Incarnational Teaching

Incarnational Teaching

Incarnational Teaching.

In the beginning was the Word… And the Word became flesh and pitched His tent with us… Full of grace and truth.  (from John 1).

Is there a better model for Christ-centered teachers than the Incarnation? Let’s think about this… Master teacher Jesus could have chosen any method whatsoever to communicate the truth with the human race. He decided not to remain abstract, mechanical, untouchable, distant or virtual. Instead, He became personal and relational, establishing His real presence. The living Word offered His life as the visual aid, literally fleshing out the truths He wanted to reveal. And he didn’t seem to teach by mere numbers, measurements and averages. He didn’t depend on numerical rubrics to gauge His success as a teacher, but by such personal qualities as wisdom, understanding and love in the students’ lives.

The implications of incarnational teaching are enormous. Teachers will not depend on machines to communicate or to do their thinking for them. Students will learn and grow in direct proportion to how the teacher is learning and growing. Students will be inspired in a permanent, meaningful way to the extent that they enjoy a relationship with a teacher that is defined by love and respect. Students are more likely to be attracted to the Faith when the believing teacher somehow makes the Faith winsome and attractive. In other words, teaching is a mind-renewing labor of love, and unless the students literally see and experience it, they won’t get it deeply or meaningfully. Seeing is believing, and experiencing is learning.

For the students’ sake, incarnational teachers:

  1. Flesh Out a Love for Jesus. A teacher’s daily life at school provides the students with a glimpse not of perfection but of… a growing, passionate walk with Christ; a creative integration of Biblical knowledge and gospel values with every area of life and study; a balanced sense of the Faith’s countercultural priorities in education and lifestyle. “The educator should go through all the degrees of Christian maturity in order to know how to behave in the midst of action, to be capable of noticing which way the students are going, and then to act upon them with patience, successfully, powerfully, and fruitfully. This (the teachers) should be a group of the most pure, God-chosen, and holy people. Of all holy works, the education of children is the most holy.” (Theophan, 19th c. Orthodox monk)
  2. Flesh Out a Love for Young People. Teachers have chosen relationship as the key vehicle for learning. Important questions that teachers need to answer truthfully: Do I actually love students? Do I like and appreciate young people in general, and these students in particular?  “Although learning precepts was part of the instruction, what counted for more was the example of the master and bonds of friendship formed with the disciple. This friendship is piercing and penetrating, an affable and affectionate disposition displayed in the teacher’s words and his association with us. The master had first to know and love his disciples before he could cultivate their souls, and, like a skilled husbandman, bring forth fruit from an uncultivated field. To correct, reprove, exhort, and encourage his students, the master had to know their habits, attitudes and desires. His love for his disciples was part of the process of formation.” (Robert Louis Wilken, The Spirit of Early Christian Thought).
  3. Flesh Out a Love for Learning. Teachers provide a flesh-and-blood example and picture of the kind of student which is desired in the school. “Teachers are practitioners of the art of learning. The classroom is no place for teachers who are afraid of change, who are unwilling to experiment, to grow, to teach beyond themselves and their lecture notes and textbooks. Only a school that encourages teachers to be always learning will keep its teachers fresh and fearless and its students happy and motivated in their studies, ready to test their lessons against life.” (David Hicks, Norms and Nobility)
  4. Flesh Out a Love for Community. A Christian school is a Christ-centered fellowship of interdependent learners who develop an academic life in common. It is not individualistic, but instead a group of learners growing in grace and truth, dedicated to each other for the common good and a unified goal. Teachers live out this truth daily with students and colleagues. “We are inescapably communal creatures. We are made in the image of a Trinitarian, communal God. We live and have our being in community.” (Rodney Clapp, A Peculiar People). “All of us together are smarter than any of us alone. A community of truth has pedagogical power because it allows students to do their learning together. Though we persist in believing that competition is the best way to motivate people to learn, students are far more motivated by the fact that their individual learning enables them to contribute to the communal inquiry.” (Parker Palmer, The Courage to Teach).

Two more thoughts about incarnational teaching:

“The greatest thing any person can do for another is to confirm the deepest thing in him or her – to take the time and have the discernment to see what is most deeply there inside, most fully that person, and then confirm it by recognizing and encouraging it… When the student’s confidence has been won, his resistance against being educated gives way to a singular happening: he accepts the educator as a person. He feels he may trust this educator, that this person is not making a business out of him but is taking part in his life, accepting him before desiring to influence him. Confidence, of course, is not won by the strenuous endeavor to win it, but by direct and ingenuous participation in the life of the people one is dealing with… It is not the educational intention, but it is the personal meeting itself which is educationally fruitful.” (Martin Buber, Between Man and Man).

“There was a fullness of time at which Christ could come in the flesh (Galatians 4:4), and there is likewise a fullness of time for his people to stand forth with the concrete style of existence for which the world has hungered in its thoughtful moments and praised through its poets and prophets. As a response to this world’s problems, the Gospel of the Kingdom will never make sense except as it is incarnated – we say fleshed out – in ordinary human beings in all ordinary conditions of human life. But it will make sense when janitors and storekeepers, carpenters and secretaries, businessmen and university professors, bankers and government officials brim with the degree of holiness and power formerly thought appropriate only to apostles and martyrs. Its truth will illumine the earth when disciplined discipleship to Jesus is recognized as a condition of professional competence in all the areas of life, since from that alone comes strength to live and work as we ought.” (Dallas Willard, The Spirit of the Disciplines).

One Reply to “Incarnational Teaching”

  1. “The classroom is no place for teachers who are afraid of change, who are unwilling to experiment, to grow, to teach beyond themselves and their lecture notes and textbooks. ” Such truth in that one sentence! The greatest teachers are those who take risks and go off “lesson plan” when needed!

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