Lecture 8: How? & Where?
Lecture: How? & Where?
V. How Do We Teach?
Now we move to the how question. It isn’t how could we teach, it is how can we teach so that we can engage the whole person? If the goal of our teaching is Christian Formation as we said; helping people to become like Jesus Christ. It has to be more than simple intellectual business. We just don’t want to teach creatively so that people can get something in their minds; we want to engage minds and also hearts. We also want to engage people in action as well. A lot of the educated, including a lot of Christian educators use a sort of triad of confluence that brings together three different streams: head, heart and hands. They will sometimes speak in terms of learning domains, cognitive domains for the mind or affective domains for the heart or the soul and behavioral domains for engaging the hands. There is wisdom here and I would like to add to this in addition to head, heart and hands.
A. Eyes and Ears:
Maybe if before head, heart and hands, there is an importance in engaging eyes and ears or adding to the question of cognition, affection and behavior, the whole idea of perception. By engaging eyes and ears of learners in discussion of how do we teach, we are asking how can we teach so that people will become aware of issues such as Biblical commands or needs that must be addressed. If, for example, I wanted to teach on the subject of racism; I might feel that is necessary because of the content of what I am teaching is to love your neighbor as yourself. So we are doing a section on loving your neighbor as yourself. As much as Jesus does when he teaches on that subject, he has to address the issues of race and problems between people from different backgrounds. Jesus uses the example of a Samaritan, loving across ethnic boundaries involving a Jewish person who is in great need. If I want to teach the subject of loving your neighbor as yourself; I had better teach that because the Bible deeply emphasizes this. Then I might want to explore the issue of racism. In many of our churches, the reality is that I will simply start by raising awareness. There will be a lot of people in our churches that simply think that racism is not an issue today. In the US, they might say that racism used to be an issue but not anymore. Before we can have deep intellectual engagement about the subject of this or before we get to obedience to the Lord in the area, we might have to begin with simply perception. We need to help people see. How can we teach in ways that will open eyes and open ears? Perhaps I can show a film clip or have someone to tell a story of their own experience that may surprise people. But somehow I have to open eyes and ears to let people see what they have been seeing.
How do we engage heads, hearts and hands? Jesus plainly engaged the minds of the people he spoke to. Sometimes, it was by sitting them down and just giving them lots of information to think about. Not just information, but information that was intended to transform their lives. Information that they needed to think about, not simply thrust into their memory banks. When Jesus sat the crowds down at the Sermon on the Mound; for example, he taught his disciples but the multitudes listened in as they gathered around him. Jesus was clearly engaging minds. When we engage minds, we need to think about different levels of cognitive development. So it is appropriate to ask how we engage the mind as various levels. Sometimes engaging the mind simply means to provide basic information; content heavy. Sometimes people run too quickly to critical thinking without having provided anything to think about. This happens in the church a lot, where we get into great discussions over theological issues that someone doesn’t even understand, simply because the basics haven’t been laid out yet. There is a time for supplying basic information. Think about an analogy of a university program where someone may go in with a particular major in mind such as a law student. In a law school program, perhaps year one would be focused on just understanding basic information and facts that must be known. Then in year two, three etc. there is more critical engagement with that knowledge base.
Beyond the mind and cognitive level, we want to engage the heart or the affective level of the learner. This is educational terminology. This is a solid Biblical idea; we are more than cognitive beings as our learning also involves our feelings, emotion and values. All these things are part of our being as well. When we teach the truth to people, we don’t just want them to be nodding their heads, affirming what we said or granting intellectual assets to our teaching. We want the truth to really speak to their heart and let them hear what the heart says. We have Jesus and the Gospels for example asking questions that probe the heart or telling stories that are intended to break the heart. One of the great examples of Jesus speaking to the head and heart level would be John 13 when Jesus washes the feet of the disciples. There is a truth that he is going to communicate here, but not primarily through words but instead through action. This action turns out to be powerful; mentally stimulating and heart rending, breaking the hearts of the proud, combative and competitive disciples. As we think about how we can engage hearts, we can perhaps learn through the use of stories and drama. There are also parables and music; there are ways to teach the whole person that are more than just cognitive experiences. How we engage people minds and their hearts. We try to open their eyes and ears to issues.
Ultimately though, we must also engage hands. We must transform actions, as the goal is to make disciples as stated in the great commission. We must teach people to obey all that Jesus has taught or commanded. So we need to engage people in action. As our model, Jesus often engaged the twelve in actions when the feeding of the five thousand occurs. Jesus tells the apostles that they must give the multitude something to eat and makes them work and learn as they work. A great example is John 4 with the basic content of loving your neighbor as yourself. Jesus knows that the twelve have problems with some of their neighbors, including the Samaritans. Like fellow Jews of their day, most apostles had great disdain for the Samaritans. There was a long history of mutual hostility between Jews and Samaritans. On one occasion, James and John recommended lightening to strike dead some Samaritans, but Jesus knows that one day his apostles is going to be on a global mission that will make them be witnesses in Samaria and to the ends of the earth. In order to teach them the lesson, instead of just telling them, he takes them through Samaria in John 4 and much to their surprise, he engages a Samaritan woman in conversation and then even greater shock; he has them stay in Samaria for two days of ministry. By engaging them in these actions, by sending them out to other missions, he provides some of the greatest teaching as well.
E. Movement from Content to Process:
Certainly, more knowledge has been gained but more critical understanding and application of that knowledge is involved as well. We could look at engaging the mind as a movement from content which is emphasized more in the earlier stages toward process. This is emphasized more in the later stages. In other words, lay the foundation of content and help people to understand more deeply what that content means and what the implications and application of that may be. There are all kinds of different ways that we engage minds. Basic information is important; sometimes a lecture is the right way to do it. We give information through a lecture or through the reading of a book. Once a knowledge base is established; Jesus critically engages people on what they purported to believe, the knowledge they already seem to process through telling stories and asking questions. For example, when he asked his disciples, ‘who do you say that I am,’ in Matthew 16:15. This is one example of countless cases when Jesus asked the disciples questions or other times when he questioned those who were questioning him, Matthew 22 for example. By the end of the passage when Jesus asking so many questions, he turns to the crowd and says, ‘what do you think of the Christ, whose son is he?’ This turn out to be a mind boggling question which becomes very uncomfortable for those who received the question. It was unsettling to them and stopped their questioning that was aimed at trapping Jesus and his words.
True Obedience, Transformation of the Whole Person: So the how question is a reminder to us that our basic goal is not transformation of simply the mind but transformation of the whole person into the likeness of Jesus. If that is to occur, we must not only teach the right things, but we must teach the right things in the right way. We must engage minds and hearts and hands of our learners and we must open eyes and ears to those areas that we are deaf and dumb to. We must engage the whole person until true obedience becomes our goal and transformation of the whole life begins to take place.
VI. Where Do We Teach?
As we look at the how question, we must look at the where question. These two are necessarily linked together. If we say how are we going to teach in order to be really effective? We must also ask where that teaching needs to take place. In fact these questions begin to get linked together in a very interesting ways; for example if we ask why we are teaching. We are teaching unto Christ likeness. What does it mean to be like Jesus? Among other things, it means to love God and to love your neighbor so then, what must we teach? We must each love our neighbor. How can we teach this? Perhaps we will have to engage people in actual relationships; where are we going to teach this? We have to take people where they are. The where question for the twelve was in Samaria; this was to teach them to love Samaritans by engaging their hands and their own beings. They were put into experiencing relationships they might not have experienced at all. If I am primarily teaching something that is content heavy. For example, I’m teaching the basics of the faith. If we go back to the Creed as an introductory primer on theology, I aim at the mind with the hope that this will grab a hold of it and thus perhaps the classroom is a proper context for that. So, we put people in a classroom environment and lecture is the proper methodology. If I am teaching theology, classroom and lecture may make all the sense in the world. But if I am teaching ethics, perhaps the classroom isn’t the best place to teach in. If I am going to teach love of neighbor, we are going to have to teach that in the real lived world. Just as Jesus taught his disciples in the real world, he taught them ministry in the real world. It is interesting how we expect people to become disciples in our churches today but our programs of discipleship are almost all classroom programs. If we reduce discipleship to an hour a week in a classroom environment; it is unrealistic of us to expect that we will make any disciples. To make real discipleship, we need to follow the pattern of Jesus who is primarily on the road as they were moving about in lived circumstances. Not only in temporarily constructed formal classrooms kind of environments. The where question is linked to the how question; then what are the best contexts for our learning to take place; what are the best settings and environment?