By Milton V. Uecker, EdD
Part 5 of 8 part series (2005)
According to Christian Smith (2005, 261), “the best social predictor, although not a guarantee, of what the religious and spiritual lives of youth will look like is what the religious lives of their parents do look like.” According to Smith, parents will “get what they are.” Barna (2003) lists parents as “tier one” influencers, along with contemporary music, movies, television programming, the Internet, publications, laws, and public policy. If a kingdom-minded influencer is not present in the home, the dominant shaping force will not be biblical, and the beliefs and values of the world, as expressed through the media, will counter kingdom-living dispositions. Since schools are of lesser influence (tier two), it is somewhat unrealistic to believe that today’s young people can develop a biblical focus without the modeling and support of the parents. Therefore, leading the way involves encouraging and training parents to assume their role as primary educator and influencer through both encouragement and instruction.
Another critical success factor is the nature and content of Bible instruction. At the heart of obedience is teaching that makes God real. Obedience springs from what young people come to believe about God. God Himself has stated that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” (Proverbs 1:7, NASB). As suggested by Willard (1998), they must see His power in creation and His Sovereign hand in history. They must come to understand themselves as sinners under His authority and gain a personal understanding of the redeeming work of Jesus on their behalf. Transformation cannot begin without confession and redemption. If transformational outcomes are “put on” by children who have not accepted God’s gift of forgiveness in Jesus, then these behaviors will be humanistic acts, rooted in their desire to be recognized or to belong, as opposed to acts that flow from the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives. Because transformation begins with rebirth, regeneration must be one of the school’s primary intended outcomes. It is from this beginning that all kingdom-living outcomes spring.
Too often Bible is taught as content to be known as opposed to a picture of what one is to become. Willard (1998, 113), writes that an objective to “know stuff” would have been thought of as laughable in Jesus’ day:
The teacher in Jesus’ time--and especially the religious teacher--taught in such a way that he would impact the life flow of the hearer, leaving a lasting impression without benefit of notes, recorders, or even memorization. Whatever did not make a difference in that way just made no difference. Period.
Bible must move beyond facts and theological statements to implications for life change. Bible classes must be conducted in an atmosphere of expectancy that students will be directed by the Holy Spirit to make a personal response to the Word. Barna (2003) describes this attitude of obedience as one of the four foundational cornerstones in “transforming children into spiritual champions.” Willard (1998) refers to this as what it means to dwell in His Word--knowing what it is, what it means, and then putting it into practice. He sees this as “walking the individuals through actual cases in their own lives to give them experience-based understanding and assurance” (366). Put simply, do students know what they might do if they are to be obedient to God’s Word? In knowing what to do, the stage is set for later obedience and the resulting spiritual growth.
I remember well my own Bible teaching during my first years in the classroom. I taught according to what I define as the three-step method: acquire and repeat the facts; explain what the facts mean; and translate, whenever possible, the understandings into theological terms. This was actually quite boring for both the children and me. In my frustration God led me to a book called Creative Bible Teaching by Lawrence Richards. Richards (1998) presents lessons designed around five steps. Steps one through three were similar to what I was already doing, but step four was not only simple but filled with transforming potential. Students were to be led to a place where they determined what God was asking them to do as a result of the lesson. Children were to determine a response, or an “imagined plan,” in order to be made ready for later obedience (step five). Step five happened as a result of a shift in responsibility from the teacher to the student--each student could choose obedience. This could happen the next day or weeks later, but, regardless of the timing, it was this obedience that led to the student’s transformation.