I get occasional questions about a curriculum for Christian education programs. It’s probably more complicated than it seems—things usually are. Typically I agree to a project on the premise that, “Well, this seems straightforward” and then, of course, it isn’t. Nevertheless, I press on.
Most of the Christian education programs that I’ve seen do not account for Dorothy Sayers’ magnificent explanation of how childhood development occurs and how we to acknowledge that in the way we educate them. Children typically grow through three stages: parrot, pert, and poet. The church would do well to learn from Sayers.
Here’s a rough sketch of how a parrot, pert, poet plan might look:
Age 4-10: Bible Stories, memorize Scripture and catechism
Age 10: instruction through the catechism
Age 11: instruction through the history of redemption
Given the enormous capacity of children to memorize and assimilate new information, most children should be able to memorize a good bit of Scripture and certainly all of the Heidelberg or Westminster Shorter Catechism by age 10 or 11. That memorization provides the building blocks for the instruction that follows.
age: 12: instruction through church history and practice
Age 13: Apologetics
The “pert” stage is the “smart aleck” phrase. It seems to be occurring earlier these days so perhaps age 12 is too late? Children are “pert” because they are emotionally immature at the same time they are beginning to analyze the stuff they’ve memorized. So the questions come out badly sometimes (frequently?) but they are important and it’s necessary for parents and teachers to put on the flame-retardant suit and answer them well and without flinching. The unstated question behind the questions is: do you really believe this stuff or are you pretending? Because it is in this phase that children become more analytical, it’s now that we need to be prepared to meet the objections and problems.
Profession of faith
Age 14: Christian literature (e.g., great Christian writers)
Age 15: Christian ethics
About here seems desirable that covenant children should make profession of faith, just as they enter into the last phase of childhood development: the poet, when they begin to see that there are transcendent truths and eternal realities. At this point they’ve been the subject of Christian education for nearly a decade. They’ve been introduced to God’s Word, to the language, history, and practice of the church. It’s also in this period that we want to begin to introduce them to some of the great books of the Christian tradition.
Age 16: Adult class
From this point, I’m don’t see why most teens cannot simply join the adult class. They’ve been received as communicants. I’m not saying that they cannot continue to receive additional instruction and enjoy ongoing fellowship with teens but it might be a good idea to move beyond the segregation of our young people from the adults. Perhaps one reason that young people have trouble making profession, in some instances, is that they’ve not been expected and prepared to make profession until later. We’ve delayed their spiritual maturity and extended their adolescence. Experience suggests that we might want to re-think that pattern and consider embracing the older pattern.
This is just a sketch. If this had been an actual curriculum you would have been instructed where to tune in your broadcast area. This ends this test of the emergency Christian education network. Keep calm and carry on.