Why Certification?

For numerous years, those who call the ministry of Christian formation and education as their vocation in the Episcopal Church have lamented the lack of equity and standards within our church. When the National Association for Episcopal Christian Education Directors (NAECED) was formed almost 15 years ago, one of its purposes for organizing was to develop standards for the certification of Christian educators. This past weekend I was privileged to attend a gathering of stakeholders (representing a variety of threads that have been working toward this goal) at Virginia Theological Seminary. I am beginning to have hope. 2017 Update: NAECED has now become Forma.

Our ecumenical partners have long recognized the importance of lifting up and acknowledging the ministry of Christian educators with certification. APCE (Presbyterian Church USA) and CEF (Christian Educators Fellowship of the United Methodist Church) have led the way. And while they have struggled to live into their levels of certification and continuing education requirements for those members who choose to follow this route, they have paved the way for us.

Why certification?

  • Validation and Credibility – Are educators valued as equals to other staff members in a congregation? Are their education and gifts accepted?
  • This is a Career Path chosen by many – Do we want future generations to find this a rewarding career in which one can earn a living?
  • Feeling isolated – Is there a system in which one can turn when searching for continuing education and support?
  • Variations across dioceses and polity – Can there be standards for pay and benefits commensurate with education and experience on a national scale?
  • Need for consciousness-raising – If the church truly thinks education is important, why doesn’t it treat educators with the same passion?

In 2009, General Convention endorsed the Charter for Lifelong Christian Formation. Theologically trained and experienced Christian educators can help the church live into this vision. Can the church help lift up the ministry of those who are ready to partner and make this vision a reality?

Statistics have shown that churches that focus on lifelong formation have more engaged communities than those that just focus on Sunday School for children.  In the Episcopal Church, is lifelong formation an agreed upon norm? Is discernment for lifelong committed Christians the norm?  In our post-Christian world, adults are coming to the church without any grounding in faith. For many churches, 6th grade (or Confirmation) is the graduation point; parents who are not formed in faith will not realize the validity of engaging their children into their searching and discerning years. We need to be focusing on discipleship. An “educated” educator in a congregation who has been mentored by respected leaders of the church will continue to grow and learn alongside his or her peers as well as those with whom they share ministry.

The conversation has just begun. But there is definite energy and momentum around a Certificate for Leadership for Lifelong Christian Formation. There is more work to do and many more conversations to be had.

2017 Update: Many certificate programs now exist through Forma. You can learn more about each here:

Lord, please let our small mustard seeds of daily service grow into great shrubs of change and trees in whose branches the birds can nest and in whose shade our children can rest and feel safe. Marian Wright Edelman

6 thoughts on “Why Certification?

  1. In another life, I attained Certified Professional Legal Secretary (Certified PLS) status after taking 6 different tests. I didn’t do it to get more money, or to get another job. I did it to validate myself and the pride I took in the job well done. I can’t imagine church leaders not wanting the same.I look forward to continued talk about this area and one day, seeing this become a reality!


  2. I’m very excited about the prospect of a certification program for Christian educators. I hope the discussion includes the topic of financial support for those who need it, so that the program is available to all who are called to this special ministry…..


  3. It is interesting to see this discussioin. A couple of years ago Cathy Ode (I think I have the name correct) telephoned me to talk about certification and what the Lutheran Association of Christian Educators was doing in this area. I am glad to see that you are moving in this area. So are we. Please look at our blog at http://www.faithfulteaching.org which is the web site for LACE. We are thinking about 15 characteristics of effective Christian Education and then going to move to qualities and skills of educational leaders and then hopefully into a certification discussion. Diane Shallue, president of LACE


  4. Amen… I cannot say how many times I have sat in staff meeting wondering why I was there since my opinion often seems invalid since I am not clergy. In the ELCA I went through the entire process to become an Associate in Ministry and have a BA in theology. Doesn’t count because it wasn’t Episcopal I guess. Sign me up. I would love the networking as much as anything.


  5. This article comes at a critical time for many parishes (did you plan that?) as budgets continue to restrain creative thought around faith formation and its priority.
    I am already signed up — and ready to do all I can to spread the Word.


  6. Is certification enough? I have my Masters in Divinity from Bethel Seminary with a specialization in children/family ministry — but because I serve in an Episcopal church I am lay leadership. I was sponsored and mentored by Episcopal leadership and blessed those I served in the Episcopal church as I went through the five year in-ministry training. I was able to serve in the local church while studying. The Episcopal pathways are TOO COSTLY.


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