Touch the Heart

The elderly, sun-weathered man didn’t look like the typical attendee at a Bible class seminar. But there he was. And the program coordinator was trying to figure out why he was there. He never said a word. He just sat. When the seminar was over, he still just sat. Finally, everyone had gone except the program coordinator and the old gentleman. Slowly he got up, walked over to her, pointed his boney finger in her face and said, “Teacher! Iffen somebody’d tol’ me when I was a kid that God made my mind right, I’ da’ done something for my Jesus.”

Years before, someone—perhaps a teacher or his bad grades—had given him the belief that he had limited potential. All these years he had allowed that belief to guide his actions and now, far too late, he realized that he had wasted precious time.

The old gentleman is not alone in the world. His story is representative of millions of adults who are illiterate, not having the ability to use reading, speaking, writing, and computational skills in everyday life situations. God has given Sabbath School facilitators-teachers the opportunity to reach many of these people. Ellen White wrote: “In the common walks of life there is many a man patiently treading the round of daily toil, unconscious that he possesses powers which, if called into action, would raise him to an equality with the world’s most honored men. The touch of a skillful hand is needed to arouse those dormant faculties” ( The Desire of Ages, p. 250).

Your Skillful Hands

The touch of a skillful hand is the work of the Sabbath School facilitator. But how does a Sabbath School facilitator have the touch of a skillful hand? It begins with understanding how to change the emphasis from teaching to learning—there is a big difference! Understanding how to teach less so those taught will learn more. Understanding how to create learning environments that result in changed lives. Understanding that God did not make all minds alike, but that He made all minds correctly. 

“There are very few who realize the most essential wants of the mind and how to direct the developing intellect” (Testimonies, vol. 3, p. 131). When class facilitators understand that all minds do not think alike and then adjust their facilitating to various learning styles, students will learn.

Neuroscience is helping us understand that learning is the interactions of the biological brain with our senses and the physical world. Thinking and learning are the result of a biological process. Now that we know that learning actually alters the brain by changing the number and strength of synapses, we need to rethink our teaching practices. This knowledge is especially powerful in influencing how we teach the illiterate adult.

Adults have special needs and requirements as learners compared with children and adolescents. Thus Sabbath School facilitators should know how adults can learn best because of their special characteristics. Here are some differences:

  • Adults are mostly self-directed learners.
  • Adults want to be in control of their learning experiences.
  • Adults need to develop their own understanding and information, making it more useful.
  • Adults use previous knowledge to create understandings.
  • Adults don’t want to be lectured to, but rather prefer problem-solving situations.
  • Adults want to learn about relevant topics.

We build our personal understandings and knowledge about the world around us based upon our reflections and experiences. We combine new information with previous knowledge, then either alter our current beliefs or disregard the new information. This, then, defines learning as using personal understandings to accommodate new experiences.

For Sabbath School facilitators-teachers to be successful with illiterate adult learners, they must realize that knowing the subject matter is not good enough. Facilitators-teachers must know how to enable the learner to learn the subject matter and live it. Our knowledge serves no good if it does not affect the lives of the people among whom God has placed us. We must learn from the Master Teacher, Jesus, about how to help people genuinely learn. Jesus created the mind, ordained its laws, and provided for its development.

Eugene Brewer
© 2014 General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists