. 

3. Christian education supports the stewardship of all of life. “Christian education teaches us what we need to know in order to live into our baptism as God’s beloved, as stewards of our life, as stewards of all God’s beloved creation, caring for this earth — our home,” she said.

2. We do Christian education for adults in order to give them a place to go when we drop off our children at their class. Pointing out that children in church school can eclipse adults in understanding, Mendenhall urged, “The least you can do for them is to be capable of being in conversation with them about what really matters, the BIG things, things they will want to talk with you about after church school, after they hear a disturbing news broadcast, after one of their friends dies.” Mendenhall pointed to research, which shows that at-risk behavior in children/youth is drastically reduced if they have significant relationships with five adults beyond their parents.

Sharing her gratitude for the ways her own adult children have been shaped by the community of faith, Mendenhall concluded with the top reason why we do Christian education with a cascade of confetti: Because it’s fun!

“We have not yet finished imagining all God might do through Christian education,” she said.

“Thank you, Laura, for dazzling us with your gifts for ministry,” said Susan Penrod, past president of APCE.