Raising the Bar in Religious Education
Tan Guat Kim—Cheras,
“The youths of today will be the
leaders of tomorrow.”
I have often pondered on this
axiom. It is a natural process of life. However, the demands and expectations
on today’s young people coupled with their own curiosity and society’s
influences well surpass that of my own youth!
Today’s progressive and globalized
society reflects phenomenal development. Knowledge is expanding at an
exponential rate. Simultaneously, we see the emergence of children who are the
product of this new age.
In this environment, it is
important for religious education (RE) classes to meet the diverse and changing
needs of the students. Are we sufficiently equipped to help our youths face the
challenges that lie ahead of them? How do we help our students stay grounded in
pure faith, church doctrines, and Christian ethics? What does it take for us to
help them live a life of reverence and to serve God?
These objectives should be the
core of every RE department, but this feat entails redesigning an RE landscape
that may have already become outdated. It is a timely move for the RE
department to diversify its programs to accommodate a new generation of
What should be the specific goals
and strategies of the RE department in the 21st century? More
importantly, how are we to address the changing world while retaining the
objectives of religious education? These are pertinent questions and sobering
challenges that ought to be raised.
THE ROLE OF RELIGIOUS EDUCATION
RE classes can influence the
values of the students, but Christian values are first and foremost developed
at home. Because children will absorb values and beliefs that are modeled at
home, Christian parents must not neglect their parenting responsibilities.
To be a Christian parent is a
gift from God as well as a duty, and the greatest challenge is to bring up
children who are able to fulfill their religious, social, and moral
God explicitly gave instructions
for parents to teach their children His thoughts and laws (Deut 11:19-21).
Through Moses, God told the Israelites:
“And these words which I command you today shall
be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall
talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie
down, and when you rise up.” (Deut 6:6, 7)
Children must be rooted in their
faith at home and have their faith reinforced in the church.
Therefore, parents must take
religious education seriously. They should lead by example and incorporate
God’s word into their daily thinking, speaking, and living. Priorities should
include praying together, setting aside consistent times to read the Bible, and
building a close and loving rapport with their children.
The church needs to support the
RE department and understand its role. Sufficient funds should be allocated to
improve educational resources such as visual aids, reference books, and other
The church should liaise closely
with the RE department. The concerns and needs of the RE department should be
brought up and discussed with the church council. In turn, they must take
proactive steps to provide for those needs and address problems.
When the church and the RE
department work together, the church doctrines and teachings will have
significant effects on students and their families and make an impact on our
students’ upbringing. We cannot afford to look lightly on RE because the
children who pass through church doors today will comprise the future
congregation and leaders—the hope—of the church.
Ultimately, the church should
remain a child’s spiritual anchor, and those of us who are given the
responsibility of RE are tasked with guiding our students to God and ensuring
that they will remain in the church and live a life of reverence and discipline
BUILDING A SOLID FOUNDATION
An Impenetrable Faith
While weekly RE classes can help
guide students and give them Bible knowledge and life application examples,
what happens during the rest of the week is out of the teacher’s hands.
An area of immense concern,
particularly for our impressionable teenage youths, is their social circle.
They are experiencing a plethora of disconcerting changes and challenges. For
many, their Christian values and integrity will be challenged as they come into
more contact with the world through their friends and the media. Can they still
defend and maintain their faith?
In reality, our students cannot
live an insular life, restricting their movements and debarring themselves from
interacting with friends outside the church and their homes. This is not
practical—we must find another way to ensure that their faith remains grounded.
I recall Daniel and his three
friends, who were captured and thrown into the sinful society of Babylon. They
were taken from their families as adolescents into the service of the king.
They were surrounded by a pagan and idolatrous culture, yet none of them were
influenced by it! How did they stand firm in such an environment?
The answer is they took their
values and faith with them. They did not isolate themselves in order to keep
their faith. Their faith remained deeply ingrained in their hearts, despite
being exposed to all sorts of social ills.
Therefore, to nurture and prepare
our students, we must challenge them to acquire an impenetrable faith. This
will ensure that they are able to overcome all temptations and uphold their
Christian principles in this ruthless world—just like Daniel and his friends.
Well-versed in the Bible
An essential component of
maintaining a strong faith is being well-versed in the Bible. It is not
possible to live out God’s words if we are not acquainted with them.
Therefore, it is disheartening to
note that, for many students, their only contact with the Bible is when they
attend RE classes. I have reminded my Junior Youth students (ages thirteen to
seventeen) time and again that reading the Bible is not an option but
absolutely critical and mandatory in their walk as a Christian, and they must
never underestimate the importance of Bible reading.
are reluctant to read; not only do they find it boring and dogmatic, they
encounter difficulties in understanding the many connotations of what they
read. Nevertheless, these obstacles must
must be conscientious in following a Bible reading plan. They should be
encouraged to read the Bible systematically, with determination and commitment.
For example, they can read in chronological order to see the significance of
Bible events and accounts clearly.
should be given on how to approach reading the Bible. They should begin with a
prayer for God’s guidance and understanding (Jn 16:13). The students’ attitude
is also important; they should read with a humble heart and depend on the
wisdom of Christ and the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
Study aids (Bible concordance,
church commentaries and outlines, the dictionary, etc.) can further enhance
their understanding and perception of the Bible. More importantly, RE students
must be made to realize that reading the Bible to gain knowledge is
insufficient. They must take it a step further by applying the word of God (2
They must be firmly grounded in
the doctrines and disciplined in their pursuit to study the Bible. Then they
will be able to judge the world from God’s perspective and grow in their faith.
All RE teachers should continually encourage their students in this direction
of spiritual cultivation.
Having had the privilege of being
a teacher for three decades, I have concluded that the students of today
greatly differ in character, poise, and personality from those I first taught.
Therefore, to keep up with the times, I must also change and explore new
methods and avenues while retaining what has proven to be good and sound.
There is an imminent need to
evaluate our teaching methods and modify them in response to the changing
society. There is limited room for complacency, but what I would like to
strongly reiterate is that, amidst changes, the fundamental beliefs and church
doctrines must never be sacrificed. God intended that His truth be applicable
at all times, regardless of changing and new environments.
For RE Teachers
Being an RE teacher is a
privilege and an honor and should not become a burden or a chore.
Teaching God’s word is not merely
a duty or a cerebral task—it requires our emotional and spiritual involvement.
Being an RE teacher means that we should not only teach but constantly be
supportive and concerned for our students and be sincerely committed to taking
a personal interest in their faith and spiritual growth.
We are not teachers for an hour
per week; instead, we need to make the effort to understand and bond with them
as unique individuals. This is by far the most rewarding approach to being an
If all RE teachers constantly
examine themselves, evaluate and improve their teaching methods, inject new
ideas and enthusiasm in their teaching, and take time to be thoroughly prepared
for their lessons, it will alleviate boredom and classroom routine. In
addition, it will open doors and avenues for the students to be more motivated
We should also support seminars
and workshops organized by the church on local, national, and international
levels. These programs provide in-depth exposure and practical advice on
teaching. These skills and knowledge are necessary and relevant, and they may
prevent more experienced teachers from getting stuck in a rut!
The RE department can consider
offering student counseling sessions that are made available to all RE students
as a group or on a one-on-one basis. There are students who may need individual
counseling beyond the classroom to resolve personal issues. They need the
privacy to share with someone they can trust to alleviate their personal
burdens—a counselor, teacher, or godly adult who can lend an objective ear and
offer wisdom from the Bible and the Holy Spirit.
Counseling must integrate
prayers, appropriate advice from a Christian perspective, and biblical principles.
Only then will the counseling sessions be truly beneficial.
Bible-based advice on topics like
friendship, peer pressure, and career guidance should be discussed openly in
class. Students should be encouraged to look in the Bible for answers and be
prepared to deal with such issues. This will then pave the way for resilient
It is never too early to learn
the art of evangelizing! RE students can be ambassadors for God. What better
way than for the students to invite their friends to attend RE classes together
teachers should encourage their students to be involved in evangelism. First,
RE teachers should instill a sense of responsibility and the need to evangelize
to their friends outside of church.
they should be taught how to evangelize. The RE department should set aside
time to teach the importance and significance of preaching God’s word.
much preparatory work is needed. Students should be familiar with the church
doctrines and key Bible verses before preaching to their friends. It is
important to equip the students with appropriate procedures of preaching and to
constantly remind and show them the power of prayer in spreading the gospel.
The RE department can implement
programs that appeal to students to reach out and show their concern for other
members. These activities, which are less didactic and more interactive, can
include leading fellowship services and helping members in need.
The objective of outreach is to
teach Christian living principles. Visiting retirement homes, orphanages, and
hospitals provide opportunities for the students to evangelize and work with
The students should also be
encouraged to serve other members in the church. For example, they can allocate
a certain portion of their time to run errands or do some housework for senior
members who are in need of help. They can also serve fellow students facing
difficulties by offering their time, prayer, and support.
Participating in these outreach
efforts will allow students to bond with their community as well as other
church members. These efforts will help students appreciate their social
environment and acquire healthy attitudes like humility, respect, commitment,
concern for others, as well as responsibility. Such exposures can add great
value towards their personal Christian growth.
In an ever-changing society, RE classes pave
the way for students to achieve their emotional, social, and spiritual
potentials—helping each student develop and reach spiritual maturity and
There is wisdom in serving God as
an RE teacher, and it is the desire of RE teachers everywhere to see their
students articulate and apply God’s words in life and to utilize their talents
to serve Him and make good decisions in their personal lives.
May God open for us a window of
opportunity to serve with an unclouded mind, undaunted spirit, and steadfast
faith. When an RE department is committed to working with the church and to
adapt and make changes in line with the needs of a new generation of students,
a dedicated and committed teacher can and will make the difference.