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Ready Set Teach!
Training Supporting Volunteers in Christian Education
By Delia Halverson
Abingdon PressCopyright © 2010 Abingdon Press
All rights reserved.
The Church's Need for Teachers
Most people in the church do not realize that they actually teach others as they come in contact with them. We all teach in positive ways and in negative ways. We teach children and youth that they are important members of our faith community when we call them by name and recognize them as we meet on the church campus. However, when we ignore them or push them aside, we teach that they are not important to us, and they may wonder of their importance to God. We teach adults that they are welcome members of the faith community when we greet them and offer hospitality. But if we show no awareness of their interests or speak only with our friends, then we teach those adults that Christians are unwelcoming people. Members of adult and youth classes teach each other when they enter into discussions and share their thoughts about the faith. And children and youth teach us all as they invigorate us with their enthusiasm about life.
In Deuteronomy we read of God's command to pass on the faith (see 4:9-10; 6:1-9; 31:12). Through those who wrote the Bible, God has taught us how to live together in peace and how to offer our praises to this great God whom we worship and whom we know as a personal friend.
The early church saw the importance of teachers. In fact, Paul tells us that God has given each of us specific gifts.
A body is made up of many parts, and each of them has its own use. That's how it is with us. There are many of us, but we each are part of the body of Christ, as well as part of one another. God has also given each of us different gifts to use. If we can prophesy, we should do it according to the amount of faith we have. If we can serve others, we should serve. If we can teach, we should teach. If we can encourage others, we should encourage them. If we can give, we should be generous. If we are leaders, we should do our best. If we are good to others, we should do it cheerfully. (Romans 12:4-8 CEV)
Although knowledge of the Bible is central in our faith, teaching in the church was never meant to be simply head learning. You may know persons who can quote most of the familiar portions of the Bible and tell you just where the passages are found. But unless they put the Scripture into practice, they have not truly learned it. They have only memorized the words. In fact, a recent study by the Barna Group (www.barna.org) indicates that most people in the younger generations consider Christians actually "unchristian." These generations include the Mosaics (also known as Generation Y or Millennial Generation—born between 1984 and 2002) and the Busters (also known as Generation X or the 13th Generation—born between 1965 and 1983). Many persons in these generations feel that we use the Bible to browbeat people into living by our rules but really don't follow Christ's directions in our lives ourselves. The survey points out that the Mosaics and Busters rarely see Christians who truly embody the characteristics of Christ, such as service, compassion, humility, forgiveness, patience, kindness, peace, joy, goodness, and love (see David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons's book unchristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity ... and Why It Matters [Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books, 2007], 37, or www.unchristian.com).
John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, suggested that we should grow spiritually through reason, experience, tradition, and Scripture. This goes far beyond learning basic Bible verses. This spiritual growth comes about through immersion of our whole self into the meaning behind the Scriptures and making that meaning a part of our life experiences. (See Workshop 4: Wesley's Quadrilateral, on page 53.) Consequently, it is important to understand the various ways that we learn and to teach accordingly. (See Workshop 2: Ways of Learning, on page 45.)
Although today's adults seldom find time to volunteer as teachers, the need is even more urgent than before. We find adults coming to our churches who have little or no understanding of the Bible or of the Christian way of life. Parents are actually the primary teachers of our children, and if they have no understanding, then they certainly can't pass it on to their children
Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. (Deuteronomy 6:6-7)
JOINING THE CLOUD OF WITNESSES
In chapter 11 of the book of Hebrews, Paul reminds us of our faith heritage. Abram and Sarai left their home and traveled into an unknown land, on faith that God would make of their offspring a great nation. Their confidence teaches us of the one true God. After changing their names to Abraham and Sarah, God gave them a son, Isaac. Although Isaac's son Jacob tricked his brother and ran to his grandfather's previous homeland, he returned to ask forgiveness of Esau. Both Jacob's asking for and Esau's granting of forgiveness taught us of God's mercy. Jacob's son Joseph not only witnessed to his brothers who sold him into slavery but also lived as a witness of God in a foreign land. His leadership saved many people from starvation. Four hundred years later, God called a man, Moses, to lead the Israelites out of slavery. Moses had a speech impediment, but he witnessed of God's power to the ruler of the country and was able to follow his calling, leading his people to freedom.
There were also foreigners, such as Ruth and Rahab, who witnessed for God, even as they were learning of the faith. Paul spoke of the prophets and kings who taught the people about God. Some of them taught by proclaiming the faith and others taught through their mistakes, but they all witnessed to the faith. And the greatest witness of all was Christ, who lived the faith among us as a human.
Down through the ages others have witnessed to our faith, sometimes even to their death. Paul goes on to say,
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us. (Hebrews 12:1)
It is this cloud of witnesses that volunteer teachers are called to join today. This is the exciting part of teaching! We share the faith that has been passed down through the ages. We share that understanding of one God who is awesome and magnificent, yet personal in every way—God who cared enough to come to earth and show us the way (see John 14:6).
Granted, teachers of young children cannot explain theology to their students because young children cannot grasp the abstract. But those teachers can be advocates of the faith, sharing their love for the students and guiding them as they develop the characteristics that make us Christlike. As our students grow older they will naturally have questions. They must think for themselves instead of simply accepting what others tell them. And that is where teaching youth and adults becomes exciting. At that point we teachers become clarifiers of the faith, encouraging our students to dig and explore the meanings of their faith for themselves. What excitement to experience the unfolding and the "Aha" times of these students! We can then feel truly blessed that God has called us to the ministry of teaching! (See Workshop 3: How Faith Develops, page 49.)CHAPTER 2
Jesus' Model for Teaching
The disciples often called Jesus teacher. In fact, when Mary Magdalene recognized Jesus after the resurrection she called him "Rabbouni!" which is teacher in Hebrew. The concordance for the Contemporary English Version of the Bible lists over fifty-five times where Jesus is called teacher in the Gospels alone.
Jesus not only spoke to his learners, but he used objects and mental pictures in his teaching. Remember his references to salt, light, wheat, seeds, and coins? He would often use a real life situation that presented itself, drawing the wisdom of his teaching from what was actually happening before their eyes. Jesus was a master of revealing meaning from incidents of everyday life.
Jesus knew how to use questions and answers, often turning the inquirer's question into another question that caused the learner to think. In Luke 20, when the chief priests and teachers of the law asked him where he got his authority to do what he was doing, he turned the question back to them. He asked whether John's baptism was from heaven or from men. The inquirers were left in a quandary. If they answered from heaven, they would be confronted with their denial of believing John while professing that his authority came from God. But if they answered from men, then the crowd that followed Jesus and believed in John would probably turn on them and stone them to death.
In order to know what questions to use, Jesus listened carefully to his learners. He was willing to adjust his teaching to the needs of the learner. In Matthew 15:21-28 Jesus first refused the Canaanite woman's request that he heal her daughter. Then after he heard her statement that "even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table," he broadened his approach. He answered, "Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted!"
Jesus recognized the importance of the Scriptures, although in his time the Scriptures were not put together as we know them today. Jesus backed up his statements with references to the learned persons from the Hebrew religious past. In Matthew 5:38- 42 we see where Jesus took the statement of "an eye for an eye" in Exodus 21:24 and applied the Proverbs 24:29 teaching to it, turning it around from retribution to forgiveness. "You have heard. ... But I tell you."
Jesus also used the Scriptures for personal strength. After his baptism, Jesus went into the wilderness to spend some time alone, wrestling with how he should follow his calling. In his own hunger he recognized the hunger in the world and was tempted to change stones into bread. Surely if he fed the world in this way it would solve some of the world's problems and also bring recognition to his mission. But he overcame that temptation by using the statement from Deuteronomy 8:3 that "one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord." Then when he was tempted to display his power and mission by jumping from the highest point and being lifted up, he again turned to Scripture as he recalled the statement in Deuteronomy 6:16, "Do not put the LORD your God to the test." The third time he was tested with the enticement to set up a great kingdom, and his answer came from Deuteronomy 6:13, "Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him." Instead of using his power to draw attention to himself, he chose to call twelve ordinary men and train them to carry his message into the world.
Throughout Jesus' life we find him referring to the Scriptures in public and privately seeking God's guidance. Several scripture passages reference a time when he went away to pray: Matthew 4:1-11; 14:23; 26:36-46; Mark 1:12-13, 35; 6:46; 14:32-42; Luke 4:1-13, 42; 5:16; 6:12; 9:28; 22:40-46; John 6:15.
Relationships were important in Jesus' ministry, and through these interpersonal connections learning took place. Jesus mastered the use of small groups in his ministry. He seemed to know that the number twelve was ideal for group interaction, small enough for intimacy yet large enough for diversity and variety in opinions. He spent intimate time with Peter's family and with the family of Lazarus, Martha, and Mary. He invited himself into the home of Zacchaeus for a meal, which was a very personal experience in that culture. Through eating together Jesus was able to teach Zacchaeus his message. The primary example of interpersonal relationship that Jesus left with us was the Last Supper, which we follow to this day. The act of taking a meal together was important then and continues to be so two thousand years later.
Today's teachers usually follow some form of curriculum, and those lesson plans have stories that bring out the theme of the lesson. You will recall that Jesus was a master storyteller, using stories to answer questions and to make his point. He told stories that took place at locations familiar to his listeners. The story of the Good Samaritan was set on a road where anyone going to or from Jerusalem was likely to have traveled. The road stretched about seventeen miles from Jerusalem to Jericho, descending from an altitude of 2600 feet above sea level to one of 825 feet below sea level. The extremes in altitude caused the road to pass along a rugged terrain with convenient hiding places for thieves. Many a traveler had been mugged and even killed in the area, and it was always approached with dread. Using such a familiar location for the story set the learning firmly into the minds of his learners. They could live the story in their own memory of the location, and every time they traveled that road they would remember the story.
Jesus taught with authority, and he used his own experiences. In Mark 1:22, we read that the people recognized his authority as he taught in the synagogue. We know relatively little of his early years, but the stories and references he used, such as the forgiving father (see Luke 15:11-32) and the wedding banquet (Matthew 22:1-14), very likely came from experiences during those years. We do know that he was a carpenter, and he used that knowledge as a foundation for the story of the men who built houses on the sand and on a rock (see Luke 6:46-49).
Like any good teacher, Jesus encouraged commitment from his students. In fact, he spurred them to dedicate to the cause and commit to carry it on beyond his death. Without that commitment, the new revelation of a loving God would have fallen by the wayside. His encouragement was done through one-on-one conversations (Luke 5:1-11) and building up their self-esteem (Luke 19:1-10). Jesus' final challenge to his disciples resounds today in the halls of every church building around the world and in the dedication of each follower who takes his words seriously:
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age. (Matthew 28:19-20)CHAPTER 3
Models of Teaching Today
Changes in our lifestyles and technology have brought about numerous changes in the models of teaching today. Consequently, we must train our teachers to meet those changes. Just as in worship, each church uses unique teaching models. In fact, in any given church the teaching models in adult classes vary depending on the participants in the classes. This is why we suggest that adults visit and consider several classes before they commit to joining one particular class. Their choice will depend on the style of teaching, the subjects studied, and the commonality that they feel toward the other students.
The education staff, or a children's or youth council, usually decides what teaching models will be used with children and youth. I will briefly review the primary models being used in churches today, and most of the workshops that follow are applicable to all models of teaching.
Excerpted from Ready Set Teach! by Delia Halverson. Copyright © 2010 Abingdon Press. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
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