Growing up in a 60-member church in rural Pennsylvania shaped the ministry of Debbie Hough, the Association of Presbyterian Church Educators’ 2014 Educator of the Year.

“Small churches ask nearly everyone to lead. Small churches have to be creative,” she said at the Jan. 30 awards luncheon. “Small churches always have the option to do more with less — if they take it.”

And although doing more with less might feel countercultural in the 21st-century context of fast-paced and new technology, many churches are being called to do just that. With smaller staffs and fewer resources, churches are being called to serve with more enthusiasm and more love.

But regardless of the changes brought on by shrinking budgets, churches and educators can greet the future with confidence because “our God will never be less,” Hough said.

When Hough first started her ministry, church educators were in high demand. After graduating from the Presbyterian School of Christian Education (now Union Presbyterian Seminary) in 1979, she became a certified Christian educator in 1980. Hough has served churches in Alabama, North Carolina and Texas as director of Christian education. She has been director of Christian education at Derry Presbyterian Church in Hershey, Penn., since 1994.

During her time in Christian education, Hough has seen positions terminated, retiring educators go un-replaced and positions reduced to half-time. But Christian education remains of vital importance, especially in a society bombarded with new technology and medical advances.

“We are moving faster and faster into a world I can hardly fathom,” Hough said.

That world needs educated and faithful thinkers and leaders to make the best choices for society, she said.

“They need to make these choices and decisions undergirded with faith, morals and values,” Hough said, adding that Christian educators can provide such a base.

Also honored Jan. 30 was Sharon Franklin, who received APCE’s Lifetime Achievement Award. Although she said she often questioned whether or not she was qualified to serve in ministry, she was supported and encouraged by many mentors and ended up serving as a Christian educator for 32 years. Her goal was to make kids feel safe, loved and comfortable so that they would have fun learning about God.

“We wanted them to be so excited about learning about God that they wanted to come back,” Franklin said.