Christians in Education Discuss Their Work (Video)
In this video, New Testament scholar Sean McDonough argues that the teaching professions have their roots in the Bible, and Luke 24 offers an example of Jesus' faultless teaching style. Starting at minute 13:20 professional educators share how the Christian faith changes their approach to their work. This video is part of Jesus And Your Job, a video series on how Christians in different industries view their work. To find out more about this series and how you can use it as a small group study, go to the Jesus And Your Job homepage.
Jesus Was an Educator
Among the many things Jesus talked about and the many things Jesus did, certainly education is at the absolute center of what Jesus came to do. When the writer of Acts summarizes the whole trajectory of the gospel, he says “all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning” (Acts 1:1). Both the doing and the teaching are critical. Today we’re going to focus on teaching.
Jesus is regularly called a teacher throughout the gospels. “Rabonni” and “didaskalos” are the Aramaic and Greek words for master or teacher. While the gospels are at pains to say he’s not just a teacher – he’s certainly more than a teacher as the Messiah of Israel, the Son of God – nonetheless he’s not less than a teacher. He instructs all over the place.
And he’s a great teacher, unsurprisingly. First of all, he’s very clear when he teaches. Ex: “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!” (Matthew 23:13). There’s no kind of accommodation or obfuscation. He’s not chattering away in his PHD language so no one can comprehend him. Jesus speaks very clearly.
Having said that, he’s very clever in his teaching. We know about his parables, which deliberately veil aspects of the message from people who might be hostile to him like the political forces. That’s because he was clever in putting his message in a certain way that could be understood only by those who cared enough to really probe.
And finally, he’s a very challenging teacher. It’s easy to be a teacher who just feeds the pre-existing prejudiced outlooks of your students. But a real teacher is going to challenge people to transcend their current thinking to become more than they currently are. That’s what Jesus does time and again. Whether it’s the fact he speaks in parables, or the way he challenges the Pharisees to rethink their whole religious outlook, Jesus challenges his students to grow cognitively. Jesus is not afraid to call his learners to a higher level of understanding
Our focus today will be one of my favorite passages, the post-resurrection appearance of Jesus on the road to Emmaus. If anywhere, this is where we can see that the Bible is a divine comedy. It’s a story with a happy ending, and I think there are even a few laughs to be found along the way.
Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?”
- Luke 24:13-18
You’ve all been in situations where some young punk, typically male but not necessarily, raises his hand and challenges the teacher with something like, “What do you know about molecular biology?” This person in astounding ignorance thinks he knows it all. You’re just waiting for the teacher to lay into that student and bring him down to size. Of all the dumb things people have said when they raise their hand in the classroom, few transcend this question put to Jesus: “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?”
With remarkable restraint, Jesus answers simply, “What things?”(Luke 24:19). He doesn’t say all the things I would have been tempted to say in that position, i.e. “Why don’t you inform me, Mr. Know it All?”
He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.”
- Luke 24:19-24
By the way, it’s no coincidence that women are the faith-filled witnesses, just like at the beginning of Luke’s gospel when it’s the women who are relatively honored by their belief that God can do miracles, while the high-status man Zachariah is relatively humbled. Here again it proves that God turns the social expectations upside down. And if, like these disciples on the road to Emmaus, you’re unwilling to embrace the testimony of the women, you’re going to be relatively dishonored for a while and your experience of the risen Christ is going to be delayed.
Maybe because they’ve been unwilling to listen to the witness of those he’s appointed, Jesus says, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” (Luke 24:25-26). Jesus continues to be a challenging teacher. He’ll lay it out there, like a tough coach yelling “DO YOUR JOB!” Jesus is willing to give his students a pretty clear rebuke.
But he doesn’t just leave them with that and walk away.
“Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.
- Luke 24:27
Jesus gives what was presumably the world’s greatest bible study. He describes how all the scriptures point to himself, the Messiah. You might think the lesson would end there. But Jesus, the master teacher, has one more critical lesson to teach.
As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on.
- Luke 24:28
Here he gives a little fake, a pedagogical tool, a teachable moment to give these guys one last shot at proving they’re not irredeemable, un-coachable, unteachable. Jesus makes this little move as if he’s going to keep walking, and the disciples urge him to stay.
As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them.
- Luke 24:28-29
Throughout the gospel of Luke, the supreme Christian virtue is hospitality - welcoming Jesus and one-another into homes. Why is that? It’s because God is the great host who welcomes us into his home and into his family. So these disciples are not just going to let this stranger walk off into the night with bandits and wolves and who knows what else besetting him. They welcome him in. We can imagine Jesus teacher giving a silent fist pump at this, because he knows that these guys can ‘get it.’ In some sense they have got his message.
Finally, Jesus fairly literally turns the table on his students.
When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight.
- Luke 24:30-31
When they welcome Jesus as if they were going to host him, Jesus reveals himself to be the great host. The students finally understand, and Jesus disappears. Once his lesson has been driven home, Jesus can move on to other things.
We see a couple of critical things from this story. We see Jesus’ professorial patience, not giving up on these guys. He’s challenging, as we’ve seen. He is presumably instructive – we don’t get the whole lesson but we get pointed towards it, and I think it’s safe to say it was a good Bible study. But Jesus doesn’t just offer them information. He offers them himself. There’s a personal commitment to the wellbeing of those he’s instructing. In fact, that’s the whole point of the instruction. To bless them, not just to fill up their heads.
I’ve been a professor of English for the past 27 years. Besides teaching English classes, I work in the academic support center supporting students in their writing. As a writing teacher I work one-on-one with a lot with students. In the class I’m teaching right now, I conference with students on every single essay they write. When you’re writing, it’s so personal. It comes out of this really deep place. So I deal a lot with a student’s self-image, with their past experiences as students, and with things they felt they were not successful in.
I’m doing more than teaching them not to split their infinitives. I’m trying to empower them that they can do this. They can learn. They can change. The story hasn’t been written for them. They can become good writers. That I think is the exciting part of my job. I get to be that instrument in their lives, and it’s such a blessing to me to see that lightbulb go on.
Along the same lines as that, I think with any teacher there is a tension between grace and justice. Sometimes you just don’t know when to have grace for a student who’s really struggling with other issues outside their academics. How much should you push them to get the work done, to be resilient? I try to say: You can do this. I know it doesn’t seem like you can, but I’m with you. I’m going to walk alongside you.
Rich O’s story:
Most of what Rich does in the educational field is sending students out into the wilderness where they get bitten and rained on. Here he answers the question: How is it education?
Right now I’ve got about 30 people sitting up on a mountaintop in New Hampshire having a quiet time. Hopefully they’re taking a mini solo for about two hours to dig into the Word. I’ve made a career of taking people out of their comfort zone and putting them in a very real situation where they have to dig down deep and find out what they’re made of. That could be physically. It could also be spiritually.
This is within a covenant group of people, so they have to get along. They have to work together to overcome. They have to learn how to encourage one another and support one another.
By applying God’s word to those challenges, we’re hoping that they are learning things at a much deeper level than just hearing a sermon.
We call this ‘Experiential Discipleship.’ Outward Bound, who started this whole adventure program, had a quote that we use as well: “I heard and I forgot, I saw and I remembered, but I experienced and I understood.” What we’re trying to do is take a concept like commitment, using a verse like Joshua 23:8 "hold fast to the Lord your God." We talk about the idea of holding fast to God and making a commitment move on a rock climb. We’re trying to take those concepts and those Bible verses and really show kids how to live those out and how it’ll make a difference in their life.
Through the process of getting together, having them reflect and keep a journal, talking and thinking about it, we are trying to draw out the learning. So they can take that learning and apply it beyond the trip they’re on -- apply it for the rest of their life.
I’ve been a speech and language assistant in the public schools for about 16 years. The reason I got into that was somewhat practical. I had young children. I went back to school to get some new skills. I wanted to work a school schedule and have my summers off with my children. It was somewhat practical.
Another motivating factor was our daughter Rebecca who has down syndrome. Speech and language was obviously a challenge for her. I thought perhaps I could help her a little bit, and also bring some firsthand experience dealing with speech and language challenges to bear working with other people’s children.
Two things that I like to keep in mind as a speech and language assistant:
One, I look upon all the students I serve as my flock (John 10:16). My flock is the children that God has entrusted to me to do my best to meet their speech and language needs.
Another thing I always keep in the back of my mind is that I am also in constant need of speech therapy. Whether it’s saying the right thing or not saying something. We have a little joke at home: there’s thought bubbles and there’s speech bubbles. We all know people sometimes use speech bubbles that should remain thought bubbles. Anyway, the Lord always needs to work on my heart in terms of my spiritual speech therapy. I need it ongoing.
Rich S’s story:
I teach at a regional high school. I’ve been teaching there about 18 years. I started off in the engineering field. It was actually through my involvement in YoungLife, which got me around high school kids, that I realized that was where I wanted to spend my time. I felt called out of engineering and into teaching.
I happen to teach the best of the best in a couple of my classes. And I also teach three sections of what’s considered the low-level math class. It’s just fascinating to me – the difference. This is just a generalization, but when the AP kids are done with my course, for the most part they’re done with me. I’ll see some of them next year and it’s as if I didn’t exist. But the kids who were the low-level class say, “Mr. S! How are you? How was your summer? How are your kids?” It’s just an interesting thing that I’ve experienced repeatedly.
Having kids of my own, I know it’s so easy to get caught up in that “what percentile is my kid in?” It breaks my heart, and yet I can see that I’m a part of it. I think we as a Christian body somehow need to be a part of reorienting. Our kids are not percentiles. I know it’s so easy to get caught up into that: “If they’re not doing well in math then what future do they have?” I think somehow we need to do a better job of saying: We’re all creations of God. He’s not going to ask us our SAT scores when we get to heaven.
Rich O adds:
One thing we’ve definitely tried to do is talk about the redefinition of success. We hope everybody would try things wholeheartedly, do their best with what they have, and trust God for the results. We don’t make people do anything – we have a phase called, “challenge by choice.” In a class where they might be doing a balance beam that’s 45 feet up in the air, even though and they have a rope that holds them that holds six thousand pounds and they’re connected to a fourteen thousand test cable, people are still afraid. That doesn’t compute to me, because I love it up there. But I have to understand that they come with a lot of fears. By helping them to go half way up the ladder one day, and then come back and do two more rungs, eventually they go up there. They’re not up there to prove anything. They’re there just to see how they can put this idea of commitment into action. And then they really learn something from that.
- Read Luke 24:13-31. What techniques does Jesus use to educate these two disciples? If you teach or train others in your job, do you feel inspired by any of these techniques?
- When dealing with students, Lynn sees a tension between grace and justice. Is there a tension between grace and justice in your line of work?
- Rich talks about learning through experience. What is the most valuable thing you’ve learned from your work experience?