Mitzvah: Thoughts on Christian Adult Education
[published in LEADER, Dec-Feb 1999-2000]
Pastor of All Saints' Presbyterian
Church, Lancaster, PA www.allsaintspresbyterian.com
we have an educational bar mitzvah, a transition of child to adult
in Christian education? I do not mean a rite of passage-though that
might be instructive. I mean a conceptual bar mitzvah. I believe
that in the pages of the New Testament we have pictures which are very
suggestive of this. In 1 Corinthians 13:11, the Apostle Paul uses a familiar
metaphor, "When I was a child, I used to speak as a child, think as a child,
reason as a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish
things." Later in the same epistle, he says, "Brethren, do not be children
in your thinking; yet in evil be babes, but in your thinking be mature"
(14:20). In Ephesians, the same author, draws upon this metaphor again.
He contrasts attaining "the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature
man..." (4:13) with no longer being "children, tossed here and
there by waves, and carried about by every wind of doctrine..." (see also
So it seems that the Scripture
recognizes distinct capacities in adulthood. The reasoning of children
is different than adults. Of course, it is not only the Word of God that
says this, the world of God shouts it too. Every person's experience
makes this plain. So, we should consider how this affects adult education
in the church. In the 1970s, a special term for adult education was popularized
by a leader in the field, Dr. Malcolm Knowles: "andragogy" (from the Greek
terms for "man" aner/andros and "leader" agagos). This term
is distinguished from "pedagogy" (leading a child, paidon). Knowles
observes that andragogy assumes that adults have -
A more self-directed concept
More life experience as a resource
A readiness to learn due to
A problem-centered orientation
Intrinsic motivations for learning
of Malcolm Knowles"
Christian educator's handbook on adult education, K. O. Gangel &
J. C. Wilhoit, Eds., [Wheaton,
IL: Victor Books, 1993], pp.
ministries to adults involves seeing and applying these insights. More
effective educational ministries
to adults involves keeping the truth of God as the unchanging content.
Scripture and educational effectiveness constrains us in two ways, then:
first, we must impart the content
of the faith to adult learners; second, we must do so in
a way that is relevant to their needs. If we take these two concerns
at face value, the basic structure of a CE program for adults emerges.
It must include both classroom settings and informal small group settings.
There is still a balance to be kept. The classroom type of adult educational
settings are not to be so "content intensive" that we overlook the relational
dynamics and life relevant applications. And the small group contexts are
not to be so relational that we deny that we have a content-faith "which
was once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 1:3).
me suggest a few educational tenants which relate to andragogy.
These theological and educational thoughts are merely suggestive and are
certainly not exhaustive.
adults have a more self-directed concept of themselves -
adult Christian education should recognize human beings as made in the image
of God. Maturing Christians have a heightened self-awareness of who
they are in Christ. A fundamental CE task is to nurture one's identity in
we should pursue learning events and curricula which nurture the adult
awareness of one's identity as the special creation of God (the image
of God), as
well as the special new creation of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17).
adults have more life experience as a resource in learning -
life experience is a two-sided coin. We draw upon life experiences in learning,
but we also call adults to more accountability for the knowledge of God
"Everyone who has been given much shall much be required"
we must be more dialogical
That is, the leader, to be effective, must interact with the life experience
of the learners. Otherwise, adults may feel that they are being "taught
at" rather than drawn
adults have a readiness to learn due to life-tasks -
we must recognize the covenantal responsibilities of adults. For example,
young adults have a readiness for the life-task of marital and family fidelity
- a covenant home (Malachi 2:14, Ephesians 6:4). Older adults are usually
preparing and sending their young adult children into new homes. The life-tasks
should be seen from the theological vantage point of our relationship with,
responsibilities to, and as blessings from God.
it behooves the Church to give appropriate instruction, both in content
and methodology, to guide adults in these life tasks. This assumes that
the Church has something to say.
adults are more problem-centered, than subject-centered in their orientation
in learning -
we must orient adult learners to see that the liberating gospel of Christ
as related to each life-problem. It is knowing Christ through His self-revelation
which stands above, under, and in each life-problem.
we may accommodate adults' desire to study problems, like, children-related
topics (e.g., raising toddlers), parent-related topics (e.g., caring for
aging parents), or business-related topics (e.g., stewardship, ethics).
But in our problem orientation, we can integrate the foundational Christian
themes of God, Christ, sin, and salvation, which turn out to be essential solutions
to life's issues.
adults have intrinsic incentives for learning, at least more so than children
adult learners must see their motivation to be related to the grace of
God in their own lives. A fundamental motivation for obedience is gratitude
if we can draw upon their own desires, in content and context, we will
have more success in our educational programs. The content
is to be relevant to the life issues of adults, either directly or indirectly.
must accommodate adult relationships and build that vital network of friendships
from which the life of Christ is shared.
I believe that Christian education for adults must have two central components:
(a) the contextual component, which recognizes the relational and personal
realities of people in the image of God; and (b) the content component
which recognizes the unchanging truth of God in the gospel of His Son.
Therefore, in the context of true koinonia
(fellowship) in the life of Christ, we must communicate the unchanging
truth of God's Word.
adults as adults. Respect their persons, experience, and especially
the work of Christ in their lives. Remember that each person has both experience
and abilities which can enrich the learning context.
adults as adults. Even typical Sunday morning classes need to recognize
the relational dynamics in meeting and greeting that are so vital for adults.
Have a get acquainted moment and an opportunity for face to face talk between
participants. Plan outside social events for adult classes to get to know
adults as a adults. Children like isolated desks, adults don't. Try to
arrange classroom furniture with a recognition that every participant is
a resource in learning, fitting for adult relationships, interaction, and