Have you ever seen anger, like a bolt from the blue, explode in teachers known for their gentleness and patience? Perhaps not. Far more common is the slow burn that turns a faithful teacher into a sarcastic misanthrope. This anger erupts in both the church and the classroom. Some of the reasons will always be idiosyncratic and individualized, but the common ones are easy to identify.
First, those with a gift of teaching are often like the workman with only a hammer who sees every problem as a nail. I don’t know if I have gift of teaching—that is for others to say—but I know I have the habit. My conversations slide into numb-minding lectures without warning. I can feel it happening, but can’t stop myself. Because of this instinct to teach, every problem or situation appears to be a learning opportunity. Because of my misdiagnosis of the problem, I am frustrated that my instruction falls on deaf ears. How can my clear and logical explanations not solve everyone’s problems?
The answer is that we are made up of a mind, will, and emotion. More information, no matter how clearly presented, will not solve problems rooted in the will or emotion. Sometimes we simply need someone to go with us—not the directions explained one more time. Often more information outlined with logical precision only intensifies our self-loathing. Friendship sometimes does more than expertise.
Second, teachers often fail to distinguish what can be taught by precept and what must be taught by example. Congregations can be taught the seven keys to spiritual growth again and again without doing much of what they have heard. Teachers often have a “Listen up!” instead of a “Come and see” pedagogy. As has been said, “More is caught, than taught.” This is certainly the case with faith and revival. Long arguments about why we should trust our parachute are not as effective as teachers jumping out of the plane. Sermons on prayer are not as effective as pastors praying. Costly obedience is often a teacher’s best argument for what is true and important.
Third, teachers often fail to take sin and our fall seriously. We act as though people are inherently good and will do what is right once they know what is right. Wrong! Today people approach every social problem as though the problem is a lack of information. It was frustrating when a national study concluded that the D.A.R.E. program had been almost completely ineffective in keeping kids from using drugs. Our faith in education to solve problems has also created classes for anger management, drunk driving, and domestic violence—but no classes in humility and repentance.
It turns out that people often know what is right and wise but choose what is wrong and foolish. Short-term pleasure or convenience often vetoes what a person knows is right. To the surprise of no one—people sin! This makes the progress of students herky-jerky—two steps forward, one back. Or one step forward, faceplant. Teachers should not respond to this brokenness with anger and surprise—as if most of the Old Testament hasn’t warned us about people.
So what then should teachers do? We can begin by admitting that teaching is one of many tools needed to build up the body of Christ. We need exhortation and prophecy. We need those with gifts of mercy and kindness. Some teachers need to give up control and invite the whole body of Christ to minister truth to the hearts of the congregation.
Second, we should recognize that many of the most important truths must be taught by example—made flesh and lived out in the context of a community. Many are learned in the motions of a shared life and pilgrimage. Teachers must sometimes close their books and invite students to come and see.
Third, we must take seriously the parable of the sower whose seed lands on many kinds of soil. The job of the sower is make sure the seed is good and then sow freely. Obsessing about the germination and maturation rates will drive a teacher crazy.
Most important of all is to recognize that we are co-laboring with God. His Spirit is at work in our teaching and way beyond it. Sometimes teachers must simply stop talking and let God speak.