Teach Versus Learn

Even a brief survey of the Sabbath School lesson material quickly shows that the literature focuses more on content than communication. Certainly the basis of a changed life is the truth contained in that content. But how that truth is communicated could have a great deal to do with whether truths will be learned and applied.

The Essential Paradigm Shift
Just as a coach has a vested interest in the success of his or her players, so the class facilitator-teacher has a vested interest in the understanding and application of the Bible lesson being taught. Biblical teaching cannot take place unless students learn. To put it another way, if they haven’t learned, the teacher hasn’t taught.

What does the Bible mean by “teach,” and what does it mean by “learn”? Does God separate teaching from learning? These two verses from Deuteronomy are very similar, but with a different focus: Deuteronomy 4:1 seems to focus on teaching, but Deuteronomy 5:1 seems to emphasize learning.

Are learning and teaching different or related? Perhaps they are at the far ends of a continuum, as traditional education has come to believe. If you compare “teach” and “learn” in the original Hebrew, you will find that the root Hebrew word means both to teach and to learn. In other words, you can’t separate teaching from learning—they are one. Therefore, what the teacher does and what the learner does are inextricably related.

Every excellent teacher I know shares the mind-set that the learning is his or her responsibility. I agree. Motivation is the teacher’s responsibility—not the student’s responsibility. A few teachers have argued that it is not their job to motivate the student. But God has described a teacher’s role in motivating as a significant factor when it comes to learning: “True education is not the forcing of instruction on an unready and unreceptive mind. The mental powers must be awakened, the interest aroused. For this, God’s method of teaching provided. He who created the mind and ordained its laws, provided for its development in accordance with them” ( Education, p. 41).

Mind-sets are the assumptions and expectations we have, not only for ourselves but also for others. One’s mind-set can even guide behavior. For example, if I’m of the mind-set that you could never understand the lesson, I’ll probably ignore your confused looks and your hand flying in the air. But if I have the mind-set that anyone can learn this lesson and your presence alone tells me you want to learn, then I will look into your eyes and see amazing possibilities.

And that, my friends, is what should be the attitude of every Sabbath School teacher who realizes that he or she is training God seekers and potential soul winners.

At the End of the Day
All teachers have a huge responsibility involving the role of learning—but especially Bible teachers.

Now, all that being said, no teacher is perfect. Admittedly, some class members are there for other reasons and perhaps couldn’t care less about the Sabbath School lesson. In fact, that person might not even listen to the carefully prepared lesson or notice the teacher turning cartwheels in an effort to gain that student’s attention.

That’s where the Holy Spirit—God’s perfect teacher—comes in. He covers a sincere teacher’s weaknesses. He opens a mind to understand biblical principles. And He alone can change a heart.

That’s why the mind-set of a master Sabbath School teacher should be to first become a student at the feet of Jesus, surrendering the lesson and the class to the Holy Spirit. Then their focus needs to be on both content and communication.

Eugene Brewer
© 2014 General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists