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A conversation with Steven Yeakley

Steven Yeakley has a gift for multitasking.
Although he serves as involvement minister for the Faith Village Church of Christ in Wichita Falls, Texas, he also counsels adults and works with children’s education. He directs a church camp in Oklahoma and “Kids for Christ,” an innovative Vacation Bible School format at his home congregation.
Yeakley, 50, has served in a variety of roles — youth, education and evangelism — during his 29 years of ministry. He and his wife, Shelley, an elementary school science teacher, have three sons: Stuart, 24; Stanton, 19; and Sheldon, 15.
Born in Houma, La., he spent his younger years in Louisiana and Mississippi while his father, Flavil Yeakley Jr., established churches in those states. After graduating from Oklahoma Christian University in 1982, the younger Yeakley received a master’s in religious education from Abilene Christian University in 1986. He has worked with the Glenwood Church of Christ in Tyler, Texas, and the Hartford Avenue Church of Christ in Ponca City, Okla.
Steven Yeakley serves as president of the 200-member Christian Education Association, or CEA, which has served Churches of Christ for 50 years under a variety of names. A majority of its members serve in areas other than pulpit or youth ministry.
Why are education ministers important to the spiritual life of a church?
The study of God’s Word is designed to lead to a life-giving relationship with Jesus. Keeping that in focus is one of the most important roles of an education minister.
Many Bible teachers feel that learning the content of Scripture is enough. In response to this thinking, Jesus said, “You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life” (John 5:39-40).
Why are there so few full-time education ministers today?
It might appear that there are fewer education ministers today. I do not think that is the case.
Part of the explanation for this apparent decline can be attributed to ministry specialty. Notice the diversity in the 205 CEA members — 21 education ministers, 65 children’s ministers, 10 associate ministers, 11 involvement ministers and six spiritual formation ministers. University professors, counselors, campus, singles and family ministers make up the rest (not to mention non-paid workers).
At the heart of each of these ministries is Christian education. Education ministers have not declined. Titles and job descriptions, though, have changed.
My father, Flavil Yeakley Jr. of Harding University, estimates that there are about 300 full-time ministers in the brotherhood that do not serve as preachers or youth ministers. His approximation is based on the number of congregations that are large enough to support a three-person staff. Those third ministers usually serve in an education role of some sort.
What are the top education needs of the church today?
Some have said that the top need is stability. In an ever-changing world, what the church must provide is a place to meet an unchanging God.
Others have mentioned the crying need for good resources to communicate the Gospel. Instead of simply relying on a minister to feed the flock, the church must identify good resources that can allow Christians to be fed at home. Books, DVDs, computer programs, small groups and blogs all are tools that can be used to fill spiritual needs.
Above all, though, the church needs godly teachers of the faith — tools in the hands of the Master to help shape the hearts and minds of young and old alike. That’s a Bible teacher. That’s what the church needs.
What constitutes a strong, biblical education program?
Helping individuals arrive at their own faith, becoming lifelong disciples of Jesus and developing a close relationship with God — those make for a strong biblical education program. That’s the goal. It’s not just about fun and numbers.
Although it helps, having great curriculum is not the most important matter. A church’s biblical education program must be seen as more than just what happens on Sunday mornings and Wednesday nights. Making disciples is a “life-race” (the real meaning of the word “curriculum”).
A strong biblical education program must focus on faith-formation in the hearts of Christians. To do that effectively in the world today requires a willingness to try different approaches. The Lord and his Word have not changed. Our understanding of how to teach has.
Bible students need to be challenged to do what we did years ago — study their Bible before coming to class. Whatever happened to homework, memorizing Scripture and being daily Bible readers? These spiritual disciplines need to return to our daily walk with the Lord.
A strong biblical education program also must be diverse. We understand that from a chronological standpoint. Classes for kindergarteners are very different than for high-schoolers. A strong education program will always have learning opportunities for new Christians, no matter how young or old.
Special studies should also be offered. Don’t Christians need to learn how to study, pray, worship, parent and serve effectively in the kingdom?

How can church leaders find truly qualified education ministers?
The first step always is prayer. Ask for wisdom. Seeking God’s help is vitally important.
The second is to look at the person’s life. Talk to a lot of people who know him or her. Compare the life of the ministry candidate with the fruit of the Spirit. They should match up well. Ask lots of questions. Never hire someone based on just one or two interviews. Finding a qualified education minister is an act of faith on the part of the church that is looking as well as that of the prospective minister. Both should be very open to God’s will.
To help find a candidate, check with the biblical studies departments of the various Christian universities and the CEA Forum.
What is the Christian Education Conference? How has it influenced participants?
Each year the CEA sponsors the conference, which helps those actively working with churches do a better job in the area of Christian education. It’s is a great place to network with other Christian educators, discover new ministry resources and find support for your current ministry role and situation.
The conference always has provided very helpful sessions for ministers. Such people as Bill Patterson, Carl Brecheen, David Wray, Randy Willingham and Lynn Anderson have been a few of the many speakers over the past 50 years. Specialists from outside of the Churches of Christ have also served to bless the group, including people like Larry Richards, Gene Getz and Marlene LeFever.
Conference sessions always are geared to provide the latest ideas and research, but also tried-and-true solutions to ministry challenges.  
FOR MORE INFORMATION on the Christian Education Association and the 2011 Christian Education Conference, see www.christianeducator.org.

Filed under: Dialogue

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