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Teaching Today's Teachers to Teach
By Donald L. Griggs
Abingdon PressCopyright © 2003 Abingdon Press
All rights reserved.
TEACHING: The Church's First Ministry
This chapter is written as a reminder to all of us—those engaged in the teaching ministry of the church as well as those engaged in the church's other ministries—that teaching must be considered a high priority if we are going to be faithful to Jesus' great commandment. Concluding his time with his followers after his resurrection, Jesus admonished his disciples, "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" (Matt. 28:19, 20a).
The focus of this book is equipping teachers in the church to become more knowledgeable and skillful in the art of teaching. It will be clear that the arena for teaching is the more formal, structured, intentional setting where teachers and learners are gathered in a particular space for a specified time to study together a selected topic, Bible passage, or issue. However, even as that is the thrust of this book, we must not forget that not all teaching and learning in the church happen in such 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 complementary, when there is congruence between the intentional and the serendipitous learning experiences. This chapter will explore some of the biblical foundations for teaching and learning as we consider Deuteronomy 6:4-9, Psalm 78:1-8, and Acts 2:37-42.
Deuteronomy 6:4-9 must be read in the light of what precedes it in chapter 5, where the summary of the Law in the Ten Commandments is presented:
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.
Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. 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. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
We immediately recognize some of these words as Jesus' answer to which commandment was the greatest. The words in Deuteronomy are attributed to Moses and are part of his farewell speech to the people of Israel prior to their entry into the promised land.
When we apply Moses' words to the teaching ministry of the church, we gain several insights into teaching. Love for God is primary. Our love for God is to be expressed with our whole being. Parents and other adults must first keep the commandments if they are to be successful in teaching their children to do so. Teaching our children about God's love is not just a matter of telling them, but also of providing visible reminders of the centrality of God's law. It is not a matter of teaching just at an appointed day or time, but all day, every day. The responsibility for such teaching begins with the family but continues in the community of faith. It is clear that teaching the children is the first priority.
The first eight verses in Psalm 78 provide additional insight on the priority of teaching. Psalm 78 is one of five psalms (Psalms 78, 105, 106, 135, and 136) identified as Salvation History Psalms, or Psalms of God's Great Deeds. All these psalms are long because they summarize the history of God's mighty acts on behalf of the people of Israel. Each psalm includes different great deeds. These psalms appear to have been used for didactic, or teaching, purposes to help the people learn and remember what God had done on their behalf. Psalm 78 is the only one of the five that includes what might be called a preamble, or preface. The eight verses of the preface suggest why it is so important to learn of God's great deeds:
Give ear, O my people, to my teaching;
incline your ears to the words of my mouth.
I will open my mouth in a parable;
I will utter dark sayings from of old,
things that we have heard and known,
that our ancestors have told us.
We will not hide them from their children;
we will tell to the coming generation
the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might,
and the wonders that he has done.
He established a decree in Jacob,
and appointed a law in Israel,
which he commanded our ancestors
to teach to their children;
that the next generation might know them,
the children yet unborn,
and rise up and tell them to their children,
so that they should set their hope in God,
and not forget the works of God,
but keep his commandments;
and that they should not be like their ancestors,
a stubborn and rebellious generation,
a generation whose heart was not steadfast,
whose spirit was not faithful to God.
Within these eight verses, you will find a good beginning for a theory of Christian education regarding the goals and content of teaching. The goals for teaching are to tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord.
So they will be able to tell their children about God's glorious deeds.
So they will set their hope in God.
So they will not forget the works of God.
So they will be able to keep the commandments.
And, so they will not be like their ancestors.
These goals for teaching alluded to in Psalm 78:1-8 are worthy goals for our teaching ministry today. This book, which is a guide to teaching teachers to teach, is developed to assist teachers in accomplishing these goals in their own teaching.
In these eight verses there are also a number of clues regarding the content of our teaching. Those who are faithful, effective teachers will teach:
Parables. Parables are stories that communicate God's truth in common, understandable terms. Jesus taught with stories (parables), and we will be effective teachers if we use stories as a major part of our teaching. The stories will be from the Bible, from the great heritage of our Christian tradition, and from faith and life experiences lived by God's faithful people today.
Dark sayings. "Dark sayings" is the NRSV translation of a Hebrew word. The Good News Bible translates the same Hebrew word as "mysteries from the past." I think it is easier for us to share the mysteries of God's great deeds and steadfast love than God's dark sayings.
Things we have heard and known. The things we have heard and known are what our parents, grandparents, teachers, and other faithful adults have shared with us about what they had learned.
Glorious deeds of the Lord. The glorious deeds of the Lord are all those mighty acts of God that were believed, known, and experienced by the ancestors. God's glorious deeds included: creation of all that exists, establishing the covenant with Abraham and Sarah, delivering the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt, establishing the people in the promised land of Canaan, and calling forth judges, kings, and prophets to be God's servants in leading the people.
The Law and the commandments. The Law for the people of Israel was summarized in the Ten Commandments but included much more. The Law was, and is, the Torah, the teachings about God's great deeds, about how to live in relationship with God and with God's people, and about what it means to be a just, righteous, and faithful people.
More than two millennia after the psalmist wrote these words, they still serve as a worthy summary of what we want to teach the next generation. The content includes what God has revealed through the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. But it must also include what has been revealed in the intervening centuries to help us understand who God is and what God desires of all who are created in God's own image.
This passage of Psalm 78:1-8 is an excellent scripture to use for an opening devotion and discussion at a teachers meeting or workshop. It could be included in congregational worship at a time when teachers are being commissioned for the year's ministry. At the end of this chapter, you will find the reproducible handout "Biblical Goals and Content for Teaching in the Church" for teachers or a Christian education committee to explore this passage and others related to the ministry of teaching.
A third passage to consider is Acts 2:37-42. The context is the day of Pentecost, the followers of Jesus gathered in Jerusalem to celebrate this holy day of the Jewish year. They were gathered in a room when they experienced a surprising, awesome event. They received in a new way the gift of the Holy Spirit. They were inspired and empowered to share this experience with others. The crowds gathered and accused them of being drunk. The apostle Peter spoke for them and said they were not drunk but had been blessed by God's Spirit. Peter proceeded to preach a sermon. What follows is the text of the passage:
Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, "Brothers, what should we do?" Peter said to them, "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him." And he testified with many other arguments and exhorted them, saying, "Save yourselves from this corrupt generation." So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added. They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.
This passage is a wonderful summary of what happens when the Holy Spirit inspires faithful people to give testimony to what they believe. The dynamics present in this event suggest a process to keep in mind when we are seeking to be faithful to what God calls us to be and to do in the church. First of all, the followers of Jesus were gathered together for celebration and prayer. They were open to receive and perceive God's gift of the Holy Spirit. They did not keep it to themselves but were empowered to share this gift with others. When pressed to explain what was happening, they appealed to their personal experience with Jesus and to the authority of scripture. There was proclamation, argument, and challenge. In response to the challenge to repent and believe, many were baptized.
A key verse is verse 42: "They [the baptized ones] devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers." Repentance and belief were not enough. After the initial response, learning from the apostles' teaching, being in fellowship with them, sharing meals, and praying together were essential. In this setting, both formal and informal teaching and learning were happening. I don't think the order of these four marks of the church is accidental or insignificant. First, there is the teaching, followed by fellowship, then sharing meals, and worshiping together. Thus, the church became a learning church, a welcoming church, a sharing church, and a worshiping church. These four marks of the church's life and work are as important today as they were in the first days of the church's existence. As a result of being a church marked by teaching, welcoming, sharing, and worshiping together, it became a growing church. Perhaps the solution to declining membership in many present-day churches is returning to the essential marks of the church that produced the first church growth. Teaching is not just one of the ministries of the church; it is a high priority of the church's life and work. Teaching can be seen as the church's first ministry just as it was Jesus' first ministry.
Many more biblical passages plus the whole teaching ministry of Jesus could be cited as biblical evidence that teaching is a high-priority ministry of the church.
Of course, worship is an important ministry.
Of course, evangelism is an important ministry.
Of course, outreach, mission, and social action are important ministries.
However, without teaching the meaning of worship and how to worship, worship may become mostly a habitual religious ritual. Without teaching the good news of Jesus Christ and how to share that good news, evangelism may become shallow or just a marketing of the church. Without teaching why we serve others in the name of Jesus Christ, our service may become just good works.
It is amazing how little we have learned from the Master Teacher, Jesus, in terms of the role and place of teaching and the teacher in the church.
Too often we limit our concept of teaching to classrooms, curriculum, and lessons.
Too often we expect the teacher to be an expert in, or at least experienced with, the subject matter, with teaching methods, with group dynamics, and with classroom discipline.
Too often we identify teaching as primarily a program of the church for the younger generation.
Too often we ask the newest, youngest, and least experienced members of our churches to do the teaching.
We have so limited our view of the teacher and teaching in the church that most church members, and too many pastors, don't see teaching as their responsibility. Most of us think others are better equipped for this task, and therefore we leave the teaching to others.
A survey of the four Gospels shows us that Jesus was not limited in the places or times he taught. Jesus taught
in the synagogue and on the hillside,
in private homes and along the road,
in a garden and on the mountain,
in a boat and in the Temple,
in Jerusalem, Capernaum, and Bethany.
Jesus was teacher for the Twelve and for thousands. He was a teacher for families and friends, as well as for religious leaders and skeptics. Jesus taught the poor and the wealthy, the sick and the well, the sinners and the skeptics. And Jesus utilized all of the methods and resources available to him for his teaching. Yes, he preached, but he did so much more:
He told stories;
he asked questions;
he responded to questions;
he quoted scripture;
he acted decisively in the midst of crises;
he demonstrated by his actions;
he spoke with authority.
Jesus shows us by example that teaching need not be limited to formal, structured settings and occasions. Teaching is more a matter of an opportunity and intention to be in relationship with others and to offer love, insight, and good news.
Certainly there are the explicit, obvious acts of teaching that happen in classrooms and programs guided by leaders using a published curriculum, and that will be the focus for the remaining chapters of this book. However, teaching is so much more than that. Teaching is what the church does by the way it lives and acts. Every person who attends worship, participates in a study group, enjoys a fellowship dinner, or engages in a service project is learning something about the church and the church's teaching.
Teaching and learning happen in so many planned and unplanned situations. Teaching and learning leave positive as well as negative impressions on all ages. When someone in the church remembers my name or forgets my name, I learn about my importance in the church.
When I am asked to serve as a teacher in the church and am told that it won't take much of my time, I learn about the ministry of the church. Or, when I am told that my name has surfaced after a time of prayer, that I appear to have the gifts for teaching to match the needs of a particular class, that they want me to think and pray about being called into a teaching position, and that there is much expected of the church's teachers, I learn about the ministry of the church.
When I am a child attending worship and my parents are greeted warmly and handed a bulletin and I am ignored and receive no bulletin, I learn about being welcomed by the church. Or, when the greeter bends down and looks me in the face and says, "I'm glad to see you," I learn about who matters and who belongs to the church.
Excerpted from Teaching Today's Teachers to Teach by Donald L. Griggs. Copyright © 2003 Abingdon Press. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
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