Nurturing/ Teaching Courses
Spiritual Formation Institute
The Need for an "Asian" Christian Education Strategy for
Dr Alex Tang
In most Malaysian churches today, teaching on the Christian life is mainly
through the pulpit ministry and by various education or discipleship programs.
Discipleship is defined as living a life following Christ. Some education or
discipleship programs are holistic, resulting in spiritual formation. Dallas
Willard defined spiritual formation as character formation.
Unfortunately, many education or discipleship programs tend to be
individualistic. The emphasis is on building a personal relationship with God
only. Though this relationship with God many overflow into relationship with
other people, it tends to be a very individualistic Christian spirituality. The
relationship is “I and Thou” and the faith community exists only as the medium
where personal relationship takes place. The teaching method for these types of
discipleship programs are mainly instructional-schooling (content centred).
Teaching may have occurred but one cannot be sure that learning has taken place.
This discipleship programs are mainly designed for behaviour modification
(teaching the right “Christian” behaviour) rather than character transformation.
One measures the success of these programs by how their participant behaves
rather than what character changes have occurred. True learning always involves
character transformation. Therefore there is a need for all Malaysian churches
an educational strategy that will be effective in character formation rather
than church activism.
How do members of the Malaysian Christian churches, who are mostly Chinese,
Indians and tribal ethics groups process their faith? Asian societies tend to be
tightly organized, collectivistic, hierarchical, with greater emphasis on social
order and conflict avoidance and more concern with main-zi (face) and group
approval. Should Malaysian Christian faith communities follow the same approach
of a discipleship program designed in the West and tailored for Western
Christians? Western discipleship programs tend to be more individualistic in
their approach. This is an important consideration as many Malaysian churches
are buying education and “discipleship” programs from the West especially the
United States. These “discipleship” programs comes in ‘packages’ which includes
a content book, study guides, leader’s guides, DVDs, music CD and sermon
transcripts. What is worrying is that churches are using these programs
wholesale without analyzing the underlying theological foundation and the fact
that these programs are marketed at American Christians. Would it have the same
impact in Malaysia where the thinking processes are different? Would the faith
development of the Malaysian Christians be more rapid if the educational
approach should be more community based rather than an individualistic? Would it
retard our own education or discipleship program development? Would it give a
distorted view of Christianity as mainly an “individualistic evangelical middle
class superpower white male religion”? How does it fit into a multicultural,
multiethnic and pluralistic Malaysian culture?
There is a need for an educational approach that takes into consideration
character formation as its goal, the Asian culture of community rather than
individualistic Christian spirituality, and is holistic in developing all
aspects of faith development. Such an approach will be powerful instrument under
the Holy Spirit as churches become learning communities.
While there have been many on-going attempts to develop an “Asian Theology”,
there has not been any work done to develop an “Asian Christian Education”. Asia
is a major growth centre for Christianity and there is a need for an indigenous
contextualized Asian Christian education. Previous Christian education
strategies have always been to fit an existing “Western” educational model into
an Asian church. It is time to develop Asian or Malaysian Christian education
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