Teach or Be Taught

This week, my friend and coworker Keith Enlow has written the post on some matters of practical importance for Sunday’s Bible class—I hope you enjoy.

Section Break

“Now what did this passage say?” or “I haven’t done any research on my own for what we are talking about today, so I’m leaving it up to the class to lead this discussion.”

As a teacher, if you have ever uttered the former question (or derivative of it) out loud to a room full of students, I imagine it was probably met with a bit of stunned silence (whether you realized it at the time or not). Growing up, after a certain age, every time this questions was asked during Bible class, all I could think was “Is he serious? We just read what the passage says…”

Young adults and college level classes are the the most susceptible to this form of teaching, and it may be because at that level you start getting teachers that are around the same age as the students. With all the things going on such as school, job hunting, living life to the fullest (or YOLOing if you will), these teachers may not prioritize the need for that extra research before class and therefore cannot drive the class in any specific direction. They may have the want to teach, but not the mindset to teach. There in lies the problem, our church deacons and elders should be charged to encourage those young teachers to be better prepped, maybe even help in class for a short time (but not take over completely), or else, and I know it might sound harsh, they need to provide a teacher who is more willing and ask the current teacher to step down. 

The human brain is still in development until a person’s mid-20s or even early 30s; however, young adults are old enough to better understand complexity and have deeper and more meaningful discussions about the Bible in its entirety. Before college, overly simple questions are a little more acceptable because they are designed to help kids come to a conclusion on their own and infer the simple things about scripture, hopefully increasing with complexity with age. Unfortunately, simplicity into college or adulthood can cause students to become intellectually stagnant, directly effecting their faith. They are never pushed to infer and learn anything more than that childish understanding causing their faith to dwarf, or even worse, begin to fade completely. 

There are many factors that go into a person’s decision for choosing a church home:

  • Class 
  • Music
  • Preacher
  • Worship as a whole (Communion, order, length, etc.)
  • Service opportunities and outreach
  • Church family and friends
  • The building itself

Of all of those listed, the quality of classes can really help or hurt a church as a whole from the classroom to the worship service itself. The worship service is a time to commune with God and church family as a whole in one location. The preacher brings forth a broad message to the assembly catering to a larger crowd (gotta get those baptisms), usually having an overarching theme related to a few passages that the preacher has selected to support him (or read together aloud like a cult). Class, however, is the place a person can really grow as a Christian in the church. Classrooms are smaller in size and allow a person to dive deeper into scripture as well as focus on a specific section or subject of the Bible, whether it be a book, story, modern culture, or history lesson (hopefully part of the research that coincides with scripture study). They can ask questions freely (not just yell out AMEN during worship, the only acceptable thing to yell) and provide and receive feedback on their ideas, allowing them to create a complete thought and conclusion within themselves that will help their faith to grow. None of this is achieved if, we as teachers, choose simplistic questions that don’t open the doors for those discussions.

Personally, my wife and I attend our church mainly for the quality of the class we attend, and that is primarily thanks to the teacher. The music during worship is okay, plus we use paperless hymnals (unlike those other heathens). The preacher is not terrible, and his messages always have an uplifting spirit about them with a year long theme to connection them together. In the end, though, it was the class that made us call our church “Home.” We didn’t land in our class on the first try either (found a few classes contradicting this post, queue rant), but it was because of the teacher and his commanding leadership within the class that got us to “check the box” and become a member.

All ranting but no solutions? The hope here is to have any current or future teachers keep their minds open and help recognize when their classes may become too simplistic to a point where it hinders the students. Although there are many ways to invoke discussion, here are just a few alternatives to help teachers find ways to get students engaged in meaningful and more complex discussions:

  • Do research ahead of time and then begin by saying what was found in study. No questions, but will spark interest. (Preferred at start).
  • Ask more specific questions (Make sure to have a point, this isn’t Bible bowl)
    • NOT: “What did this passage say?”
    • BUT: “What do you think XYZ means when he says ABC?”
  • Give a short historical lesson for context before/after the scripture to give a more vivid picture, sparking interest in students for discussion.
  • Point at a random student and demand that they give some detail that jumped at them (ONLY if they are really comfortable with being on the spot). Then hope that sparks conversation.
  • FINALLY, if using super simple questions, use them as a way to blow the minds of students into questioning everything they know (The ultra rare occasion).
    • Teacher – “What did this passage say?” – Luke 18:15-17
    • Student – “Jesus says that we should be as innocent as children if we want to enter the Kingdom of God and not to hinder children and lead them astray.”
    • Teacher – “WRONG, Jesus is talking about people new to their faith, not just literal children, and that people stronger in their faith should not keep the children in faith from learning more about God but instead guide them as well as let them guide you so you can grow together.”

TL;DR: It is the duty of our teachers to drive the conversation of their classes and mold it into something that is worth the time and effort for their students to attend. You can start off simple as long as you have a more complex idea you’re trying to get to; But, don’t treat students as if they can’t understand simple ideas and push them towards better and more meaningful discussion, but realize they rely on you to get there. If you’re the teacher, then teach.

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