Christian Education is Like Silly Putty

The wisdom of what a person says is in direct proportion to his progress in learning the Holy Scriptures—and I am not speaking of intensive reading or memorization, but real understanding and careful investigation of their meaning. Some people read them but neglect them; by their reading they profit in knowledge, by their neglect they forfeit understanding.

— On Christian Teaching, Augustine of Hippo

Christian Education is like silly putty.

That’s the thought I had one day as I began thinking about the beginning of September and the beginning of all of our Church’s fall programming.

Now the thought didn’t happen naturally. I was pondering writing an article on Christian Education that would be useful for youth and young adults. And I was stuck. Other than saying Sunday school and youth group is important, how do I write about Christian Education in a fun way?

Then my eyes drifted around my office until they landed on a bag of silly putty.

My mind went nuts. Yes, silly putty. That’s it! So as any good writer would do, I began researching silly putty, and here’s what I discovered.  Silly putty is a cross- linked polymer in which two substances, simple glue and borax, combine to create a bigger polymer which is neither solid nor liquid but has qualities of both.  Let’s examine the concept a little more.

A solid is a substance that occupies a fixed shape and volume and does not flow.  Liquids flow and occupy a fixed volume only.  Gases flow and change volume.

Polymers are neither solids nor liquids but are viscoelastic.  Which means they have both characteristics of solids and liquids – they can flow but maintain their shape.

What’s interesting about silly putty is if the right combination of ingredients do not exist the end result is not silly putty but too much liquid, too much solid, too brittle, etc.

So what does this have to do with Christian Education.  Before I get there let’s just say one more thing about Silly Putty – it was invented by accident in the early 40’s.

So let’s examine Christian Education.  Oftentimes, the best kind of learning happens by accident.  In education, we know no formula at any point in time works all the time.  Education is a mixture of several components in the moment.  Most times as learners we discover our best learnings by accident – not because we were trying to discover it but because we were trying to better ourselves and learn something new.

The best kind of Christian Education is one that can be both rigid but flexible at the same time.  Christian Education never seems to be effective if it is too rigid or too flexible – but effectiveness seems to exist somewhere in between those two states.  Like silly putty it has both characteristics due to the cross-linking of the molecules.  Christian Education needs to be cross-linked between reading, discussing, experiencing, thinking, and applying. Not an easy task, when Sunday school is for 50 minutes with 20 individuals.

But just like silly putty you can mold something at 2 pm but by 2:15 the shape has begun to alter.  Effective educators not only know this principle; they live this principle.  They know that if something worked for them at 10 am it might not work at 10:30 am regardless if the people are the same.

So how do you do that?  How do you provide Christian Education that includes reading, discussing, experiencing, thinking, and applying? Well John Maxwell author of Dare to Dream, Then Do It offers two different formulas to consider.  Let’s call them formula A, Thinking Successfully, and formula B, Changing Your Mind.

Formula A states:  Thinking successfully

  • See the big picture by thinking beyond themselves
  • Be focused by removing distractions
  • Be creative in exploring options
  • Be realistic about facts
  • Be positive by finding solutions
  • Be reflective by considering the past
  • Reject routine regardless of the popular opinion
  • Be collaborative with others
  • Be unselfish in valuing others
  • Be bottom-line driven with results

Formula B states:  Changing Your Mind

  • Take time to think
  • Find a place to be creative
  • Think – no matter what it takes
  • See opportunities in all things, especially problems
  • Challenge assumptions, again and again
  • Explore all options
  • Recruit others to help

If we combine the two formulas [cross-link them] we get the following result:

Christian education is learning by thinking of how the material changes your perspective.  This means that:

Educators:

  • Strategically plan with a healthy dose of creativity.
  • Challenge assumptions by being reflective and removing distractions.
  • Solve problems by exploring all options, while remaining focused on teaching.
  • Think about the facts and the value of others all the time.
  • Collaborate, no matter what constraints are present.

Learners:

  • Apply creativity to understanding new principles.
  • Challenge assumptions by being reflective.
  • Think about the facts and the value they play in one’s life.
  • Ask questions.

Hopefully this novel way of considering Christian Education may spark a new way of presenting Sunday school or Bible study. Or perhaps it may help someone to learn differently than they usually learn. Either way, enjoy creating your Christian Education Silly Putty!