Educating the family of God
“We will promote a lifelong learning commitment among our people… “
by Colonel Phil Needham –
The town of Khajourtola in India is about to
undergo a social revolution. The people of this hamlet of rice paddies and mud do not know what year it is, cannot name the country they live in, and are demanding an end to their ignorance. In October, they took up the unprecedented offer of the state’s chief minister to provide a teacher and books within 90 days to any village that requested them. ‘We are all waiting for our school,’ said Prem Singh, standing in the darkness with a lantern near his face. (Los Angeles Times, 7 Dec., 1999)
The learning revolution is sweeping Madhya Pradesh, a sprawling and impoverished state, at the rate of about 20 villages a day. Millions of Indians, who do not even know they are citizens of India, are getting access to knowledge, and it will change their lives forever. A new future will open before them, with possibilities they never before imagined.
I think our Army is in a similar situation with respect to faith education. We are a movement of doers, known for our compassionate ministries. We are knowledgeable about helping people and about a wide range of expertise and specializations that enable us to do it well. But our knowledge of our own Christian faith too often lacks depth. Many corps have little solid foundational teaching in the faith. Too many soldiers lack a reason for the hope that is within them and therefore have no clear discernment for the choices before them. Like the villagers of Khajourtola, they are hungry to learn who they are and to equip themselves to live out the full meaning of that identity.
How crucial is this matter of faith education? I’ll defer to William Booth, who has given the answer as well as any could: ‘We shall have well-instructed saints, or we are a rope of sand.’
It was this concern to nurture well-instructed saints that recently drew together 38 Salvationists from around the world who were interested in faith education. The International Education Symposium took place in London, England in March of last year. Dr. Mary Docter of this territory was a symposiast, and Col. Keitha Needham and I were the co-conveners. The purpose of the Symposium was to share successful faith education ministries from various parts of the Army world, to identify areas of need to be addressed, to make specific proposals for advancing this important ministry in our ranks, and to issue a call to faith education for all Salvationists.
In the coming months we shall be hearing more about the call to faith education. It is my personal hope that our territory will pursue this call seriously and that the expansion and development of the education and training program at Crestmont following the move of THQ to Long Beach will include a strong faith education component for soldiers as well as officers. For the present, it will suffice to share with you what the symposiasts shared as their central convictions about faith education:
We believe that within the hearts of Salvationists around the world there is a longing so deep that it cries out to be spoken and demands to be met. It is a longing for God, a desire to have the mind of Christ, an urging to be ‘well-instructed saints’ who know how to live out God’s life in the world.
As a people who love God, we want to know him more and more.
As human beings who have been given minds with amazing capacities, we want to be good stewards of the gift and to explore its possibilities for the glory of God.
As a people of the Bible, we want to understand its transforming message, meditate upon its revolutionary insights, and obey its liberating commands.
As a people on a journey with God, we want to understand better the signposts and maps to which he points us.
As a salvation people we want to know the movements and meanings of the salvation story, make it our own story, and help others make it their story.
As a people called to God’s mission, we want to understand that mission better and more fully enter it.
As a people participating in the mission of God, we want not only to fuel our passion, but also to sharpen our minds and broaden our knowledge so as to be a fit fighting force.
These are not convictions about education in general. They are convictions about faith education in particular. Nor are they a call to advance academic theology within our movement, though we are at a time in our development when we need some well-trained theological minds. They are a call to help every Salvationist be a better theologian.
Make no mistake. Every Salvationist is a theologian. As soon as she utters one word about God or says one thing about what she believes about God, she is doing theology. We are all theologians. We are either doing theology well, or we are doing it poorly. We are either speaking out of misguidance or error, or we are speaking the truth. We are either sloppy and indefinite, or we are disciplined and clear.
It is time we quit using our legitimate commitment to a religion of the heart as an illegitimate excuse for the neglect of our minds in matters of faith. Like the villagers of Khajourtola, we are citizens of a Kingdom we hunger to understand, subjects of a Ruler we long to know how to love, and students of a new way of life we need to master. Citizenship is lifelong learning.
How are your classes going?