What is religious education about?

In their concise handbook on spiritual education and youth, entitled Reasons for Living, Marisa Craford and Graham Rossiter say the following when discussing Catholic religious education:

“[Catholic religious education] is about making the classroom process more supportive of emerging spirituality of young people, and this may or may not contribute to their view of the relevance of the church” (397).

I must agree with this statement: religious/Christian/spiritual education is not about church growth or evangelism. It’s goal is to make important contributions to the spiritual lives of children and young people–all people, in fact. Yet too frequently, education becomes a means of building the church. The reason that people believe they need to have “relevant” sermons and “seeker-sensivite” services is to meet the perceived needs of the unevangelised, which are usually under the categories of saving souls or helping people feel good about themselves. While I believe that relevance is vital to education, I posit that education in faith should help people to become critical interpreters, evaluators, and creators of meaning, faith, culture. In this way, religious/Christian/spiritual education becomes relevant to the lives of all people, for they deal with faith, meaning, and culture on a daily basis. In providing this education, a pastor may see her or his church grow, but such growth should be seen as a bonus; it must not be seen as the sole goal of religious/Christian/spiritual education.

Let me conclude this brief thought with a quote from Morris West (that is in Crawford and Rossiter’s book):

“Our primal interest is to survive. It is only later that we count the cost of survival and the damage our decisions may have caused to ourselves and others. It is for this reason, I believe, that many good Christian folk find themselves alienated from the Church, which almost inevitably in today’s world has evolved into a highly centralised, imperial institution…whose language has become more and more juridical and less intelligible to the ears and understanding of ordinary men and women” (398).

Let us choose to be relevant by building up critical thinkers and doers, whether or not they are a part of our congregation.

2 thoughts on “What is religious education about?”

  1. I have to love what the UU say on this front… To quote ,

    “The great end in religious instruction is not to stamp our minds upon the young but to stir up their own;

    Not to make them see with our eyes, but to look inquiringly and steadily with their own;

    Not to give them a definite amount of knowledge, but to inspire a fervent love of truth;

    Not to form an outward regularity, but to touch inward springs.

    William Ellery Channing”


  2. I am a Director of Religious Formation at a Catholic Church and I agree that Religious Education is not about church growth, but it must have an evangelizing characteristic. Students need to continually hear the core Gospel Message in order to grow spiritually and respond to the Gospel message.

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