Shared Paths

I am sharing with you a series of posts focused on teaching.  When it comes to teaching in the church, we cannot continue as we are.  Teachers are the tongues of the church.  Even though they comprise a small part of the congregation, relative to the number of students, what they say and teach carries a great deal of weight within the congregation.  So how do we improve our teaching?  The answer is time, tools, and training.  
In the last couple of posts I have been on the topic of tools for teaching, particularly the use of curriculum.  In my last post I mentioned that too often curriculum has become the most misused tool for teaching in the church.  Curriculum is a guide for teaching, it was not meant to replace our teaching.  Ultimately, curriculum is another person’s experience with the Biblical text, which is profitable, but it is an experience that cannot take the place of our own if we are to be effective teachers.
I left off in my last post with the following question, how do we properly use curriculum as a teaching tool?  To use curriculum properly we must:
  1. Understand what a curriculum/writer is saying?
  2. Understand how a curriculum/writer arrived at what they are saying?
  3. Understand why a curriculum/writer would say what they have said?
Great teachers are structured in their approach and organized in their thoughts.  It is difficult for any student to listen to a teacher they cannot logically follow.  We call this chasing rabbits.  Personally, I have never chased a rabbit, but from what little I know of rabbits, chasing one would be a rapid journey to nowhere.  Teachers who chase rabbits lead their students down pointless paths that do not connect with anything.  If you are going to be a great teacher you must keep one question in mind, what’s the point?
Curriculum is a great tool that helps teachers stay on point.  Most lessons written in a curriculum give the teacher an aim, theme, or objective to achieve.  In this way the writer should help us do the most important thing in teaching - match the aim of the lesson with the aim of the Biblical text.  Great curriculums do this.  Poor curriculums do not.
This is where the real work of a teacher begins.  Early in the week he or she will consult a curriculum to see what the chosen passage and its corresponding aim or objective is for the class.  Once consultation is made, then comes the moment that separates great teachers from mere curriculum regurgitators.  Great teachers become great students.
Hebrew is an interesting language in that it has no vowels, only consonants.  The other curious thing about Hebrew is that almost every word is spelled with three letters.  Numerous words can be spelled with the same three letters.  How does the reader distinguish the difference?  Small dots and dashes called “pointing” supply the vowel sounds and can radically change the meaning of a word.  One of the most curious lines of pointing intensifies a word.  The word touch, intensified, becomes the word strike, or hit.  
One of my favorite examples of intensifying Hebrew words is the word translated “to learn.”  When the word “to learn” is intensified it becomes the word translated “to teach.”  It is the same three letters only intensified.  The message is clear.  One has not truly learned what he or she cannot truly teach.  The flip-side is most applicable to teaching in the church, we cannot truly teach what we have not taken time to learn.
We teach from an overflow.  Curriculum points us in the right direction, but it is not a substitute for personal time and investigation spent in the text.  A truly prepared teacher will use curriculum twice.  He or she will use it to begin, inspire, or direct study early in the week, and he or she will use it again to refine and organize study late in the week.  In between there should be a great deal of personal time with the Biblical text.
When we give time to study and we do not allow curriculum to be our crutch, we will begin to experience God’s Word coming alive in our own life.  This is the process of incubation I wrote about a few weeks ago.  When time is given to personal study and preparation throughout the week, our experience with curriculum changes later in the week.  We have a better opportunity to understand three things:
  1. Understand what a curriculum/writer is saying?
  2. Understand how a curriculum/writer arrived at what they are saying?
  3. Understand why a curriculum/writer would say what they have said
How so?  Because we will find that we have walked the same path the writer has walked.  We now have a shared experience with the text.  When this is true, I find that curriculum becomes inspiring, not confining.  Suddenly the writer is giving me great ideas on how to enhance my lesson, how to organize it, and how to communicate it effectively - no longer is the curriculum writer a dictator speaking to me in a foreign tongue.  Suddenly, I see where the writer is coming from and he helps me instead of replaces me.  Now my lesson is fresh and it is born from my own experience.  It is not stale as I am only trying to regurgitate someone else’s experience with the Bible.
As great as this sounds, it leads us to another question.  How do we study the Bible?  Here is where the real discussion on tools begins.
More to come . . .


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