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Let’s Talk: Teaching the Faith through Life and Conversation

Bernard Bull The Lutheran Educator Leave a Comment

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And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. Deuteronomy 6:6–9 ESV

We live in an age of amazing educational gadgets, game-based learning, rich and engaging project-based learning, and so much more. Yet, this passage from Deuteronomy reminds us that an important part of teaching is not only what we teach our children and students, but how we do it. Consider the following four ideas drawn from the text.

On Your Heart

It is not a coincidence that this passage begins by saying that these commandments “shall be on your heart.” This section immediately follows the Ten Commandments, and we are reminded that they are not just something that we mindlessly memorize or read once and set aside. They are on our heart. God works through His Word, making them a part of who we are, what we believe, and how we live.

Teaching the faith doesn’t actually begin with teaching the faith. It begins with God’s work for us in Christ. It involves the work of the Holy Spirit, through God’s Word. Before we teach the faith, we learn it, and we continually learn throughout life.

Some research points to the idea that medical doctors are at their best in the first ten years after graduating from medical school. Their learning is still fresh, but they also have some good, real-world experience. Over time, however, there is evidence that many doctors actually get worse at practicing medicine because they don’t stay current on the research and new methods. In a related way, the teacher of the faith is not just someone who took theology classes in the past, studied years ago, or earned some sort of degree a long time ago. This is something that calls for us to learn throughout life.

Teach Diligently

A second element represented here is that teaching the faith is not an afterthought, an add-on, or a temporary task. It is something that calls for diligence, persistence, and an understanding that this is fundamental, not supplemental. In a context where many educators in various content areas are challenged to start with state standards, our approach to teaching the faith can easily become just an addition to what is already there. This is in contrast to doing the hard work and grappling with how our faith informs what we teach. That is why it is so important to start with being a learner of the faith; such a task takes deep thinking and study, a knowledge of the discipline you are teaching, a knowledge of the students you are teaching, a deep knowledge of the Scriptures and Christian doctrine, and an understanding of how to bring these together in a classroom.

Talk of Them Persistently and in Different Contexts

We also see from this text that teaching the faith is not meant to be done only in the context of a weekly Bible study, Sunday School class, Day School class, morning devotion, church service, or any other such event. These are all valuable aspects in the Christian life, but the challenge in this text is to talk about the Commandments and to do so throughout the day.

Notice that it is talking, not just telling. This text seems to lead us to think about teaching the faith as something that also happens in conversation. Sometimes these conversations are informal. Sometimes they emerge because of some event that occurred in the day, and they give us a chance to debrief that event, to consider how God’s Word might inform our thoughts and actions in that context. It involves speaking and listening, asking questions and finding answers, teaching, and learning. It happens as we experience all aspects of life and the world. This is not just a lesson to be checked off, but rather a learning experience that is truly immersive in our lives.

Rituals and Reminders

Finally, the text also points out the value of rituals and reminders. Some use Christian art and other visuals. Some put quotes on their classroom walls or in their homes. There are countless ways to employ visual reminders of God’s Word, persistently drawing our thinking back to the Word at different moments in our day. While the text does not explicitly teach this, other parts of Scripture point us to the value of rituals in the Christian life. They can serve as powerful milestones and reminders amid our busy lives, again drawing us back to Jesus throughout our day.

Collectively we have four valuable insights about teaching the faith. Start with learning it. Pursue it with diligence, treating it as more than an add-on. Teach and learn through conversation that spans across time and context. Finally, surround yourself with helpful reminders that draw you back to God’s Word. The new gadgets and methods have their place too, but why not start with these tried and tested basics that come directly from God’s written revelation to the world?

 

 

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About the Author

Bernard Bull

Dr. Bernard Bull is Assistant Vice President of Academics and Associate Professor of Education at Concordia University Wisconsin. He has 20+ years of experience in Lutheran education ranging from middle school to graduate school and parish education. He is also the editor of the forthcoming CPH book, Pedagogy of Faith. Bernard’s work focuses upon futures in education, educational innovation, and the intersection of education & digital culture. You can read his latest posts here.

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