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Education (June 4, 2000)

I wish I could say that Christian education is optional.  That it is something reserved only for those few individuals wishing to take their faith to a higher level.  But that is just not the case.  In fact, quite the opposite is true.  Christian education is essential and every Christian should become passionate about it.

Our culture's commitment to education is often through television. 

Several years back, I read a book called Dancing in the Dark.  The book was written by a group of men from Calvin College back in the 1990's.  For eleven months, these men, all experts in their own respective fields, struggled to explore the roots of popular youth culture.  In particular, they wanted to discover how the electronic media has influenced our youth culture to become what it has become.

To make a long book short, they stumbled across several groups of adults who are passionately consumed with educating our children!  I could mention any one of a hundred examples, but I will just mention MTV.  They discovered that MTV, by MTV's own admission, was the most heavily researched channel in history.  From the beginning, MTV's goal was to leverage every existing youth-geared form of entertainment for the sole purpose of influencing teenagers.

They were not so much interested in providing innocent entertainment for youth.  Rather, they set out to cultivate an emotional, consumer-driven youth culture that could be emotionally manipulated toward whatever end they chose.  From the very beginning, MTV's intention was to shape and fashion the lifestyles of teenagers in order to achieve power and wealth for itself.  By 1990, some forty-seven million American homes were receiving MTV and as many as eighty percent of high school students watched it for over two hours per day.  The other twenty percent of high school students said they did not receive MTV.

Here are a few quotes from Bob Pittman, chairman of MTV's development team.  "Our core audience is the television babies who grew up on television and rock-n-roll.  The strongest appeal you can make is emotionally.  If you can get their emotions going, [make them] forget their logic, you've got 'em."  And, "We rely on mood and emotion.  We make you feel a certain way as opposed to you walking away with any particular knowledge."  And, "At MTV we don't shoot for fourteen year-olds; we own them."  And lastly, "The only people who can understand the new way to use that television set are the people who grew up with it.  They will accept almost anything over that screen."

Is Christian education optional?

I wish I could say that Christian education is optional, but it's not.  Parents, if you are not educating your kids, MTV will.  If we as a church neglect Christian education, the Jerry Springers and Howard Sterns of our culture will be more than happy to do it for us.  Christian education is essential and we have to be passionate about it.

If I may just build on this and make one more point.  Statistics show that virtually everyone in this room watches up to forty hours of television per week.  If you are widowed or retired and stay at home during the day, it's even higher.  If your children are in the public school system, they can spend up to thirty to forty hours a week being taught things you may never know about.  If you have access to the internet, you are likely to spend five to ten hours per week surfing the net, soaking up content, viewing images, interacting with strangers in chat rooms, and downloading files.  I have not yet even mentioned talk radio, newspapers, magazines or the books we feast our minds on for hours on end.

If you are a typical churchgoer, you may get two good hours of church per week.

The point is that there is a whole bunch of learning going on.  But the question is, who is doing the teaching?  Who is writing the curriculum?  Whose values, whose beliefs, are our children being emotionally manipulated to adopt?  Who is shaping our lifestyles?  Who is influencing your child?

It is my conviction that we ought to unapologetically and unabashedly educate Christian values, Christian priorities, Christian beliefs and Christian behavior into the hearts and minds of as many people as possible.  And furthermore, that we start as soon as possible.  Why shouldn't we?  Why wouldn't we?  It is what healthy churches do.

In your bulletin or on a scrap piece of paper, I want you to write down five pairs of words that describe the kind of education we should be doing as a church.

Christians should provided education that is word-centered.

This past week, I was reading that one thousand books are published internationally each day.  Nearly nine thousand six hundred periodicals are issued in the United States alone, each year.  In terms of printed matter, knowledge doubles every eight years.  In total, more information has been produced in the past thirty years than in the previous five thousand years.  We are drowning in a sea of information.  We are inundated with data.  Psychologists have begun talking about such things as information fatigue syndrome.

Now, more than ever, we need a place to throw our anchors.  What better place than in God's word?   2 Timothy 3:16-17  (NIV)  tells us that  "All scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work."   2 Peter 1:19 (NIV)   says, "And we have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts."  Acts 2:42 (NIV)  tells us that the early Church members "devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching."

There is no better place to anchor your life than in God's word.  Time and again, God's word has proven itself to accomplish God's purposes.  It makes us less selfish, strengthens us in temptation, turns our hands and feet from evil, quickens our conscience, directs our will, inspires our heart and purifies our thoughts.  God's word does what MTV, internet, soap operas, radio, magazines, television, books, newspapers and video games could never do.

We should be committed to education that is word-centered.

We should provide education that is example-inspired.

When I was growing up, I noticed a lot of interesting things.  Many mornings my dad got up early to fix breakfast and study God's word.  In the evening my mom would sit in her chair and read scripture.  On Sundays our family would wake up early and head to church to sweep the floor, prepare communion and set up chairs for the worship service.  Whenever we sat down for a meal together we took turns giving a family devotion and praying for the meal.  During the week my parents would often take us kids through the neighborhood inviting people to church and sharing the message of Christ.  On Wednesday nights when all my friends did sports and goofed around, my parents often had me sitting at the kitchen table learning God's word.

My parents never let me get away with being dishonest, or with using filthy language, or even with hurting other people.  They would host missionaries in our home whenever they could, and we would write letters to them when they were on the mission field.  In the car, they would turn on Christian radio and squeeze a sermon or song in.  On the way home from church, we'd talk about the sermon and apply it to our lives.  My parents didn't do everything perfectly, but they tried to inspire me to embrace Christ and Christian living by their persistent example.

Parents, teachers, leaders: there is nothing more inspiring than your example.  More is taught by your example than by what you say.  Parents, kids are more apt to do what you say if you practice what you preach.  Teachers, your students would rather see a sermon than hear a sermon any day of the week.

In 1 Timothy 4:12 (NIV)  Paul told Timothy, "set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity."   In 1 Corinthians 11:1 (NIV)  Paul says, "Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ."   In 1 Peter 2:21 (NIV)  Peter tells us, "Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps."  Jesus taught as much, if not more, by his example, rather than by his lectures or preaching.  Christian education should be word-centered and example-inspired.

Christian education should be family-cultivated.

Listen to God's instruction to Moses in Deuteronomy 11:18-21 (NIV).  "Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds;  tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.  Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.  Write them on the door frames of your houses and on your gates, so that your days and the days of your children may be many in the land that the Lord swore to give your forefathers."

And then in 2 Timothy 1:5 (NIV)  Paul greets Timothy saying, "I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also."

Christian education is family-cultivated.  God's desire is that every child have an in-home mentor in their parent(s).  God doesn't want parents shirking their responsibility and leaving it at the Church's doors.  God never intended for education to be delegated to a youth minister.

Christian education should be family-cultivated.  Churches should be empowering and equipping parents to train their kids in righteousness, instead of taking that responsibility away from them.  Our youth programs and Sunday school programs should merely supplement what your children are already learning in your home.  The best, more lasting impact, comes when parents partner with the Church in educating their kids according to God's ways.  The family must never be left out of the equation.

Christian education should be word-centered, example-inspired and family-cultivated.

Christian education is lifestyle-based.   

Our faith must be made to intersect with our daily lives.  We cannot compartmentalize doctrine from the rest of our life. The mind is not to be isolated from the heart, body and soul.  The intellectual truths we learn must find their way into our hands, feet, speech, hearts, motives, thoughts, feelings, and emotions.

If you study the book of Colossians you will notice that Paul tenaciously maintained a balance between the "what" and the "so what" of doctrine.  The first two chapters deal with the "what" of Christ, the doctrinal, what he has done, who he is, why he died.  The first two chapters contain pretty heady stuff.

In contrast, the last two chapters deal with the "so what" of Christ, the practical.  The last two chapters tell us how we should live our lives, how we should think, what we should say, how we should feel, how we should act in marriage, how we should live in the world, and even how we should pray.  The book of Romans is laid out the same way.

What we teach and preach must be relevant to daily life.  This is the model of the Bible's writers.  We don't learn about Christ in a vacuum on Sunday morning.  Our teaching is not merely to be informational; it is to be transformational.

Matthew 28:19-20 (NIV) says, "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you."  We don't teach for head knowledge, but for total life impact.

Christian education is word-centered, example-inspired, community-cultivated and lifestyle-based.

Christian education should be result-oriented.

Everything we do in Christian education is done to achieve one result: Christ-likeness.  It is important that kids memorize scripture and know the books of the Bible.  It is important that kids know who Abraham, Noah, Moses, Jeremiah, Daniel, Jonah, Peter, Paul and John were.  It is important that kids know the story of the good Samaritan.  But we've failed if children don't become more like Jesus every day and begin living as Jesus lived and begin attempting to do what the good Samaritan did.  We will talk more about this next week.

Christian education is word-centered, example-inspired, community-cultivated, lifestyle-based and result-oriented.

Christian education is God's means to reach God's end.

Christian education is God's primary means of transforming culture.  In making disciples, we are to go into all the world.  In making disciples, we're to baptize in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  But in making disciples, we are also to follow through with education and with teaching people everywhere to obey as much as Christ commanded.

Now is the time for parents, teachers and church leaders, for all of us, to passionately and unapologetically and unabashedly stand up and take education as seriously as do MTV and Jerry Springer and Howard Stern and those who do not have in mind the things of Christ.

May God bless us to this end.

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