« PreviousContinue »
occurs through the lack of wise direction for volunteer workers in religious education. Means must be found to stop this waste through sounder standards of educational processes and products. Surely, our denomination cannot be allowed to fall behind others in making use of the most expert leadership to organize and direct our educational interests. When we discuss the plan of reorganization proposed by the Commission on Missions, let us have such considerations as these in mind.
A SURVEY OF PRESENT CONDITIONS
Your commission has been earnestly at work to fulfill the object for which it was appointed. To further its work, four sub-committees were appointed to deal with, (a) Religious Education in the Home; (6) The Educational Program of the Local Church; (c) Training for Leadership; (d) Courses of Study.
In order to obtain accurate information as to the present state of things within the denomination, a survey was made including such points as the following: Sunday School conditions; the administrative relation between the local church and its school; conditions with respect to religious training in the home, and of young people in the church and the college; the recruiting of young men for the ministry. The results of this survey, systematized by Professor L. A. Weigle of the Commission, have been printed under the title “The Present Status of Religious Education in Congregational Churches." Investigation revealed the need of some simple guide to the co-ordination of educational activities in the local church, and most especially, of a practicable outline course for teacher training. These needs the Commission has attempted to meet by printing a “Program for the Local Church,” prepared by B. S. Winchester, and a “Minimum Equipment for Sunday School Teachers,” prepared by Professor Irving F. Wood and President Mary E. Woolley. Special inquiries were directed to a large number of pastors and others to ascertain the present status of young peoples' work. The answers reveal a general sense of the inadequacy of present measures. The subject was considered so important that the executive committee of the National Council has provided opportunity for its thorough discussion at this year's meeting of the Council where a whole afternoon will be devoted to it.
An analysis of present conditions suggests the following statements:
I. Marked progress has been made in recent years in the quality of lesson courses; in the methods employed in our more progressive churches, large and small, in grading their schools, in providing for expressive activities and helpful modes of worship, in winning young people to the religious life and to church membership, in co-ordinating the activities of the local church, etc.
Such progress argues vigorous activity on the part of alert pastors and laymen who are willing and able to use the improved methods which are now within the reach of us all. Much of it is also due to the earnest and intelligent efforts of the district secretaries and state superintendents associated with the Sunday School and Publishing Society, who have worked in season and out of season, and whose efforts have been signally blessed. The appointment six
. years ago of an Educational Secretary to whom was committed the general direction and oversight of this work, was a great step in advance and accounts to a large degree for the consistent improvement manifest in recent years. The work of such men as B. S. Winchester, R. W. Gammon, Milton S. Littlefield, J. P. O'Brien, Miles B. Fisher and A. W. Bailey, cannot be too highly commended. They are recognized as leaders in religious education far beyond the boundaries of our own denomination.
II. While there has been gratifying progress along the lines indicated, the Commission is impressed with the fact that the very improvements noted tend also to emphasize the lack of co-ordination and continuity which still prevails to so large a degree. A vigorous beginning has been made in the right direction; but it is only a beginning.
Lesson courses have been greatly strengthened; but there is still much need of improvement and extension. Better methods are coming into use everywhere; but progress is not continuous because local churches are subject to such frequent changes in the pastorate, and so many pastors feel unprepared to deal with the problems of religious education. In a large proportion of our churches there is in use no systematic method for the co-ordination of the various activities centering around the Sunday School, Young Peoples' Societies, Women's Associations and Men's Clubs or Brotherhoods. Through such causes as these the educational program of the local church lacks vigor and consistency; it is subject to the vicissitudes of constant change, or the friction of loosely adjusted machinery.
III. Still further, there is a large field, centering around the local church and its Sunday School, which has as yet received little systematic cultivation beyond the methods which came in with the uniform Sunday School lessons. While there have been sporadic attempts to supply such needs, there is as yet no systematic provision for education in missions, for religious nurture in the home, for training in social service, for instruction in the elements of church history and church administration, for the co-ordination of young people's work with the educational system of the local church rather than with the system of an independent organization outside the church, for interesting young men in the ministry, and for directing the interests of college students along religious lines and holding their loyalty to the church.
To specify in two instances: 1. Our missionary societies have made remarkable successes in the administration of their difficult enterprises, and they have succeeded wonderfully well in raising the necessary funds, all things considered. But while there are reading courses, programs of study, rally exercises, and the like, there is no systematic provision for training in missions as a related part of the total scheme of religious education. Not counting interdenominational forms of propaganda, the missionary elements of Christian training are injected into our churches and schools from seven or more quarters without regard to the educational system which the local church may have developed, and without regard apparently to the educational plans of the Sunday School and Publishing Society, The unwisdom of such a course ought to be manifest. The type of propaganda which uses literature and personal appeals mainly to stir the enthusiasm of giving in order that a certain budget may be met is likely to issue in growing barrenness of results, however worthy and heroic the enterprise, and however sincere and zealous its presentation. Missionary training must be made a part of the total system of religious education. We must all play the game and play the whole game together. 2. Again, the fundamental task of recruiting for the ministry is left to the Y. M. C. A. in our colleges, or to the efforts of seminaries who are competing for students, or to the isolated appeals of ministers who are stirred by momentary or individual enthusiasms. Most frequently the whole matter goes by default. The effects of such haphazard methods are abundantly and sadly evident in our denomination. For details read the report of Secretary Sheldon of our Educational Society. The problem of recruiting the ministry, and the larger question of what constitutes an adequate training for the ministry under present conditions, ought to have the most careful attention we can give it.
A CONSTRUCTIVE PROGRAM
Such a state of things calls for earnest efforts to revise and to strengthen our educational system.
A comprehensive program for training our own church people, and especially the rising generation, in Christian life, for Christian service and for Christian leadership, would include the elements sketched below. In respect to literature and courses of study, this program would center around the Sunday School curriculum.
1. Every church should have a school graded according to the best possibilities in each case, with lesson materials properly adapted to the scheme of gradation.
2. Training in missions should be made a part of the curriculum, with courses of study prepared by an editor or 'secretary responsible for all the denominational literature, in co-operation with the missionary secretaries.
3. Training in social service should be provided for through simple courses in the grades and more extended courses in adult classes, with actual work by groups and individuals under competent direction in local charities, missionary enterprises, etc.
4. There should be courses in the Sunday School or in pastors' training classes for the development of personal religion, and the preparation of our young people for church membership. There are churches in our denomination which have worked out excellent systems which might well serve as patterns to work by.
5. There should be courses in the essentials of church history and Congregational polity, with thoughtful provision for training in church administration.
6. There should be courses for parents, intended as helps to religious nurture in the home.
7. There should be courses for college and university students, intended to foster their personal religion and to prepare them for religious and social service in and through their home churches when they return; such courses to be given by churches located in the college town whenever possible.
8. The plan should include active measures for bringing the vocation of the ministry to the attention of our best young men in convincing fashion.
To standardize such a scheme throughout the denomination, and to provide the necessary direction and the needed literature, would obviously require some comprehensive and central agency constituted for the purpose.
Such an organization would be responsible for lesson courses, for the coordination of educational processes and materials, for the printing, publishing and pushing of all the educational literature needed in the church, the home, the Sunday School, the college community and the missionary field. Such an organization would keep in close touch with its constituency through its secretaries and field men, through committees on religious education in state conferences, local associations and local churches; with student pastors and teachers of religion in college and university communities, with those responsible for the educational work of