Child in classroom

A Vision for Christian Education in the Local Church – Part 1

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Once a year, the kids in my congregation’s Sabbath School classes are called to the front of the sanctuary. With smiles on their faces, they are given certificates and, in many cases, “promoted” to their new classes.

On one particular Sabbath several years ago, I watched this ceremony with fear and trembling as it ushered in a new season of my “career” as a Sabbath school teacher. I had taught adult classes, teen classes, elementary school classes, and pre-K/K classes. However, I had most recently taught the 2-3-year-olds. And if teaching 3-year-olds wasn’t intimidating enough, all three of my consistent 3-year-olds were being promoted to the pre-K class. I’d be embarking on a new frontier for our congregation (ominous music, please): teaching 1-year-olds. Three of them. (And I say this with a ton of love because one of them was my daughter!)

What’s so intimidating about teaching 1-year-olds, you ask? After all, they are only one-year-olds. Just sing Bible songs and read them a story and let them play. If they have fun and don’t cry too much or distract their parents from their classes, then the class is a success, right?

Not so fast.

Is that how we measure success for Christian education? To expose people to the Bible and keep their interest so that they leave with a smile on their faces?

Defining Success: Instructional Objectives

Regardless of the age of the students we teach, a critical task in education is to define success. How will we know that a particular class has been successful? How about a quarter or an entire year? Have your students grown or learned something important as a direct result of your class, or has their time merely been occupied?

How do you know? Can you prove it?

This is where instructional objectives enter the picture. An instructional objective is a statement that defines in specific, measurable terms what your students should be able to do as a result of your instruction.[ref]Mager, R. (1997). Preparing instructional objectives. Atlanta: The Center for Effective Performance, p. 3[/ref] This is really important, so I’ll invite you to read it again and say it aloud so that you can make more sense of it: “An instructional objective is a statement that defines in specific, measurable terms what your students should be able to do as a result of your instruction.” Objectives are the object, or purpose, of your instruction.

Instructional Objectives

Instructional objectives revolve around actions that can be observed based on what you as the instructor (i.e. “expert”) have decided is important.  Objectives can be identified for every age group. Adults, teens, children. Even toddlers.

If instructional success can be identified for toddlers, instructional objectives are even more potent in that they can be identified for older children.

For example, as a teacher of 1-year-olds, I identified some foundational theological truths that are simple enough for small children to be aware of. Things like Jesus loves them, the Bible is God’s word and is to be respected, and God made everything.  However, I didn’t want to just teach my students these things, I wanted to be assured that I had taught them these things! I wanted proof.

Define Sucess

Therefore, before my first class, I defined success. I decided I would know that my first quarter of teaching these students had been a success if, at the end of the quarter, my students were able to do the following:

  • Sing (or sign) Jesus Loves Me (with 75% accuracy).
  • Handle (touch) Bibles gently for at least 1 minute.
  • Name God as their Maker and the maker of all things.

These are instructional objectives. At the end of the quarter, I lead my students in all of these activities (as well as about 15 other objectives that I didn’t share). We sang Jesus Loves Me. I gave them a picture Bible and asked them to look at it and turn its pages for a minute. I asked them who made them and who made the birds and who made the trees.

If they could do these things according to my objectives…success!!! My students would have learned something important as the result of my class…and I would have proof that all of the hours I spent chasing 1-year-olds and soothing tears bore fruit.

From Objective to Instruction

The thing we don’t want to do is define success but then set ourselves up for failure.

Because objectives define what is important, or rather our purpose, for instruction, they must then shape how we make use of our time in the class.

Our objectives shape how we make use of our time. - Amber Riggs Share on X

What role do instructional objectives play in how I conduct a Sabbath School class?

In the example of teaching small children, if I define that the purposes of my class are for my students to learn to sing or sign Jesus Loves Me and handle Bibles gently, then I am going to devote time in our class to teaching them to sing Jesus Loves Me and touch Bibles gently. If we don’t spend time singing Jesus Loves Me and touching Bibles gently, then the end of the quarter is going to come, I’m going to hand them a Bible, and a page is going to get ripped out!

When planning for an entire quarter of Sabbath School, I’ll take my entire list of objectives and then decide which objectives to focus on each week. For example, I might teach Jesus Loves Me the first week by singing and signing it a few times. I might also teach them a little about the importance of the Bible and have them practice touching it gently.  The next week, our objective might be to train them to be able to name God as their Maker and the Maker of all things, so our class time would focus on these activities. They’ll be asked who made the puppy dogs, the clouds, the trees, the water, apples, and so on. However, we’ll also sing Jesus Loves Me again and once again practice touching the Bible gently.

We’ll keep on practicing these things week after week, adding new objectives as they become more comfortable with old ones. Don’t worry – we’ll have plenty of fun doing these things! But the fun doesn’t take the emphasis away from the purpose – the instructional objective – of the class!

Instructional objectives provide a map to success.

Simply put, regardless of the age demographic, instructional objectives provide us with a map of what we teach.  They help us focus our instructional time so that we don’t become detoured teaching something that we haven’t identified as being of utmost importance to a particular group of students at a particular time. It helps a Bible study on Ephesians stay focused on the topic of building up the Body of Christ instead of drifting to the meaning of the 1335 days in Daniel. (And y’all know how easily that can happen!)

Instructional objectives provide us with a road map of what we teach. - Amber Riggs Share on X

Writing Objectives

There is both an art and a science to writing objectives that sets a teaching session up for success. In part two of this series, we will explore the three components of well-written objective. We will also examine how to avoid the most common mistakes people make when writing objectives. And lastly, we’ll try out our skills on a few case studies.

Do you serve as a Sabbath school teacher in your local congregation? If not, would you like to? To become better equipped for this leadership role, here are some excellent Artios resources for you:

  • Enroll in Artios Christian College’s CHE 301 Christian Education course (Registration dates: Mar 31 – May 11)
  • Watch for Part 2 of this series, coming soon!
  • Read about why you are a leader here
Amber Mann Riggs
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Amber Mann Riggs lives near Eugene, OR, with her husband and four daughters. She writes at