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A Good Teacher Teaches

The title sounds self-explanatory, but it is not. Unfortunately, most teachers and preachers do not teach.

I attended a conference on preaching and the speaker said, “It is our job, our duty, to inform people. We speak truth. If they do not listen it is their choice.”

This sounds great. I disagree with it.

Let me re-word it. “It is my job to communicate truth in a manner and method that allows the listener to easily understand the truth I teach.”

Here is what I tell pastors and teachers at my conferences:

“If the student did not learn, you did not teach. You merely spoke out loud.”

Too often, far too often, preachers and teachers simply speak out loud. We blame students for not learning when the real fault is at our door. We did not facilitate learning.

Let me illustrate by sharing with you one of my life verses. You can read it and see the truth I am seeking to communicate today.

Ti ni tɔɣisiri zuɣu ni kpahibu yɛl’ shɛŋa yɛla ŋɔ daliri nyɛla ni di kpaŋsi yurilim din yiri suhu din ka daɣiri mini suhu ni tɛha din ka galimi ni yɛda niŋbu maŋli ni na.

This passage is the backbone of my teaching ministry. It revolutionized what and how I teach. Once I read the passage below, and the last part of the sentence leapt off the page at me. I asked myself, “Is this true of me?” Check it out.

Naawuni pala kpiimba Naawuni, amaa o nyɛla nyɛviyanim’ Naawuni. Yi shiri chirimya pam!”

So, you see why I seek to teach and train teachers? I believe it is Biblical to do it.

Do you have a problem with what I just did?

  • I communicated truth.

  • I informed you.

  • I actually used Scripture and let it speak for itself. I did not add commentary. I gave you the Word of God.

So, what are you going to do with this truth?

The problem is, I communicated truth in a manner that did not facilitate learning. Just the opposite. The method I used to inform you of truth actually kept you from learning it.

I quoted the Bible in Dagbali. This is a tribal language of Northern Ghana.

  • It is the Bible.

  • It is a quote.

  • It is truth.

You have no idea what I said, what it said, or the point I tried to make. Is that your fault? Did I teach or did I simply ‘speak’ out loud?

One of the challenges of missions is learning to teach to learn.

We know how to teach to inform.

We know how to teach to inform people in our culture.

We know how to teach to inform people in our culture with methods from our culture.

Do we know how to teach in order for people to learn? Even to our own culture?

If we do know how to teach in order for people to learn in our culture, does that mean we know how to do it in the new culture?

We need to Learn to Teach to Learn.

We have to learn how to teach in such a manner our students learn. Speaking in a foreign language is not merely verbal. Body language, facial gestures, methods of speaking, tone of voice, all of these must be adapted to the new culture.

A Ghanian pastor who is a friend of mine told me this.

“Africa needs the gospel carried to us in a clay pot. In an African clay pot. You missionaries brought it to us in a Starbucks coffee cup. The gospel is the same. It is the way you present it which seems strange to us.”

Missiology is understanding two things.

  1. The essential truths of Scripture and Gospel.

  2. The cultural variations of applying and presenting those truths.

The mission phrase is: Contextualize without compromise.

Here is a great example. In the west, and I know because I am a theologian, we love our systematic theology. We like to systematize, analyze and organize. We take the Bible and we put it into categories. We write our column headings and place verses in their proper location under the right heading.

Do you realize God did not do that?

  • God did not write a systematic theology.

  • He wrote a bunch of stories about people living life and how He interacts with them.

  • He told stories of heroes and villains.

  • He shared His feelings, thoughts and desires.

  • He gave us a lot of poems.

So, why do we do our best to teach systematic theology instead of tell Bible stories which contain those theological truths? After all, that is what God does.

What do we do? Do we teach preachers how to tell stories, use object illustrations, and apply the Bible to everyday life? No, we teach pastors systematic theology.

Take a course on “Biblical Preaching” and you will learn how to teach the Bible in a method never used by Jesus or in the Bible you teach. We changed the Bible into a boring history textbook of information and data points.

We take a beautiful story of a farmer and make it a grammar lesson in the proper use of participles in Ancient Greek. Then, we declare this is the only way to actually teach “The Word”.

You must teach like an American theologian or you are not teaching.

Do folks in a small village in Northern Ghana need to know the Greek parsing of a particular verb in the story of the sower and seed? Do they communicate with linear progression of logical thinking, or with story and song?

Which should I use if I am seeking to teach and not merely speak out loud?

We are taught to teach by speaking out loud. “My responsibility is to teach. The student’s responsibility is to learn.” This is another quote from the conference I mentioned at the start of this article. I disagree.

My responsibility is to enable the student to learn as quickly and easily as possible. My goal is not to speak out loud or disseminate truth. It is to change lives holistically and eternally. I cannot do that speaking a foreign language or using foreign methodology. I must contextualize without compromise.

Let me share another example. A pastor from the USA visited Northern Ghana to help with a pastor’s conference. The conference was in the far north, near the border. It is sub-Saharan. He told a story and used it throughout his message, referring to it probably five times and then closed with it. I am sure it worked fabulously back in his home church. He told these pastors a long story about hunting elk in the snow. It included all the elements of winter such as snowshoes and hand warmers.

  • Not one village pastor knew what snow was.

  • Not one person knew what an elk was.

  • No one hunted.

  • No one knew what a snowshoe was.

  • No one understood hand warmers.

He did not teach. He spoke out loud. He spoke out loud with enthusiasm. No one understood a thing he said, not even his translator. This is why a huge part of my teaching ministry is focused on using culturally relevant illustrations and stories to bring out the application of the passage. I do not talk about elk hunting in the snow. I talk about looking for a new source of water because the village bog hole dried up.

This is applicable to everyone reading this blog. We must communicate truth in a manner and method which facilitates learning. My goal is to make understanding, learning and applying this truth as easy as possible.

In the states I teach with Powerpoint, Keynote, Prezi, Doodly and videos.

In villages I do not use any of these things.

In the states I have folks read the passage and focus on individual verses and phrases. I say things like “Look at verse 5 and focus on the word love. Do you see the context of it?”

In villages and towns here, almost no one has a Bible and many cannot read. I read the passage and then paraphrased and tell stories to communicate the truth of what the word love means.

Missionaries must learn to teach to learn.

Pastors must learn to teach to learn.

Teachers must learn to teach to learn.

If your student did not learn.

You did not teach.

Let’s stop speaking out loud and start teaching.

PS. The two verses above which guide my teaching, in English are:

“But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart, from a good conscience, and from a sincere faith.” (1 Timothy 1.5)

“…And the large crowd enjoyed listening to Him.” (Mark 12.37b)

Do people enjoy listening to me teach them how to love with a pure heart, good conscience and sincere faith?

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