Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Fine Art of Teaching

Last week I was at the PGA store in Frisco, TX, killing time while my wife was out with some friends. I decided I would try hitting a 1-iron or a 3-hybrid - something that for me should end up driving the ball around 230. Besides, they had one of those neat computer screens set up where it would give you all the data about your swing.

Eventually a sales person came over and tried to sell me on the club I was using. This means trying to get me to hit it better. I was pushing the ball off the tee and then drawing back to where it would land maybe 3-6 yards right of center (which I was pleased with) - but it was giving a distance of only around 190-205. The fellow watched me swing, watched the data - and then he started making suggestions. He said "With your clubhead speed (which was measured and he could see) you should be hitting that further. Try this. Okay. . . try this." And I improved.

Now, I ended up not picking up the club -- he and I both though it was one on sale, and for some reason the store hadn't put that particular one on sale (no sale on steel shafts - how sad!) - but it was an interesting example - and one that a pastor, or indeed any kind of teacher, would be well to take note of.

There are always root causes for a problem. I was getting a lack of distance with the club. Was it because I wasn't swinging hard enough? No. . . part of it was where the ball was in my stance, part of it was where my hands were at during impact, part of it was my swing path which, being a draw, closed the club face, dropping elevation. To have me hit the ball further is a complicated thing - and the most simple idea (i.e. "Swing harder") wasn't the answer. The problem wasn't that I wasn't hitting the ball 230, the problem was a root in my swing.

When Scripture says that Pastors are to teach, it's not just given a list to memorize. A teacher trains his students, cause them to grow. And when there is something wrong - the fact that something is wrong isn't necessarily the problem - there is a cause behind it.

Take for example - open communion. If a person believes that communion should be open - that's not the problem - that's the end result of the problem. The question is why does this person think this? Is it a lack of understanding what the Sacrament is? Could be. Is it a matter of his child is now X and he doesn't want to upset the child, so therefore. . . ? That's a different issue. Does the person think, "We'll, if they've made a personal confession and they are okay with it - what should it matter to me"? That's another issue entirely. Simply saying "Open Communion is wrong and not in accordance with Scripture" doesn't fix, it doesn't solve - it doesn't teach. The problem is deeper than the surface error - and simply fixing the error won't fix it.

Pastors are trained to the same level, the same style of degree as both Lawyers and Doctors. There is a reason for this. A doctor is not expected to know just how to tend to a symptom, but also how to determine the root cause of a problem and establish a treatment for it. A lawyer is not supposed to know simply what the law says, but how it may or may not apply to similar situation and how to use the law properly.

Likewise the Pastor. We cannot simply treat the problem. IF they like silly praise songs - the problem isn't that they like praise songs - and you could stop all praise songs and make them sing Gerhardt till you were blue in the face - and it wouldn't teach anything. What's the problem behind?

And this is where being a pastor is difficult. You actually have to talk to people and guide them. And not only people - but a whole congregation of them. It is a difficult task. We aren't simply worried about whether the answer is right or wrong - but why the answer is given. We have to teach people how to think, how to be in God's Word - and that is a long, long process and a difficult task.

Of course, this we should know. From our own study of the Word we too should see how much more we need to learn and understand. Study ought bring about in us humility which allows us to teach patiently, diligently, by searching out the root of the problem and patiently teaching and correcting it.

Even if they don't end up buying our golf club in the end.

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