BIBLICAL LITERACY: Education ministers have a hard row to hoe


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If Southern Baptist churches are going to make sure all of their members are educated in the Bible, someone must take responsibility for coordinating that massive effort. Typically, this has fallen to the minister of education, a staff member or volunteer whose job description has undergone a lot of change in recent years. Southwestern’s Rick Yount, assistant dean and professor of foundations of education, has seen a shift away from the practices that produced biblically literate members in Southern Baptist churches.

According to a Measures of Religiosity survey of 11,000 mainline Protestant churches conducted by Peter Hill and Ralph Hood 20 years ago, Southern Baptists scored the highest in evaluation of both vertical (God-ward) and horizontal (neighbor) faith maturity in every demographic category, crediting age-graded small group Bible and doctrine study programs. However, Yount believes these dramatic results are being erased as churches move away from static groups organized by age that use dated curriculum and regular teachers.

“About 20 years ago Southern Baptists began to notice that Pentecostal churches in general, and Assemblies of God churches in particular, were growing faster than we were,” Yount recalled in an interview with the TEXAN. In an effort to mimic the celebrative worship these groups offered, “SBC churches have moved from an educational evangelism base for growth to a celebrative worship base.”

Large classes offered anonymity and worship driven by celebration. Drama and energetic presentations replaced the more tedious maintenance and expansion of educational organizations. Fewer teachers are needed when churches turn to “master” teachers or large classes just as small, gifted praise teams replace the larger number of committed choir members.

As the minister of music became the minister of worship, Yount has seen education ministers less valued. “We also began to lose hold of our Southern Baptist distinctive that had fueled unparalleled growth for decades?lay-led, educator trained, small groups of students of the Bible” who provided a seed-bed for future teachers. At one time the Christian education machinery was “well-oiled” through new teacher enlistment, ongoing motivation and training in weekly or monthly workers’ meetings?all of that being a part of the equipping ministry that ministers are called to do, Yount said, citing Ephesians 4:11.

“We need an awakening across our nation and convention for teaching disciples all things as part of the Lord’s imperative of making disciples, he said, quoting Matthew 28:19-20.” Now that the seminary has beefed up its master of arts in Christian education degree to require a third of the coursework in theological studies, Yount is convinced the minister trained in the areas of education and administration contributes an essential role in the church’s equipping ministry. “If this awakening is to happen, it will be the pastors who will lead the way,” Yount said, hoping they will recognize the education minister to be an asset to increased biblical literacy.

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