International Ministries

What do you teach?

February 21, 2011 Journal
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"What do you teach?"  

Seems like a simple enough question.  And, of course, I can usually identify the "subject matter" for any particular course:  The Gospel of Mark, The Book of Acts, Contemporary Mission, Introduction to Theology and so on.                                  


But it has been a very long time since I thought of courses primarily in terms of their "subject matter."  Almost exactly 31 years, actually.  One day in class, halfway through my first year as a college professor (a shattering experience, but that's a story for another time), I came to the conclusion that I needed to teach people, not subjects.

Of course, that is a caricature--effective teaching and learning requires good work with both the human "subjects" and the intellectual "subject matter."  Still, given the way I had so exclusively focused on the "subject matter" of my courses, for me it was a revolutionary change of emphasis to try to take the human beings in front of me with equal seriousness.  My previous lectures in that course had been trying to answer the question, "What is symbolic logic?"  Our subsequent class discussions engaged the students in learning how to make use of the basic disciplines of logic in their broader lives and learning.

In every course since then, I have tried (not always successfully, I confess), to keep my primary focus on the learners, even while seeking to do justice (again, not always successfully) to the content the course claimed to address.

The Lord gave me another opportunity to grow in this regard a couple of weeks ago in Mexico.  A student we will call "Pedro" came to the first class session eager to... fight.  The other twenty students in the room were eager to learn.  They had come to dive into the second half of the Gospel of Mark, both to deepen their understanding of Jesus and to hone their skills at Biblical interpretation.  But Pedro came to fight.

A recent addition to one of the congregations close to the seminary, Pedro had been eager to come along when his pastor told him about the special Bible study workshop that would be offered.  I suspect Pedro came with some combination of eagerness and wariness, probably due to some previous church experience in which he had been warned that seminaries are places where people "lose their faith."  But whether he came warily or not, he immediately found something to fight about.  It made for an unusually "high energy" first session in our week-long intensive course!

So, for Pedro that week, what did I teach?  I hope I communicated to him something of the love and patience that God has shown me over the years.  I certainly tried to model for him a way to love the Lord not only with all his "heart, soul and strength," but also with all his "mind" (Mark 12:30).  I was certainly grateful for the prayers that many offered for this course and for the fact that I was only one of many people in the room who patiently sought to communicate love to Pedro--love, and also lack of fear about combining heart and mind.

Honestly, though, even today I have no idea whether I "taught" Pedro anything about the Gospel of Mark.  I am thankful to be able to report that he stayed with us all week.  He even managed to hang in there as we tackled the last chapter of Mark--which contains one of the most difficult textual challenges in the whole New Testament. 

So maybe, then, between the whole group of us, we did help Pedro to take a step or two forward on the path of faith.  I certainly hope so.  For it was faith in the living God--faith that engages one's whole heart, soul, mind and strength--that I at least tried to teach.

My prayer is that, whatever your "day job," you will be passing on something similar today.  May the love of God will flow through you today in such a way that those around you are blessed, and encouraged to take a step further along the path of faith.

Thanks for your company and your support on this journey!

Stan