My heart became hot within me. As I mused, the fire burned; then I spoke with my tongue: "O Lord, make me know my end and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am!"

08 February 2006

Limiting Education

In family worship, we are reaching the end of the gospel of John. After John records some of Jesus' appearances to and interactions with his disciples (notably with Thomas), John makes this comment:

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:20,31)

I brought these verses to our Christian Education meeting last night, to discuss the limitations of education. Both as a pastor and teacher in the church and as a father (and also as a learner, I suppose), I have this great desire to impart to our students and my own children a comprehensive education. Although it's ridiculously impossible, I want them to know everything, or at least most of everything. In areas of Scripture, I want our Sunday School students to have a masterful command of every Bible story and genre and doctrine; I want them to be able to recite the catechism with their eyes closed; I want them to be able to tear down every unbiblical worldview and to be able to present Christ in love. I want them to learn Greek & Hebrew, and maybe even Aramaic. I want them to win Bible trivia contests and to memorize huge chunks of Scripture.

The first problem is that this is unrealistic. If comprehensiveness is the goal of parenting or teaching, we have doomed ourselves to failure before we start. Answering the challenge thus begins with limitation. We must limit the education we give to our kids, our students; even as a preacher, I have to limit every week what I'm going to say. There is always really cool stuff I have to cut out of the sermon. Besides, if new people ever come to faith in Christ and then attend our church, they're starting from close to zero in their Christian education - often halfway through life.

Acknowledging limitation should lead us to find a standard for limitation. How do we know what to cut out and include? How can a CE committee decide wisely what to focus on during Sunday school and what to exclude? Here, John's wisdom can aid us. The Apostle John knew exactly what he was doing with his gospel; he knew his audience and he had a defined purpose. John's one goal was to lead people to believe that Jesus is the Christ and that believing they would have life in his name. If he had wanted to write a comprehensive biography, he could have gone on for years (see 21:25); if he had wanted to simply stenograph all of Christ's teachings, he would have just been a reporter. But his goal was to lead people to salvation; for that, he knew they must believe that Jesus is the Christ, the anointed Messiah of God. Every word of his gospel was crafted for this purpose.

What a wonderful guide in limiting education! When faced with a choice, whether as parents or elders or preachers or teachers, wondering whether to cut out A or B, we will do well to ask, "Which class/lesson/instruction would best lead someone to believe that Jesus is the Christ?" Certainly there are other wise ways to choose between this or that class, but I would like to humbly suggest that John's method of limiting education should be the very first question we ask ourselves as parents, teachers and preachers.


Ellen Olivetti said...

And, I would add to this blog entry that, when all is said and done, praying that God will bless what is taught and learned is THE MOST important element of teaching - whether as a pastor or as a parent. You are right that so many cool things need to be left out and some things we really want our kids (or congregants) to understand and know, they are just not ready to understand and know. We need to pray that, in God's timing, he will let our feeble teaching - and it is all feeble in comparison to the truth of God's majesty - be an effectual means of leading our children to the foot of the cross, where all real learning and understanding begins. You have no idea how often I have prayed that our feeble efforts as parents to teach those truths that are life to us would "sink in" to our children - that they would not only hear but truly understand. I know you know this but you cannot MAKE your child truly understand - only the Spirit of God can do that. So, of course, we need to teach the truth as best we can but never take God out of that equation. He can take the worst sermon and use it to make someone believe and, conversely, people can sit under the best teaching/parenting and never know the truth.

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