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Spring 1993 · Vol. 22 No. 1 · pp. 28–32 

Pieces to the Christian Education Puzzle

Gayle Goossen

Lori sat on the very edge of the stool, her toes barely touching the ground. On her lap was a large, unopened present. The ribbons and the trimmings were gorgeous, too beautiful to tear. Tentatively she tugged on one end of ribbon. It gave a little, then a little more.

Leaders are constantly searching for more pieces to the puzzle.

Finally, she couldn’t stand the suspense any longer and tore off the paper. Lori slid her fingernails under the tape at the edges of the cardboard box and lifted the lid.

The box was filled with tissue paper, an unending amount of it. She tossed it to the side and dug out the gift. All she found was one irregularly shaped piece of colored glass. She looked at her parents who were smiling at her. Puzzled, Lori held the glass in her palm.

“Uhh, thanks Mom, Dad . . . what is it?" Mom and Dad looked at each other.

"It’s a part of a great sculpture,” her mother said. “But a puzzle, sort of.”

“It’s only a piece to start you off,” her father broke in. “There are many more pieces that interlock with this one. You will find them almost anywhere.” Lori was confused. What kind of gift was this?

“When you have found all the pieces and put them together, they will form a beautiful glass sculpture.”

“Where do I find these pieces?” {29}

“There is no secret formula or clue to finding them. You must be willing to expect the treasure in many places. You must ask questions to search out where the pieces may be. You must be willing to receive from unlikely people, and you must listen to your heart.”

Mrs. Babich lived next door. Her children had left home and moved to cities far away. Lori would run over after school with fresh baking, a book, or flowers. It became a habit. One day Mrs. Babich invited Lori to sit down. From under the couch she pulled out an old tattered box. It looked as if the box had been opened many times. From under layers and layers of tissue she pulled a small glass shape. The colors glowed in the light. Lori recognized the colors and the odd shape.

“Can I hold that?”

Lori cradled the cool glass in her palms. She knew in her heart that this was a part of the puzzle and would fit together with the piece that lay on her shelf.

Setting the piece back into the old lady’s hand, she ran home, pulled her glass piece off the shelf, and rubbed off the dust as she ran back.

“Look” She held out the glass. “I think it will fit.” She knelt down in front of Mrs. Babich and set her piece of glass against the other piece of glass. They turned and twisted the pieces until they fit together. Mrs. Babich lifted her piece and held it out to the young girl. “I think it was meant for you.”


Like the glass puzzle, Christian education consists of multiple, interlocking pieces which combine to form a greater whole. Leaders are constantly searching for more pieces to form a greater whole. Four vital pieces are: respect for the individual, discernment between tradition and truth, incorporation of truth, and the desire to touch the heart of the learner. Each of these pieces fits with the others when the foundation of the teacher’s commitment is a Christ-centered model rooted in the Old Testament.

“Hear O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them upon your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your head and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates” (Deut. 6:9). {30}

The education principles given to the Israelites were principles Christ modelled while teaching his disciples. Christ did not provide a teacher’s manual with a formula for winning people to God, nor did he use a classroom with specially designed furniture and paper supplies. Christ selected twelve men with whom he shared his life. He taught from boats, along streets, in parks, by city wells, and while strolling through grain fields. Christ exemplified His words with a life of integrity and compassion.

Respect for the Individual

When we look carefully at Jesus’ model, we begin to see gaps in our own Christian education experience. We are often under the misunderstanding that when we equip teachers with the best program, the most current seminars, and the latest audiovisual equipment, they will be able to introduce learners to a living relationship with God.

A Christ-centered teacher focuses first on the image of God indwelling each learner, and then on available resources which facilitate learning. Individuals may not always follow predictable learning patterns. Teachers can respond to this challenge by serving as guides. Christian education must provide an environment that allows learners to learn within their own individuality. In the public school system, children are sorted and arranged into neat groups. The child that learns well in such an environment performs well because she/he does not disturb the predictability of the class. The child that learns through touching and poking, that never sits still or seldom provides the “right” answer, is understood to not “learn” as well. Henderson, in his series of teaching videos, says that we should be aware that the student who is bouncing off the walls and challenging the teacher’s authority may be a future senior pastor. The student that sees a different picture can often draw truth in newer, more vibrant colors.

Rigid classroom settings in the church challenge the Deuteronomy passage which describes active learning. When we believe that Christ-centeredness is a lifestyle, modelling becomes a predominant teaching method. The use of creative methods of teaching also allow individuals to absorb God-truth. Each person is created in the likeness of God. Still, each is unique. Encouraging a degree of individualism allows learners the freedom to explore and apprehend God-truth.

Tradition and Truth

God-truth often goes unrecognized because it is contrary to tradition. Educators must discern between truth and tradition. Tradition originates in past generations. The scope of the tradition may be too narrow for present learners. Leaders must be able to discern between values that were {31} inherent to a generation and foundational truths. Truth must then be incorporated into daily living. While God’s truth never changes, the packaging of that truth may.

As society changes, the church must continue to evaluate its education programs. The face of the family has been altered. Mothers are no longer painted in the image of June Cleaver. Fathers are not working near home. The school yard is filled with trauma and violence. Sexual information abounds from early years. My five-year-old daughter (whom I considered somewhat insulated from the evils of society) stated that she didn’t want to “do sex” because it would give her AIDS. She is growing up in a radically different environment than I did.

To eliminate the gap between our “holy” church life and our “worldly” daily life, Christ calls us to walk in a lifestyle consistent with truth. To follow custom simply for the sake of following custom does not develop Christian character. Children or adults who are taught to mimic the rules and regulations acceptable in the Christian church, without ever understanding the principles or backgrounds of the “rules,” will find it difficult to incorporate Christianity into their lifestyle. Christ walked with the disciples. Encouragement, prompting, and teaching came from example. Even when Christ did teach “formally,” it was with the use of metaphors which painted pictures for the disciples. When rules become tedious or nonfunctioning in daily life, belief in God and involvement in the church are reduced. Christian education must include guided discernment between truth and tradition.

Incorporation of Truth

Teaching skills should not only be measured by the development of cognitive skills. Rather, the skill of teaching lies in the ability to guide the student in absorbing, deciphering, interpreting, and incorporating truth. There must be a creative openness to new ideas and an ongoing search for the nugget of truth within those ideas. Thomas Carlyle stated, “All that a university can do for us, is . . . teach us to read.” The church must teach its learners to read the Scriptures and introduce them to additional resources in order that they might continue to discover truth. The Scripture demands that we “correctly handle the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15). This is especially important in a world of multiple informants. Christians need to be skeptical of what they read in magazines, see on TV, and hear through the media. Paul tells us to test the spirits. Confronted by the barrage of conflicting ideas, learners must be taught to discern the truth. {32}

Touching the Heart

To truly teach one must touch the heart of the learner and not just the mind. Unlike secular education which is concerned with the transmission of factual information, Christianity is the imparting of a faith which affects lifestyle. Neuwman says: “Reading as we do, the Gospels from our youth up, we are in danger of becoming so familiar with them as to be dead to their force, and to see them as a mere history.” He notes that unless the learners are able to experience faith concepts, they do not learn them. We can philosophize about death, pain, and suffering; but unless these forces have touched our life in some way, we have but limited resources to deal with them. There are times when the heart must make the decision because the mind is too small.

Christian educators may need to adjust their education programs. We must begin with a Christ-centered model that is creatively designed for individual learners. The purpose of Christianity is to teach the learner to walk with God. Teachers cannot teach unless they themselves have a deepening walk. Teachers need to be vulnerable in their walk in order to take individuals along with them. Teachers need to admit when they do not know the answer and commit themselves to searching out the truth. Teachers need to love the individual and desire to touch the heart.


Lori walked varied paths. Often she was surprised by people and places that revealed puzzle pieces which fit her own. She collected the pieces and fit them together until they began to take form.

Lori grew old and tired. She knew that she had not yet found all the pieces or completed the sculpture. On her grandson’s seventeenth birthday, she wrapped in a large box the pieces that she had found. It had become quite sizeable. Lifting the box on to his lap, Jason began to tear at the wrapping. Inside he found a small card written by the trembling hand of his grandmother. He read,

“My dearest Jason. When I was very young my parents gave me the very first piece to this sculpture. They told me I would have to find the rest. I have walked a long and varied path and have found a great variety of pieces. They have miraculously fit together. It is soon time for me to leave. I give you my sculpture, still unfinished. Walk wisely, listen carefully, search diligently. Add the pieces to the sculpture until it becomes whole.”

Gayle Goossen, Kitchener, Ontario, is a member of the Mennonite Brethren provincial Board for Christian Ministry.

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