Jesus was a transformative teacher. Observing his methods, we can learn to be good teachers, too.
In Mathew 19, a rich young man asks Jesus, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” He testifies that he obeys the commandments, implying he acquired his wealth meritoriously. He hopes to add spiritual assurance to material comfort.
Jesus responds to the question with a question: “Why do you ask me about what is good?” He goes on to say: “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”
This was not the response the man expected. “He went away grieving, for he had many possessions.”
Jesus, the teacher, created a disorienting dilemma. He sought to transform the man from one who saw eternal life as an asset to be acquired to one who would follow Jesus in the way of salvation.
I have taught adult Bible study for 40 years. Many learners come to the classroom reluctant to change what they think or how they live. This is not surprising. We naturally want to deflect the discomforts we encounter.
Learners will not be healed by grace and transformed by the teachings of Jesus unless they are willing to recognize their unmet needs.
Good Bible study creates disorienting dilemmas, as Jesus did. These dilemmas stimulate new understanding and awareness. They lead to critiquing unexamined biases, false assumptions and invalid beliefs.
The goal is to develop a new frame of reference, to form new habits of the mind and heart, which lead to new behaviors.
Learning requires trust between teacher and learner. To create a safe space for learning, the teacher needs to model vulnerability and authenticity.
Good teachers treat learners’ responses with respect and validate their feelings. The classroom should become a sacred space where all walk together in the presence of God unashamed.
Bible teachers point their students to Jesus, the teacher who changes the minds, hearts, spirits and behaviors of those who follow him.
Steven P. Pardini is a member of Harrisonburg Mennonite Church in Virginia.