By Eric M. Baskerville, Sr.
Donald L. Griggs (April 1935-Present): When it comes to Christian education, Dr. Donald Griggs is not only a prolific writer, but also a renowned Christian educator in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). He contributed many major resources to training Christian teachers, pastors, and church educators to become better teachers. In addition, his work was much appreciated by college and seminary professors as well as college and seminary students who pursued the Christian teaching profession. Dr. Griggs is author of more than twenty-five books and numerous articles in Christian education. His transparent skills encouraged and informed thousands of educators. His direct approach is Christian-based and applicable to aid both the twentieth and twentieth-first centuries’ Christian education programs. Dr. Griggs served one of the most recognized Christian education teaching institutions in the United States, the Presbyterian School of Christian Education in Richmond, Virginia, where he served with tenure as Associate Professor of Christian education and Director of Continuing Education.
Christian education has been blessed by the educational ministry of Dr. Donald Griggs who has spent five decades training and teaching a large multicultural, ecumenical audience. He became recognized prior to some churches endorsing Christian education as a high priority. One of the hallmarks of his ministry has been his commitment to explore innovative ways of teaching and learning that led many pastors and educators to grow in their own confidence to try new approaches in their own ministries. Dr. Griggs endorses Christian learning as a dominant need for the church, college, and seminary. Through the years he was fortunate to have many role models for effective, quality educational ministry. Dr. Roy Fairchild was his professor of Christian education at San Francisco Theological Seminary to whom he owes much for cultivating in him the passion for and commitment to Christian education as an honored profession. Dr. John Westerhoff, professor at Duke Divinity School was Dr. Griggs’ advisor for his dissertation project for his D.Min. Degree and was a key influence in helping Dr. Griggs see the connections between education and nurture, between explicit education in the classroom and implicit education in worship and mission experiences.
Dr. James Smart’s classic, “The Teaching Ministry of the Church”, Lewis Sherrill’s books, “Struggle of the Soul” and “Gift of Power,” and Randolph Crump Miller’s books, “Christian Nurture and the Church” and “Biblical Theology and Christian Education,” provided for Dr. Griggs a vision for what Christian education could be and do for God’s people in local churches. In addition to significant professors and key books, Dr. Griggs was inspired by members and leaders of the churches he served in his early years of ministry, especially those in the First Presbyterian Church of Livermore, many of whom were scientists and engineers at the local Lawrence Livermore Laboratory, a major national facility engaged in nuclear research. They encouraged him to experiment with the education program of their church.
Dr. Donald Griggs was born to the late Raymond and Rhoda Griggs on April 6., 1935 in Princeton, New Jersey. He spent his early life in Princeton, Trenton, and Lawrenceville, New Jersey, where he attended churches nearest his home because the family did not have an automobile. He went to Baptist, Methodist, and Presbyterian Sunday schools. Dr. Griggs’ faith was nurtured in the Presbyterian Church from his baptism through adolescence and on into college. During those years he was a part of Christian activities and became active as a leader in the youth fellowship group at his church. During his early adolescence, he was also active in the Boys Scouts of America. Beginning at age 14 he worked for four summers at a Boy Scout Camp, Camp Pahaquara, on the Delaware River in Northern New Jersey. He was given senior leadership positions and advanced to the rank of Eagle Scout. One day while in junior high school he visited his guidance counselor to seek information about what was involved to study to be a missionary. This was his first step toward thinking about ministry as a career.
Call to Ministry
In September of his senior year in high school Dr. Griggs’ family moved from New Jersey to California. While his parents and brother were getting settled in San Francisco, Dr. Griggs lived with his Aunt Ruth and Uncle Wayne (Walker) in Sanger, California, and graduated from Sanger Union High School in 1953. It was at that time that he first sensed a call to ministry when an assignment for one course was to explore three different vocations. Two of the vocations were how to become a professional scouter for the Boy Scouts of America and another was how to become a Forest Ranger. Since he was living with his uncle who was a Presbyterian pastor, it was a “no brainer” to explore what was involved in becoming a minister. It was in that process and in a special worship service where he believed he was called to become a Presbyterian pastor.
That call was confirmed during his college years when he was active as a leader in the campus ministry program. In his freshman year in college Dr. Griggs met Patricia Rae Silva and they were married on June 8, 1956. To this union three children were born: Cathryn, an elementary school teacher; Scott, a photographer; and Mark, a Presbyterian pastor. They have four grandchildren.
On June 19, 1960, he was ordained by a commission of representative pastors and elders of the Presbytery of San Francisco of The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Dr. Griggs never aspired to become a solo pastor or head of staff of a large church, but rather to serve as an associate pastor of Christian education for the churches to which he would be called.
Dr. Donald Griggs is a 1957 graduate of San Francisco State University receiving a B.A. Degree. He was one of a dozen students enrolled in a Pre-Ministerial major, as it was called. This was an unusual major at the time for a state university, but was instituted by a beloved professor, Dr. Albert Fisk, who was head of the Philosophy Department and also an ordained Presbyterian minister. In addition, he took a number of courses in general education. He enjoyed reading and preparing for the education courses and especially a directed study course where he read a dozen books on educational history, theory, and practice. As a result of these readings he began to sense that teaching would play an important role in his vocation.
He received the B.D Degree in 1960 from San Francisco Theological Seminary where he took as many elective courses in Christian education as his advisor would allow. In 1977 Dr. Griggs was a Visiting Fellow at Princeton Theological Seminary during which time he worked on his dissertation, The Minister as Teacher: A Strategy for Training Presbyterian Pastors in the Teaching Function, which was approved and he was granted the Doctor of Ministry degree in 1983 from San Francisco Theological Seminary.
Since October 2007 to the present Dr. Donald Griggs is fully retired. He loves traveling extensively in his GMC truck and Coleman travel trailer (see his blog at <rvingreflections.wordpress.com>) and continuing to write and co-author books in the Bible From Scratch series published by Westminster John Knox Press.
From October 2001 to September 2007 Dr. Griggs served as Executive Director of Pilgrims of Ibillin, half time <http://www.pilgrimsofibillin.org>. Regarding this experience, he says, “Even though I had retired from formal ministry I realized God was not done with me so I accepted the call to become the first executive director of the organization. Pilgrims of Ibillin is the U.S. based support group for the work of Father Elias Chacour and the Mar Elias Educational Institutions that he founded in Ibillin in the Galilee region of Israel where about 3,000 students and teachers who are Christians, Muslims, and Jews teach and learn together in a place of educational excellence, with mutual respect for each other’s personhood and tradition. My work as executive director involved traveling to Israel/Palestine, leading pilgrimages, accompanying Father Chacour when he traveled to speak at churches and conferences in the United States, speaking at many churches about the mission of Pilgrims of Ibillin, and working with the board of directors to coordinate the activities of the organization. My seven years of service brought me many blessings and resulted in friendships with many others who were seeking peace and justice in the troubled land of Israel/Palestine.”
During this period, Dr. Griggs also served as an adjunct professor teaching occasional courses at Union Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond, Virginia, and San Francisco Theological Seminary in San Anselmo, California. The courses he taught were: Teaching the Bible, Educational Ministry and Leadership, and The Work of the Educator in the Church. He also led several continuing education events at Union Presbyterian Seminary, Princeton Theological Seminary, and Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. Those courses included: Praying and Teaching the Psalms, Teaching and Technology for Pastors and Educators, Teaching the Bible with Adults, and New Models for Educational Ministry.
From August 1995 – May 1999, Dr. Donald Griggs served as Associate Pastor, Westminster Presbyterian Church, Sacramento, California. After 26 years of non-parish ministry he decided to return to the pastorate in order to “field test” the educational theories and practices he had been teaching for all those years. Those four years proved to be very productive in terms of introducing to a large urban church a new vision for educational ministry. His senior pastor and colleague was George “Skip” Herbert who is now retired and living in Colorado. A youth program that numbered a half dozen when he arrived grew to almost fifty middle and senior high school students. A major change was to move the worship hours earlier and later in order to provide an education hour between services.
From July l984 - May 1995, Dr. Griggs continued to write Christian education books, lead workshops across the country, and lead occasional continuing education events. In addition, he was called to be the director of training and, with his wife, Patricia, to be co-managing editors for developing the Faith for Life curriculum for grades one to twelve for The LOGOS System Associates.
From January l98l - June l984, Dr. Griggs served as Dean of Extended Ministries and Associate Professor of Christian Education at the Presbyterian School of Christian Education (PSCE), Richmond, Virginia, with tenure. The school specialized in Christian education, which meant that every faculty person was committed to educational ministry. “My views and experiences on the practice of educational ministry in the local church were much appreciated by the faculty and students. I taught a variety of courses: a required course on Basic Christian Education, Evaluating Curriculum for Teaching, Creating and Using Media in Christian Education, Practice Teaching, and Teaching the Bible.” On the occasion of Dr. Griggs’ 79th birthday last April, one of his former students, Eric Lohe, posted on his Facebook page the following, ‘Happy Birthday Don. You have influenced my teaching and preaching in many significant ways. I am always grateful to God for you. Almost daily something you taught me guides my ministry. Your maxim, "My purpose is not to cover material but uncover it " has made many of my lessons take a much better direction. Thanks.’ The Dean position involved my coordinating the several non-academic programs offered by the school, which included: Community Recreation, Continuing Education, Center on Aging, Demonstration Kindergarten, Video Education, and Volunteer Services.”
Prior to being promoted to Dean of Extended Ministries, Dr. Griggs served as Director of Continuing Education and Associate Professor of Christian Education at Presbyterian School of Christian Education in Richmond, Virginia. He was the first director of continuing education. Under his leadership PSCE offered about 25 continuing education events each year attended by several hundred pastors, church educators, and lay teachers and leaders.
From January l972-December l977 Dr. Griggs served with his wife, Patricia, as co-founder/owner, of Griggs Educational Service in Livermore, California. Through this service, Don and Pat conducted workshops for church educators, ministers, and teachers throughout the United States; wrote books and produced resources for Christian education, and distributed a wide variety of resources for an ecumenical, international constituency.
During the time frame of January l969-December l97l Dr. Griggs served as Director of the Teacher Learning Center of Northern California, an ecumenical, independent, non-profit project of the Institute for Editorial Research, Palo Alto, California. It was in this role that he first began to produce educational materials for those who attended the many workshops he led. A significant event with the Teaching Learning Center was the calling of a member of the Catholic order of Sisters of Social Service, Sister Charlene Tschirhart, to serve with him as a co-director.
During the years, January l964-December l968, Dr. Donald Griggs was Associate Pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Livermore, California. In this position he was responsible for the Christian education program for children, youth, and adults. Dr. Griggs, with his wife and other lay leaders, introduced a sex education retreat for middle school youth. He and Pat also experimented with intergenerational teaching with 5th/6th graders and their parents. They developed a Friday night middle school program that grew to include over 100 youth and 20+ advisors. Dr. Griggs also did occasional preaching, some pastoral care, leading new member classes, and other general pastoral work with individuals, groups, and committees. The senior pastor was Rev. Dr. John Turpin who is now retired, living in Berkeley, California.
In June l960-December l963, Dr. Griggs served as Assistant Pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Phoenix, Arizona, where he was responsible for the Christian education program, church publications, and social outreach ministries. These early years of ministry in a large (2,700 members), urban church were foundational and formational to the Christian educator that he became.
In July and August 1993 Dr. Griggs served as one of twelve adult leaders for a Mission Team to Russia sponsored by The LOGOS System Associates, with twenty-seven high school and college youth from LOGOS Programs in 22 churches from 12 states.
In the summers of 1996 and 1998 Dr. Griggs assisted in leading groups of high school and college youth on two-week pilgrimages and work camps in Israel/Palestine. The work camp was in the small Palestinian village of Ibillin where the groups worked at Mar Elias Educational Institutions, founded by Father Elias Chacour. He has returned to Ibillin once or twice a year since 2001.
Service to the Larger Church
Dr. Griggs was a member of Board of Trustees, Union Theological Seminary and PSCE, Richmond, Virginia, for nine years, 2003 to 2011. He has served as educational editor and member of the editorial board of The Kerygma Program, since 1982. And, he also serves as member of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Educator Certification Committee.
1960 to present – Association of Presbyterian Church Educators
1970 to 1999 – Religious Education Association
1978 to 1985 – Association of Professors and Researchers in Religious Education
Awards and Recognitions
Dr. Donald Griggs and his wife, Patricia Griggs were honored by the Association of Presbyterian Church Educators as Co-Educators of the Year for 1993 at the annual meeting of APCE in Cincinnati, Ohio, February 1993. Dr. Griggs was also honored as Distinguished Alumnus in1994 by San Francisco Theological Seminary in San Anselmo, California.
Contributions to Christian Education
When reviewing his contributions to Christian Education, we can identify many ways Donald Griggs has had an impact on Christian education in the 20th Century:
· He was not a researcher in the classic, academic sense. Rather, he was willing to experiment with new approaches, test new theories, and try new resources, all in the context of his educational ministry as a pastor in local churches, as a professor at Presbyterian School of Christian Education, and as an designer and editor of curriculum resources.
· He was on the cutting edges of Christian education with such things as using simulation games to teach the Bible, using Microteaching as an approach to teacher training, utilizing “do it yourself” media for teaching all age groups, and creating learning centers to enhance discovery learning activities.
· He became a prolific writer of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries who inspired many to learn how to teach the Bible and to improve Christian education in their local churches
· With his wife they wrote a ground-breaking book, Generations Learning Together, after they had created The Junior Experiment that involved teaching fifteen fifth and sixth graders and their parents in a Bible study for one year on Sunday mornings. In addition, they taught the children in a mid-week afternoon class and their parents in a monthly class featuring what was being shared with the children.
· He developed the educational model for the Bible studies published by The Kerygma Program that are used in thousands of churches of many denominations throughout the United States and Canada, as well as other English speaking countries.
· With Patricia Griggs, they developed the Faith for Life curriculum for The LOGOS System Associates. This was a major accomplishment that took four years of careful planning and supervision. They are pleased that after more than twenty years and a major revision the curriculum is still used in many churches today.
As I reflect on Dr. Donald Griggs contributions to Christian education, it is important to note that I would like to expand on his first two contributions: His contribution for research/ strong curricula developments and as a prolific writer. After reading and researching about Dr. Griggs, we find that his beginnings in Christian education allude to research. His research skills aided many people in developing a sound church curriculum. Whenever one places a strong emphasis upon research, usually the end result is a strong curriculum. We also find that his writing skills are impeccable.
He writes as a scholar but also in a form whereby the average reader can comprehend his writing. His writings are appreciated by many college students, seminarians, pastors, directors of Christian education, as well as innumerable lay teachers and leaders.
Griggs, D. (Revised 2012). Discovering the Psalms: Passion, promise, and praise. Pittsburgh, PA: The Kerygma Program.
Griggs, D. & Walasky, P. (2014). Acts of the Apostles from scratch: The New Testament for Beginners. Louisville, KY: Westminster- John Knox.
Griggs, D. & March, E. (2013). Exodus from scratch: The Old Testament for beginners. Louisville, KY: Westminster- John Knox.
Griggs, D. & Walasky, P. (2011). Luke’s Gospel from scratch: The New Testament for beginners. Louisville, KY: Westminster- John Knox.
Griggs, D. & Johnson, E., Jr. (2011). Matthew’s Gospel from scratch; The New Testament for beginners. Louisville, KY: Westminster- John Knox, 2011.
Griggs, D. & March, E. (2010). Genesis from scratch: The Old Testament for beginners. Louisville, KY: Westminster- John Knox.
Griggs, D. & Myers, C. (2010). Mark’s Gospel from scratch: The New Testament for beginners. Louisville, KY: Westminster- John Knox.
Griggs, D. (2003). The Bible from scratch: The New Testament for beginners. Louisville, KY: Westminster- John Knox.
Griggs, D. (2003). Teaching today’s teachers to teach. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, which was a major rewrite of Teaching teachers to teach: A basic manual for church teachers. Livermore, CA: Griggs Educational Service, (19800.
Griggs, D. (2002). The Bible from scratch: The Old Testament for beginners. Louisville, KY: Westminster- John Knox.
Griggs, D. (1998). Teaching the Catechism in special settings. Louisville, KY: Leader’s Guide. Geneva Press.
Griggs, D. Discovering the Psalms: Passion, promise, and praise, A Seven Session Adult Bible Study. Pittsburgh, PA: The Kerygma Program.
Griggs, D. (1992). Meeting God in the Bible: 60 devotions for groups. Pittsburgh, PA: The Kerygma Program.
Griggs, D. & McKay, J. (1988). Christian education in the small church: Valley Forge, PA: Judson Press.
Griggs, D. (1985). Planning for teaching church school. Nashville, Valley Forge, PA: Judson Press.
Griggs, D. (1985). Basic skills for church teachers. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press.
Griggs, D. (editor). (1984). Kerygma leader's guide (revised edition). Pittsburgh, PA: The Kerygma Program.
Griggs, D. Praying and teaching the Psalms(1977) Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press.
Griggs, D. 20 new ways of teaching the Bible. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press.
Griggs, D. & Griggs, P. (1976). Generations learning together: Learning activities for intergenerational groups in the church. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press.
Griggs, D. (1974). Teaching teachers to teach. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press.
Griggs, D. (1974). Translating the Good News through teaching activities. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press.
Griggs, D. & Griggs, P. (1973). Teaching and celebrating Lent-Easter. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press.
Griggs, D. & Griggs, P. (1972). Teaching and celebrating advent. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press.
Griggs, D. & Griggs, P. (1973). Slide and film making manual. Livermore, CA: Griggs Educational Service.
Websites on Dr. Donald Griggs Publications
Retrieved on April 1, 2014 from:
Reviews on Dr. Donald Griggs
One can research and detect many places to find information about Dr. Donald Griggs accomplishments. They include but not limited to Dissertation Abstracts, Presbyterian School of Christian Education, Presbyterian Church (USA), Amazon.com, Barnes and Nobles. Below are some of the reviews on Dr. Donald L. Griggs writings:
·Whitehead, M. (2011, Jul/Aug) Matthew’s Gospel from scratch: The New Testament for beginners. Bible Study Magazine, 49.
The article reviews the book “Matthew’s Gospel from Scratch: The New Testament for Beginners,” By Donald L. Griggs and Earl S. Johnson Jr.
·Young, B. L. (2010, Jul/Aug). Mark’s Gospel from scratch: The New Testament for beginners. Bible Study Magazine 2(5), 48.
The article reviews the book “Mark’s Gospel from Scratch: The New Testament for Beginners,” by Donald L. Griggs and Charles Meyers Jr.
Excerpts from Publications
Griggs, D. (2003). Teaching today's teachers to teach. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press.
Dr. Griggs writes chapter 1, Teaching: The Church’s First Ministry, “Teaching must be considered a high priority if we are going to be faithful to Jesus’ Great Commandment … we must not forget that not all teaching and learning in the church happen in structured settings. Much—perhaps most—of what persons learn about the Bible and the Christian faith happens in informal, unstructured, unintentional settings where persons are relating to one another in the context of congregational life and ministry. The most important and effective teaching in a church will happen when both the formal and informal, structured and unstructured, teaching and learning are complimentary, when there is congruence between the intentional and serendipitous learning experiences.” (p. 13)
Griggs, D. (2002). The Bible from scratch: The New Testament for beginners. Louisville, KY: Westminster, John Knox Press.
After you have read this book and been part of a group using the book for its study, you may not have memorized more Bible verses but you will find yourself becoming more comfortable with reading and studying the Bible. A National Study of Protestant Congregations, funded by the Lily Endowment and conducted by Search Institute (1990) conducted in the mid-1980s in which 3,567 adult members of 561 congregations were asked which topics they were ‘interested’ or ‘very interested’ to study. Of twenty-six possible topics, ‘The Bible’ ranked the highest, with 77 percent indicating interest or high interest.
If your church is anything like the ones I know, it is obvious that 77 percent of the adult members are not involved in Bible study classes, groups, or programs. It is more likely to be closer to 15 to 25 percent. I think the adults represented by the 50 to 60 percent who expressed interest but are not involved in Bible study were sincere in their desire to study the Bible but for a variety of reasons are not motivated to participate in such groups” (p. ix). This book is written for them.
Griggs, D. (2005). Basic skills for church teachers. Pittsburgh, PA: The LOGOS System Associates.
“The essence of the Christian faith is identified by the words that describe aspects of relationships with God and with other persons. When we speak of love, sin, forgiveness, reconciliation, salvation, ministry and many other important characteristics of the Christian faith, we are focusing on dimensions of our relationships with God and with others. If we teach a session on the parable of the unforgiving servant, we will teach much more than the parable if we are able to involve the learners in reflecting on their own experience of relationships in which they are able to ask for forgiveness, or be forgiving of another” (p. 2).
Griggs, D. (1991) Discovering the Psalms: Passion, promise, and praise, Pittsburgh, PA: The Kerygma Program.
“The words of Psalms were conceived in a particular time and place in response to real faith and life situations. The words arise from experiences with which we can all identify … We read (psalms) in order to search for their original meaning as well as to relate them to our own time and place and life’s circumstances. Psalms can be read and reread, and their meanings will never be exhausted. New meanings, new truths, new experiences of God will emerge with each reading over a whole lifetime. This is the nature of Holy Scripture, and it is especially true of Psalms” (p. 1).
The following books are recommended as a reading list
Griggs, D. (2003). Teaching today's teachers to teach. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press.
This is “A revised edition of the best-selling- Teaching Teachers to Teach. This book is a basic, comprehensive manual offering practical guidance that helps teachers learn the art and practice of teaching. Throughout the book, Griggs identifies the basic elements of the teaching process and outlines the essential ingredients needed for effective teaching.” (Amazon.com Overview of Book)
Griggs, D. (2002). The Bible from scratch: The Old Testament for beginners. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press.
Griggs, D. (2003). The Bible from scratch: The New Testament for beginners. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press.
“Well-known educator Don Griggs has written an accessible, easy-to-understand overview of the Bible for adults who have--or fear they have--little or no Bible knowledge. In two volumes, one each for the Old and New Testaments, Griggs guides us through the Bible and introduces basic tools and skills for Bible study. A leader's guide and participant section are included for each book, making each volume an excellent resource for group or individual study.” (Amazon.com Overview of Book)
Griggs, D. (2005). Basic skills for church teachers. Pittsburgh, PA: The LOGOS System Associates.
This book was written more than 25 years ago and then went through a major revision. It was written for those who would be teaching in the churches’ classrooms as well as those who would be equipping teachers to teach. The book contains basic information, guidelines, and challenges in order to equip the inexperienced as well as the veteran teachers with the skills necessary to become more effective in their teaching ministry.
Eric M. Baskerville, Sr.
M.S. honors from Capella University; B.S. In Psychology from Liberty University), is a former first President of Capella University Criminal Justice Society. Eric is an Executive Administrative Ministry Leader for Lifelong Ministries. Lifelong Ministries is a remote ministry based in Richmond, Virginia.