Thursday, February 9, 2012

Tale of Two Teachers

If you have been through school or have kids in school now, you have probably noticed something about teachers.  There are several different types of teachers out there, but I have recently seen a contrast between two types of teachers.

One of my children had a teacher last year who knew how to reach each student at their level.  She got the students excited about learning.  She made a difference.  She took the time to make sure each student understood the subject matter.  Granted, some students may not want to learn.  But a good teacher will try to find a way to get the student to want to learn.  But, in the end, the student must still make that choice.

This year, my child has a very different teacher.  One who still knows the subject matter very well, but seems to present it differently.  A teacher who presents the information and expects you to know it and remember it.  A teacher who has high expectations, and no matter how well you try to answer a question on a test, still manages to find the faults in your answer.  The student can learn in this environment, but is often discouraged and frustrated because, no matter how hard they try, it is never enough.  The bar keeps getting moved on them just when they think they have measured up.

On the surface, I think most of us would clearly agree that the first teacher is better by far.  But I understand the philosophy behind the second teacher.  I've had those teachers, especially in college and seminary.  You don't get a good grade in their class, but because they pushed you so hard, you ended up learning a lot.

But the question remains - is one better than the other.  Is it better to have a teacher who is encouraging or one who is more expecting?  I guess the answer comes in the desired outcome.  What are we trying to accomplish?  Is our objective to push kids harder and harder to get the desired test scores?  Or is it to get a child excited about learning, not only today, but for the rest of their life?

OK, maybe the issues aren't as cut and dry as that.  But there is no doubt that one environment can make a child love school and the other can create a child who cannot stand school.  I believe in education.  I have a Master's degree and have often considered a doctorate.  I have been an adjunct college professor.  I have been a student.  I wanted the best grades I could get.  I want my children to get the best grades they can get.  I have seen teachers who have created an atmosphere where my children love school and love learning.  Their grades reflected that.  They were motivated.  I have also seen teachers who created an atmosphere where my kids now hated school and had no motivation.  Their grades have reflected that, as well.

Why do I mention this on a blog dealing with spiritual growth?  Well, as much as I love the model of the encouraging teacher, I have also noticed (and God convicted me of this yesterday) that I can easily shift gears in my pastoral ministry and evangelism to acting more like the second teacher.

I love conviction.  But there does come a time when our conviction can become discouraging.  When God convicted me yesterday, it was in the context of something that was actually encouraging.  God certainly uses men like Leonard Ravenhill and Paul Washer, but the problem is when the rest of us try to act like them without the same level of being filled with the Holy Spirit as those men.  It becomes a work of the flesh and we end up being just like the second teacher.  And all we do is discourage people and leave them feeling defeated as though they will never live up to the expectations we set for them.

As a pastor, I long to see the people at church pray more and read God's Word more.  But I can also cross a line where they begin to feel like no matter how hard they try, I always expect more from them.  Now, an encouraging teacher always expects more from their students, but they don't focus on how much further the student has to go, they celebrate where they are.

In evangelism, we can beat people up with the fact that they have fallen short of God's standard, as they have.  And we should not compromise this.  However, we must also realize what God tells us in 2 Timothy 2:24-25, "And the Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness.  God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth."  This is not about hiding the truth.  No teacher would ever compromise truth just to make a student feel better.  But you can let a student know they do not have the right answer without belittling them in the process.

As you think about how you minister to people, how you teach Bible studies, and how you share the Gospel, do you more closely resemble the first teacher or the second teacher?  Truth can be communicated in a way that builds up the student, but it can also be communicated in a way that tears the student down.  And sometimes the student may refuse to learn, not because they hate the subject, but because they are reacting to the teacher.  If people are not responding to how you are teaching the Bible or sharing the Gospel, it may not necessarily be that they are rejecting God (though they are by default), it may have more to do with a reaction against how you are trying to teach them.  It is a sad indictment when a teacher teaches in such a way that the student resents the subject matter.

If you insist on being a teacher who has the approach of, "Here is the material - now shape up or ship out" you has better make absolutely certain that God has put such a "prophetic anointing" upon you.  If He has not, your best intentions will destroy people.  If they reject the message because they are rejecting you, that comes back on you.  If you teach them the truth with gentleness and they reject it, that comes back on them.  Be careful which approach you take.

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