“…once upon a time there was a man who had a vision and began pursuing it. Two others saw that the first man had a vision and began following him. In time, the children of those who followed asked their parents what they saw. But what their parents described appeared to be the coattails of the man in front of them. When the children heard this, they turned from their parents’ vision, saying it was not worthy of pursuit.”
What do we learn from this?
As Jacob the Baker says, we discover parents who believe in what they have never experienced and children who deny what they have never experienced.
Let me invite you to see yourself in this story. Imagine that you are the one pursuing the initial vision. How exhilarating to catch a glimpse of life’s deepest meaning and to know in the depths of your soul that it is within reach! As you pursue the vision and begin to make sense of it, you undoubtedly bring the sacred texts of your tradition to bear. These texts help to lend a vocabulary and definition to your search. Over time, you hear these texts in new ways—it’s almost like a veil has been lifted and you see your life as if for the first time. What a liberating, empowering experience!
Now, you notice others following you. These students have been drawn to you, to learn from you. What is your responsibility to them?
You may be tempted to try to recreate your experience in your students’ lives. But you can’t do it! Your vision, your experience of grace was a result of God’s initiative—both your vision and your ability to discern the vision are God’s gifts to you.
What can you do?
Parker Palmer says that the primary task of the teacher is to create a space for learning in which obedience to the truth may be practiced. This space is characterized by a particular mood or tone—openness and a willingness to entertain different, even opposing views. Perhaps the most significant contribution of the teacher to the learning space is the willingness to testify to his or her personal relationship to the truth.
Consider knowing. Every good teacher asks two basic questions: what is worth knowing and what is the best way to teach and learn the known? Is this only a question of imparting information, dates, and data? If a teacher’s personal relationship to the truth is a significant aspect of the learning encounter, then knowledge must be more than information. The Hebrew language gives us a clue—the word “yada” (to know) has a deeply intimate connotation. “Adam knew Eve and they bore a son.” Biblical knowing is personal, intimate; God knows us intimately and comes to us personally, in the flesh. Knowing and believing entail more than head knowledge. They indicate a relationship of trust and a willingness to be vulnerable with your students.
Notice how this changes the way we talk about teaching. As the teacher, you have probably been assigned a meeting location and time. Your first thought might be that you have a certain amount of time to cover the material in the lesson. Think about what that phrase—“cover the material”—means. When we cover something, we hide it from view. Is it possible that the teacher’s dutiful attention to following the lesson plan provided in the time and space allotted actually hides the truth from view? Might that result in learners who believe in what they have never experienced? How would a teacher “uncover the material”?
Uncovering the material is related to the teacher’s own vulnerability. Perhaps you can best prepare your students to hear the truth of the Gospel by modeling a trusting openness—by uncovering your personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Offer this relationship to your students not as a technique to adopt or an achievement to admire. Simply invite them to make themselves vulnerable before God and to trust Holy Spirit with their questions. As a teacher, uncovering the material may mean that you have to sidestep the lesson plan to provide the space required to practice obedience to the truth.
Does your church want to assess its educational ministry? Send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.