The Christian life is dynamic, and we spend our whole lives learning the faith in all its richness. Thankfully, we have men and women right in our churches who work with the pastor, staff and lay leaders of the congregation to help provide a vibrant, thorough education and formation in this Christian faith. These professionally trained parish education specialists spend their days (and often, their evenings) caring for the education needs of those whom they serve
The ways in which Directors of Christian education (DCEs) share the message of Christ with their congregations, schools and communities are as varied as these special church workers themselves, but what they all have in common is a love for Christ and a love for His people. But what does that look like behind the scenes? Have you ever wondered what goes on in the life of a DCE from day to day and week to week?
Kayla McGowan, director of Christian education at Our Savior Lutheran Church and School in Aiea, Hawaii, said that her typical days are really quite full.
“I find both a pattern and flexibility within my days,” she said. “Every day is a little different and routines change from season to season. Every week, there are tasks needing completion that require time at my desk — expense reports, church communications, writing birthday cards and thank you notes, and planning for upcoming events like VBS, service projects, gatherings, etc. Maintaining a presence at our school is also a part of my routine.”
A unique vocation
In another sunny locale, at St. Luke’s Lutheran Church and School in Oviedo, Fla., DCE Annalisa Fitzsimons also enjoys the varied typical days of this unique vocation.
“I might start the day by checking in with the teachers and talking with them,” shared Fitzsimons. “Then I’ll head over to the office to answer emails and handle anything imminent. Later in the morning, depending on what’s happening at the school, I’ll work on events like confirmation, youth group, chapel prep, the middle school youth gathering, VBS, etc.”
On truly atypical days, McGowan and Fitzsimons might be participating in special milestones in the lives of their members, responding to an emergency, or even helping with a disciplinary issue in the school.
“Sometimes there are tragedies,” said Fitzsimons. “A parent may get a diagnosis, there’s divorce, just lots of hard things. I really want to be there for the children and families, pray for them and care for them. Other days might be different for other reasons, though, like a science teacher calling to say that they’re setting
off bottle rockets, or there’s a spelling bee, poetry slam, etc.”
How to become DCEs
St. Luke’s in Oviedo has actually been Fitzsimons’ υ home church since seventh grade, when she first became involved with a Christian church after joining
a Lutheran friend for confirmation classes and youth group.
“With no prior Christian experience, I learned about Jesus and realized how He changes my whole life,” explained Fitzsimons. “I had originally wanted a career in planning events for companies. After I tore my [anterior cruciate ligament] in soccer, I spent time volunteering with the church’s DCE, [helping] her do what she did and does as a DCE. I realized — she plans events for Jesus, and that’s way more fun than planning dinner parties or corporate events!”
Now Fitzsimons specializes in middle school ministry, an age group that she especially loves and cherishes because of her own significant youth group experiences as a middle schooler. Likewise, McGowan noted that her own journey to becoming a DCE was shaped by her youth experience with others in the vocation.
“DCEs poured into my life as I was growing up,” she recalled. “Through each interaction, God nudged me more and more to serving the church in this capacity.”
The DCE’s hardest challenge
Of course, in any church work vocation, there are hard days, too. Fitzsimons described the work as “heavy,” especially for a DCE who truly loves and cares deeply for the people that they serve.
“I get to do a lot of fun things, yes, but also there are people hurting and sin is real in the world,” she said. “The most challenging thing about being a DCE is walking with people through what they’re going through. But that is also the point, and I want to be there for people.”
McGowan echoed this sentiment, adding that “carrying the weight of the holy responsibility of ministry can be challenging. In those moments, leaning on the gentle Jesus who carries us and our burdens is so important.”
Some people may also be surprised to find out, she said, how much truly goes on behind the scenes to pull off an event. It can be hard for church workers, and especially what McGowan calls a “generalist DCE within a small congregation,” to keep firm boundaries for how much they do.
“It can be a challenge to want to do it all,” McGowan said. “I have to remember boundaries and how they allow me to bring excellence to the moment at hand.”
The DCE’s greatest reward
Both DCEs easily agreed that the best part of being in this role is the people and the relationships.
“There are so many wonderful things about being a DCE, but most rewarding is helping middle school students articulate what Jesus means in their lives and how what he did on cross for them changes their lives,” said Fitzsimons. “There is nothing better than hearing my students share their faith with other people.”
Ultimately, it’s the love of Christ that emboldens a DCE to do his or her job well, and to love the people well while carrying out this important work.
“Everyday as a DCE, sharing the message of Christ is the goal,” explained McGowan. “Whether it’s a ministry of presence at a band concert or soccer game, leading chapel at our school, singing in worship, or coordinating special events, I pray our community experiences Jesus’ love.”
Nearly 4,700 miles away from McGowan’s church in Hawaii, Fizsimons’ goal is the same for her people in Florida. “My hope is that I share Jesus with and through my students,” she said. “Through them, [the Gospel is] shared through the community and world. It is literally the most rewarding job. I can’t imagine doing anything else!”