Thursday, August 23, 2007

Teach Us to Teach

The interplay between Christians and their emotions, and between Christianity and human psychology, has been floating through my mind constantly for likely a year now. Almost every time I read the Scriptures, or a related article, these matters surface in my thoughts at some point. I suppose this is largely due to the climate of our day. The stuff of psychology is everywhere: school, work, media, even the Christian bookstore. But it's also due to my exposure to several conversations and debates about this interplay.

One of the results of my mind being engaged on these matters is that I have been reevaluating our teaching when the church meets together. The relevance of teaching to this discussion is that, often, those who are getting help from professional counsellors find teaching irrelevant. And those who are all against Christians going "outside" for help hold up teaching as the only thing (almost) that is relevant.

So teaching in the church is something I want to make a New Testament study of in the near future. In the meantime, my hypothesis is that the concept of teaching in the NT is decidedly different from that held by many of us Christians. In my circles at least, teaching is considered to be the impartation of truth (doctrine) that forms up what Christians believe. That's it. Nothing more. Thus we will invite each other to come and hear a gifted teacher speak on some subject like the Church, Spiritual Gifts, or Justification by Faith. I'm starting to wonder if, in addition to this aspect of teaching, the NT further views teaching as including training. Training takes us beyond the question of what we believe to the questions of how we live.

In other words, what I'm suggesting is that the biblical concept of teaching embraces not only belief-modification, but also behaviour-modification. When Matthew tells us in Matthew 7:38 that "the crowds were astonished at his teaching", does he mean to suggest that Jesus' words, "Do not be anxious about your life" (7:25) constitute teaching? I think he does. We wouldn't call it teaching, but the Holy Spirit does. We would call it exhortation, encouragement, or practical ministry. Matthew calls it teaching.

In Luke 11:1 the disciples ask Jesus, "Lord, teach us to pray." To which Jesus launches into a lengthy sermon on the difference in the Greek words of prayer, intercession, and supplication? No! Jesus, the great Teacher from a place farther away than Ireland, shows them how to pray by praying right in front of them, saying, "When you pray, say..."

None of this is meant to minimize the importance of what we typically call teaching. The impartation of doctrinal information is vital. But so is the impartation of how-to information. Thus a message on how a Christian husband can love his wife as Christ loved the Church belongs just as much under the rubric of teaching as does the sermon on marriage being a picture of Christ and His Church.

Incidentally, the secular world has much less difficulty with this concept of teaching. For instance, a basic Driver's Education course includes classroom instruction on the rules of the road and the functioning of a car, but it also includes instruction in how to drive the thing. This is how you parallel park. This is how you change a tire. In secular teaching, the rubber meets the road. Why should it not in the teaching of the local church?

How does all this apply to professional counselling, psychology, and emotional life? Well, if our teaching was more holistic in this regard, counsellees would likely find it to be much more relevant, and believers in the sufficiency of Scripture might actually see some day-to-day evidence for the Bible's sufficiency.


Alan Knox said...


Excellent post! I'm looking forward to hearing what you learn about teaching in the NT. I've done a similar study and was surprised at what I found.


MJK said...

Thanks Alan. You may have to wait for a while, though! In the meantime, will I give in to the tempatation of reading what you have learned about teaching? Hmm!