As a practical theologian, I bring to the classroom not only the rigorous academic training that enabled me to claim the title of professor, but also over a decade of being a Christian educator and youth minister in a local congregation. Because I worked in a congregation before, while, and after earning a Master of Divinity, I am constantly linking theological theory with theological praxis. Therefore, my classes are framed by two overarching questions. When working with systematic theology or educational theory, I ask, “What does this look like on Sunday morning?” When examining a situation that emerged in a ministry context, I ask, “Which theological understandings are helpful in dealing with this situation?” These two questions help me develop courses that intertwine theory and practice with the aim of making every student a better practical theologian.
No student is a blank slate. Therefore, my approach in the classroom is to engage the knowledge they come with while informing them of new and different voices. I teach largely through discussion and other activities that allow for self-discovery and discernment through community, as well as the integration of new ideas. I believe that everyone has something to add to the conversation. I believe that students connect to learning on a deeper level if they gain that knowledge through self-reflection that interacts with challenging reading and lectures. Students not familiar with a class heavy on discussion may view it as a free-for-all, where “all we do is talk.” Therefore, on every syllabus, I write the “Lockhart-Gilroy Rule of Engagement.” This rule states, “when making any contribution to the course—in papers, discussion, or any other venue—ask yourself this question: ‘Could I have made this contribution before ever having taken this class?’ If the answer is ‘Yes,’ then the work is not yet appropriate for our shared endeavors. Every contribution should be of such a kind that one must have read our readings, heard our lectures, and participated in our discussions, in order to be able to make that contribution.” I also explain that while there is equality of worth in the room, there is not equality of expertise and my job is to model how the one with the expertise participates in a discussion where everyone has a voice. My belief in reflective learning is also reflected in the papers I assign. My assignments ask students to articulate their views and design ministry components that would reflect what they believe to be important in light of their readings and lectures.
I believe it is the job of the practical theologian and minister to walk with others as they journey closer and closer to Christ. Essential to journeying with others is the art of listening and observing. Therefore, I often incorporate an act of listening in ministry courses. This may take the form of interviews, congregational studies, observation of acts of ministry, etc. It is also important that students get to practice the art of teaching in Christian education courses. Undergirding these two things is an understanding of how theology and theory are at the base of the praxis of Practical Theology. Readings that view practical theology as a liberating action will set the tone for lesson plans and listening exercises that lead to an liberating end. And while it is important to have personal liberation, my Christian education work is also anchored in communal liberation and the fight against racism, sexism, classism, homophobia, xenophobia, and any other structure that dehumanizes an individual or group.
I truly believe that connection to one’s Creator is how one finds one’s true self. Christian Education is a means by which people are freed to know themselves in a way that they can only be known when they see themselves through God’s eyes. I view the task of Christian Education as aiding people in acquiring tools that will help them see their Divine potential. If done poorly, Christian Education experience could be yet another place where people learn what they cannot or should not be and what they should not do. They may once again try to force themselves into a mold they were not made to fit. But if done well, Christian Education is an emancipating practice that frees people to live a life they might never have thought that they could have.