Today’s church needs a theologically literate laity

Christian educator Patricia Bays says lay people need sound theological knowledge in order to teach and nurture new believers. Photo: courtesy Patricia Bays
Christian educator Patricia Bays says lay people need sound theological knowledge in order to teach and nurture new believers. Photo: courtesy Patricia Bays
Published February 22, 2012

The second of the five marks of mission is to teach, baptize and nurture new believers.

To live that mark, however, lay Christians need knowledge. Today, many adults display a great hunger for serious theological education. Many are seeking opportunities to challenge believers, both new and long-standing, to raise questions and to explore possible answers. Many want to know and understand what the Bible says, what the church teaches, why we worship as we do and what the Christian faith means in terms of daily life.

As a church, we spend a good deal of time and money on the education of children. Yet since adults represent the largest number of individuals in the church, we should be spending just as much on the Christian formation of mature people.

One program that addresses the faith questions of adult members and helps them to develop a sound, knowledge-based personal theology is Education for Ministry (EfM), a four-year, part-time theology program developed by the University of the South in Sewanee, Tenn. EfM is designed to provide lay adults with a knowledge base to support their ministries in their work and communities.

Students register for a year at a time and meet weekly for nine months in groups of six to 12 to explore the four core courses of a theological education: Hebrew scripture, Christian testament, church history and Christian theology.

The cost per semester ranges from $375 to $425, with some bursaries available.

In addition to assimilating academic knowledge, students spend time on theological reflection, bringing events from their everyday lives into dialogue with scripture and church tradition under the guidance of trained mentors. The program may also be taken online.

Students speak of how their lives have been changed by the opportunity to reflect theologically on their lives. And many find the course eye-opening. For example, when they learn about the four different sources for the Book of Genesis, the most frequent reaction is one of surprise: “You mean the clergy have known this for years and have never told us?” One of the joys of mentoring an EfM group is watching lights go on as people learn new things both about scripture and about themselves.

EfM Canada is sponsoring a national conference, Christians in a Dangerous Time: Conversations about the Future of the Church-inspired by the music of Canadian folk/rock musician Bruce Cockburn. It will take place April 20 to 22 in Vernon, B.C. For further information, consult EfM’s website at

Trained in theology at Trinity College, University of Toronto, Patricia Bays is a long-time Christian educator based in Ottawa. She has taught at the College of Emmanuel & St. Chad in Saskatoon, Saint Paul University in Ottawa and the University of the South in Sewanee, Tenn.  She has been an EfM mentor since 1988 and a trainer since 1994.


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