Learning to Teach Print
Written by Toby Sumpter   
Saturday, 01 May 2010 09:04

In the last article in this series, we established the biblical principle that education is intensely personal. Not only is it personal, but it is always personally related to Jesus. All learning is covenantal; we are either betrayers or disciples in our learning and teaching.

If we are aiming to be disciples, we are aiming to deliver Jesus as the apostles did, handing over the customs, words, stories, and teachings of Jesus, such that our disciples have actually learned Christ, having actually heard Him and having been taught by Him (Eph. 4:21).

Jesus assumes this same pattern when He says: “A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone who is perfectly trained will be like his teacher” (Lk. 6:40). Teachers must always aim to see themselves in their students. In other words, our students are not studying subjects; they are studying us. In practical terms, we mean that we want our students to learn to mimic or imitate us in some small skill. Perhaps we want our students to scrawl a letter in a particular fashion, follow a series of computations in a particular way, or analyze a story or poem paying attention to the sorts of elements that we – the teacher – have previously pointed out. But more globally, we, like Paul, are always urging our students to imitate us as we imitate Christ (1 Cor. 4:16, 11:1). Education is always concerned with imitation. And imitation is more than just ideas or words. Imitation involves facial expressions, attitudes, actions, and more. How did Paul and the other apostles deliver Jesus to the saints? They delivered Jesus through stories and actions and instructions. We see this most clearly in the sacramental instructions delivered by Paul to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 11:23). In the Lord’s Supper, we imitate Paul who was imitating Jesus. In the Lord’s Supper, we are learning Christ as we imitate our Teacher. We seek to become like Jesus as we follow His example and instructions. And those who learn Christ well will become like Christ the Teacher.

This idea seems to be rooted in the Hebrew language. The engine of the Hebrew language is in the verb. The verb is where most of the action is. There are a number of verb forms which can morph verb meanings, leaning in one direction or another: passive, reflexive, etc. One form frequently intensifies the meaning of verbs. So for example, in the case of the verb “to kill,” when it is transposed into the intensive form, the same verb becomes “to slaughter.” The meager act of taking life grows up into a Bruce Willis blockbuster massacre. But back to our point, in the case of the verb “to learn,” the same verb transposed into the intensive form becomes “to teach.” Those who learn well become teachers, and more specifically, those who learn Christ well, become conduits of His person. And all disciples are called to strive for this, that our lives might present Christ in all that we do. But surely, at the very least, the act of teaching must strive for this consciously.

But education-as-discipleship must imitate Jesus, who was the Master Teacher. How did Jesus teach the first disciples? He taught them in the same way all faithful parents teach their children. He taught them when they were sitting in the house, when they were walking by the way, when they were lying down, and when they were rising up (Dt. 6:7: 11:19). Discipleship takes place in action, around meals, through sharing life together. It is not an accident that Jesus did not start a synagogue where He called the twelve disciples to join Him eight hours a day, five days a week for three years (summers off of course, along with Christmas and Easter). Jesus taught the disciples through living with them, and inviting them to live with Him and share their lives together.

I’m not suggesting that faithful Christian schools must become boarding schools, and classroom time is certainly not a problem in itself. But if education, Christian education, is the act of delivering Jesus to others, then education is not primarily a transfer of information. Education is a complex transfer of the habits, customs, rituals, sayings, stories, values, morals, songs, and jokes of the teacher to the students until the students are walking around looking, sounding, and acting like their teacher. And ultimately that Teacher is Jesus. We will know if we have succeeded in teaching Jesus to our students if they grow up into Jesus and grow up into disciples who likewise have learned Jesus so intensely that they overflow and become teachers of the same Jesus to those they come in contact with. In other words education is evangelistic, and faithful Christian education produces evangelists in every sphere of human life.

A final suggestion in conclusion: Christian schools ought to seriously consider how they conform to this standard. At the center of Christian life is a feast, feasting on the Word in all of His glorious forms in worship. But this is the way Jesus has always trained disciples. Running through the gospels are feasts, dinners, meals, and more feasts. And if there is no dinner, you can bet that Jesus will have the crowds sit down, and He will provide one. It is not likely that Christian education can take this point too seriously. Learning and discipleship ought to reflect this. If we are teaching Jesus, if teachers are seeking to imitate the Teacher such that students come to resemble Him, we should be constantly spreading a feast, inviting our students to a meal, sitting down with them around food and drink: Laughter, stories, songs, and breaking bread from class to class, you know, like the early church.

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