Chinese teenagers make me want to overhaul Christian education

Chinese students studyingThe youth worker who got me hooked on youth ministry back in high school is now a missionary to students in China. Yesterday I got his monthly newsletter, which contains the following paragraph:

“Our #1 challenge in this culture [is] the availability of new believers for discipleship, and then involving them in a local church. Kids’ lives revolve around prep for the college entrance exam. Only 2% ‘pass.’ The other 98% feel their future is lost. Some commit suicide over the results. So, there are no sports teams, marching bands, cheer leading squads, or drama clubs. It’s all academics, pure and simple, 7am-5pm, with extra weekend classes. Kids fear spending their time in any other way but studying.”

Wow. I don’t think I can even imagine students who fear doing anything else but studying. That’s crazy! It seems to me that most American teenagers generally seem to be kinda apathetic toward education (as described by one of my youth group students). Most students I know would skip school in a heart-beat if given the chance. I don’t think apathy should be students’ response to education, but neither should fear.

If school, for whatever reasons, seems to generate a sense of apathy toward education, why do we adopt this model in Christian education and call it “Sunday school?” Certainly we don’t want to replicate the same “school attitude” in our churches. Even preaching and teaching can sometimes feel like a classroom lecture in a fancy auditorium. If people mentally check out during classroom time in school, maybe the church should find or develop a more effective model for our weekly programming. I want to see students studying scripture as fervently as Chinese students study academics, but with a holy and reverent fear, not an insecure fear.

Our current approach to Christian education can’t possibly be the best we can do.

Posted on November 30, 2006

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