Friday, February 29, 2008

Youth Ministry as Education - Jesus the Educator (part five)

While transmissive and romantic approaches have their value, it seems that both not only lack something the other has, but perhaps there is something deeper. Let's look at Scripture to see what kind of an educator Jesus was.

Jesus is repeatedly referred to as "Teacher" or " Rabbi," which are both terms for someone with knowledge and authority, having the ability to teach those willing to learn. People were generally stunned at the wisdom and authority He displayed, and the leading teachers of the day felt threatened by His abilities. What were some of the defining characteristics of Jesus' teaching methodology?

Questions: Whenever someone asked Jesus a questions, He often responded with His own questions for them. Very rarely in Scripture do we see Jesus giving a simple pointed answer (transmissive) or just responding how He feels at the moment (romantic). Instead, He responds with a question that forces the learner to think about what they're asking.

Stories: Jesus often uses stories and parables to communicate deeper truths. He doesn't use stories as illustrations, examples, or filler; He simply shares a story and challenges His followers to find the deeper meaning. He often spoke in metaphors, comparing Godly truths with everyday objects or places. In the Sermon on the Mount, the entire sermon build upon itself, much like a narrative builds to a climax. It is filled with metaphors and images that lead the learner on a journey.

Informal: Many of Jesus' greatest teachings are not planned-out sermons, but conversations or every-day events that turned into moments where He reveals beautiful truths. He allows for dialogue in His teachings and allows for every moment to be a teachable moment.

Challenging: Jesus' teachings seemed to leave people at times confused, at other times angry, and even other times made them choose to stop following Him. But for the ones who chose to continue following Him, their lives were radically transformed by His teachings. He never gives a simple, 3-point answer. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus turns everything on its head, challenging past interpretations and pointing people to deeper truths. I imagine it was difficult to forget what Jesus talked about because it was either controversial or so profound, it was hard to stay neutral and unchanged.

Perhaps the best way to describe Jesus' teaching is transformational. If transmissive is a factory and romantic is a garden, transformational education is like a journey. The teacher is the guide who has traveled farther along the path than the student. The guide points out scenery, pitfalls, gives direction, and offers encouragement as the student travels along the path in the direction of maturity. Along the way, the teacher and student dialogue, share stories, build a relationship, and build upon what they've learned from the past. The goal is neither to get more information, nor to feel better about oneself; the goal is life-transformation.

In youth ministry, our goal as educators and pastors must be life-transformation. It's not just about giving out good information from the Bible. Nor is it about students sharing their feelings and experiences with one another. It is about asking tough questions, sharing stories, having dialogue, and challenging students in an environment where every moment is a teachable moment. Learning is not just limited to a lesson or sermon; the time of fellowship, the games, the worship, the small group discussion, etc. are all times we can use to guide our students in the direction of spiritual growth. Yes, the content of the Bible is foundational. Yes, we need to be able to share our feelings and experiences with one another. But we need to do this through the framework of life-transformation, where the process of sanctification is highly valued and we view each moment as a step in a journey towards spiritual maturity. We use lessons, discussion, experiences, worship, and one-on-one discipleship all as methods in the same journey, accessing the cognitive, emotive, physical, and spiritual dimensions of our being.

As teachers/pastors, we cannot simply rely on our ability to communicate good information, nor the methods of having small groups that share feelings with one another. We need to have holistic educational mindsets and teach like Jesus, so that students love God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength.

(The terms "transmissive," "romantic," and "transformational," come from Wilhoit's Christian Education and the Search for Meaning)

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