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Teachers Live the Faith

Faith Gives Us Spiritual Power
In God’s world, people are more important than facts or methods or curriculum. Who you are as a teacher is of primary importance. Your faith in God and love of all God’s people will have the greatest influence on students. This is true whether you teach children, youth, or adults. When asked, "Which commandment is the first of all?" Jesus answered, "The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’" (Mark 12:28-31a).

Take a brief inventory before exploring Teachers Live the Faith.
Read each statement; then circle the number that best describes your situation.
1 = Not at all; 2 = Somewhat; 3 = Mostly; 4 = Definitely

1 2 3 4 I know I have power in various ways and means, and I use this power wisely.

1 2 3 4 I live as a Christian disciple knowing I am an example to others in all aspects of my life.

1 2 3 4 I regularly follow through on what I say and do and recognize the effect when I do (or don’t).

1 2 3 4 I have good listening skills, and I listen to students in order to know what and how to teach.

1 2 3 4 I am aware of the power of touch and have had Safe Sanctuary training.

1 2 3 4 I have a regular discipline that deepens my faith life and I am comfortable using various means of grace.

The Power of Influence
The Power of Actions

The Power of Authority

The Power of Caring

The Power of Curriculum

The Power of Touch

The Power of Words

Practicing the Means of Grace

Jesus’ Great Commandment (Mark 12:28-31a) must inform all that teachers say and do. Jesus’ life shows us how to live this way. Jesus lived in a rhythm of prayerful attentiveness to God for guidance and alert awareness of the people and places he encountered in his life. Jesus lived in right relationship with God and people. His human life is a model for teaching that still influences people two thousand years later.

Many beginning teachers feel insecure about the knowledge and teaching skills they think they lack. While it is important for teachers to prepare by increasing knowledge, learning teaching skills, and planning, even beginning teachers must consider the great influence they have just by being in the teaching role. Teachers throughout history have been respected as influential leaders in communities and cultures. All who have the role of teacher have influential power.

The influence of role models is powerful and often occurs unconsciously. While our actions, both conscious and unconscious, may be based on our own experience, knowledge, culture, and even economic and social situation, we need to remember that God has given humans the ability to make choices about our words and actions. Our choices can add to or subtract from good in the world. Teachers need to think about the power they have and take seriously the responsibility to use their power thoughtfully and wisely.

Our United Methodist heritage provides a guideline for teachers in their relationships with students. Around 1739, John Wesley established the General Rules for all who met together to grow in faith. The first of the General Rules established by John Wesley is to do no harm. The second is to do good of every possible sort. The purpose of doing good is not to earn God’s approval. Rather, when we engage in acts of compassion, mercy, and justice, we allow God to be active in our lives. These actions become channels through which we can receive God’s love. Wesley referred to such channels as means of grace.

Dig Deeper: Personal Exercises
1. Think about a teacher who was significant in your life. In what ways did that teacher influence you? Write a short prayer asking God to help you use your power of influence in ways that honor God and respect the worth of each class member. Pray this prayer before each class.

2. Take a personal inventory about the areas in which you have influence, even if you do not want it or have not previously recognized it. How might failing to recognize your power of influence hurt you or your students? What can you do, in a spiritually healthy way, to heighten and take full advantage of your power of influence? What difference will it make?

For Further Study and Reflection
1. Look up the General Rules on pages 71–74 of The Book of Discipline of The UnitedMethodistChurch—2008. Reflect on the actions that do no harm to the spiritual, mental, emotional, and physical health of your students.

2. Take an inventory during the week on how well you follow the particular directions for the specific behaviors Wesley encourages (such as ministering "to the least of these," living with diligence and frugality, and practicing the means of grace) and that Wesley condemns (such as failing to observe the Sabbath, fighting, and self-indulgence).

Communication specialists tell us that the most powerful form of communication is our nonverbal actions. Powerful emotions like love, compassion, and hatred are communicated strongly through actions. We know how true this is with babies, with people who are ill, and with people whom society marginalizes. We often forget this power when we teach able-bodied people who seem similar to us. But our nonverbal response to our students has an impact on their lives and on the lives of any other "shadows"—those silent observers—who see us in action and who learn from what we do (for better or for ill).

People disregard or abuse this power when their words and actions do not match. When a teacher says, "I’ll call you this week," the teacher must make sure to follow through. Integrity means that a person’s words and actions match! A teacher who has integrity not only tells of God’s love but also acts in ways that make that love evident.

Church school teachers communicate a message of God’s love through their actions as they greet students, remember the missing students, follow up on the joys and concerns expressed by students, respond to hard questions, and handle classroom discipline.

Teachers must teach and model "holy habits," that is, ways of living that bring one ever closer to God and God’s creation. Teachers are not called to be perfect and without sin, but for their students they are role models of how to embody Christian living. Of course, the power of action extends beyond the classroom. As you are involved in mission and ministry outside the walls of the church, you create new opportunities for God to work in your life, and you model to your students that living the faith encompasses all of life.

Dig Deeper: Personal Exercises
1. Read Matthew 25:34-40 slowly, with attentiveness to your reaction to the words. When a particular word or phrase seems important to you, close your eyes and repeat that word or phrase quietly. Ask God to show you how you can live this Scripture today. At the end of the day read the Scripture again. Ask God to bring to your mind actions of your day that have been pleasing to God (the examen). Wait silently and expectantly. Then thank God for being with you during the day, and ask God to guide your actions tomorrow.

2. Do the daily examen by keeping a daily diary of opportunities seized and opportunities missed. Offer these opportunities to God with the prayer for clear vision to see God’s working in daily routine.

For Further Study and Reflection
1. Read Three Simple Rules, by Reuben Job (Abingdon, 2007) for a personal reflection on keeping the General Rules or Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations, by Robert Schnase (Abingdon, 2007) for further study on congregational practices that move from "doing no harm" to "doing good of every sort." Establish a daily practice based in the rules or practices.

2. Consider forming an accountable discipleship (covenant) group with other teachers or church leaders, using these resources.

Think back to your own experience as a child. Do you remember believing that whatever your teacher said had to be right, because the teacher had said it? The authority of the teacher is not limited to just teachers of children. Even if you have been a member of an adult class for years, when you assume the role of teacher your words are almost always respected as more authoritative.

As you accept the role of teacher in the church, you step into the role of all teachers before you. Our great teacher, Jesus forms people’s expectations and perceptions. You use your authority appropriately when you create a learning environment that is spiritually, emotionally, psychologically, and physically safe for each student.

For example, a preschool teacher who believes that people should not hit or bite one another uses words and actions to help students learn to verbalize their needs. The teacher knows the church’s policies related to discipline and has decided the consequence of hitting and biting before the class starts. If the teacher responds to a student who hits or bites by using a form of physical discipline, the teacher is abusing his or her authority! Students learn that one with more power and authority can use that power and authority to control smaller and weaker people.

Whether the rules for your class are formal or informal, whether they are set by you or by the class, you must be prepared to follow through with appropriate enforcement. Recall again the General Rule from John Wesley to do no harm. The abuse of authority can cause great harm. Think carefully about how you are using the authority that has been entrusted to you.

Dig Deeper: Personal Exercises
1. Meditate on Paul’s words to the Romans in chapters 12 and 13, especially in Romans 13:1: "There is no authority except from God." The role of teacher carries a certain authority, an authority that allows you to be listened to as soon as you start teaching. Teaching authority increases in one who humbly yet firmly loves and serves others, showing them how to live. Reflect on how you use your authority as a teacher. Who has been paying attention to that authority? Who might be observing whom you had not considered before?

2. Interview several other teachers or leaders in the church, asking about their understanding of their authority. Do they recognize that authority? Do they implement it well? What stumbling blocks or gifts do they have in common in the exercise of their authority?

For Further Study and Reflection
1. Search the Scriptures, using a Bible dictionary or topical concordance, for references to other biblical leaders, such as Moses, Deborah, Peter, Paul, and Priscilla. Do they have any characteristics in common as they exercised their authority? What faults or weaknesses might they have had to overcome to lead? What lessons do they teach you?

2. Read and discuss one of the books about spiritual leadership(browse for "spiritual leadership"). Use the questions for reflection for your own study or with a group of teachers or other leaders.

Caring is usually not demonstrated in a one-time, extraordinary manner. It is more often shown in the consistent small acts of compassion and concern that continually remind the people in your class that they are not alone. Sometimes what seems like an insignificant word or action provides the bit of grace that enables a person to envision a hopeful future. True caring does not try to force or control another; caring does not shame or bully a student, whether the student is two years old, or twelve, or thirty-five, or ninety.

A significant way you can care for the members of your class is to pray for them and to provide opportunities for class members to pray for one another. No matter what a person’s age, knowing that someone else is praying for him or her provides comfort and strength.

Listening attentively without interruption or formulating an immediate reply is one of the most respectful things we do to show our care. On the surface, listening appears to be a passive act; but in reality a good listener is highly involved in the communication process. As you listen to someone, you are not just listening for information. You are listening for the feelings, hopes, and dreams that the other person is revealing. You become a safe companion as the person explores new ideas or reevaluates previously held beliefs. Listening is a holy endeavor.

When you listen carefully to another person, you communicate that you value the person. This kind of deep listening conveys understanding so that the other is empowered to grow and learn. As a teacher, you have the opportunity not only to listen to the members of your class but also to help them listen to one another.

Keys to Listening

A. Listen not only for facts but for the feelings behind the facts.

B. Give the person speaking the gift of a nonjudgmental presence.

C. Don’t interrupt or jump in with a comment when the person pauses.

D. Avoid jumping to conclusions about how the person is feeling or what the person is thinking.

E. Look at the person as you listen to him or her. What the person is saying with his or her body language is as important as what he or she is saying with his or her voice. Listen with your eyes as well as your ears.

F. When listening to a child, move to the same physical level as the child. This may mean that you need to sit on the floor or kneel.

G. Don’t try to solve the problems of the person you are listening to. Your role is to listen, not to fix.

Caring also takes on a more tangible form. Members of a Sunday school class in an urban congregation receive a voluntary offering each week. Every few months, this gift is sent as a contribution to a different missional ministry. The class includes several persons who are among the working poor. When one of them had surgery, the class used a third of their aggregate offering to purchase a grocery store gift card for that member. Studying about caring for "the least" takes on power and authority only when group members actually do care for others.

Dig Deeper: Personal Exercises
1. Think about the class you teach. In what ways do you care for the members of your class? In what tangible and intangible ways do they care for one another? How does the class care for you?

2. Read Romans 14:13. Recall a time when you thought someone was not listening to you. How was this a stumbling block for you? Consider ways that lack of careful listening might be a stumbling block to a class member’s faith. What does this mean for how you will plan to teach? Invite other teachers or education leaders to review listening skills with you and to practice.

For Further Study and Reflection
1. Work with your class(es) and the church council to establish a caring ministry through your Sunday school and small groups in the community, such as taking turns at an area shelter or food pantry or working with an after school tutoring program.

Curriculum is sometimes described as the interaction of class members with the content of the faith, materials, resources, and one another. Age-appropriate printed curriculum resources geared to the interests of students provide the content for a well-rounded Christian education.

Part of the curriculum is the unspoken culture of a classroom. A warm, welcoming teaching space where all students are appreciated and valued is a powerful statement conveyed without words. This is a positive use of curriculum.

On the other hand, a classroom that has an unspoken rule that declares, "It is better to be nice than honest," creates an environment where people are not willing to risk asking tough questions. When spirituality is used to judge others, when words and actions in a classroom tear down one person in order to build another up, and when shame is used to get someone to agree, then spiritual abuse is occurring. Allowing an atmosphere in which such statements and feelings are part of the curriculum is a misuse of the power of curriculum.

Another part of the curriculum is the knowledge and experience of people in the group. A teacher with self-confidence to share the teaching role can invite others to bring their knowledge and experience to enhance the lesson. For example, a class member who has traveled to the Middle East can bring insight that illuminates the content of Bible passages. However, singular experience and specialized knowledge can be misused when it attempts to control people. For example, knowledge from a particular trip by one person can be presented with an air of superiority that discourages questions.

It is important for teachers to help students apply the content of each lesson to their daily lives. Finding meaning in life empowers people to share their faith with others and to learn more about faith and life.

Dig Deeper: Personal Exercises
1. Read Matthew 7:24-29. Students have some responsibility for applying the lesson; teachers have responsibility for presenting useful and appropriate lessons; but only God can transform lives. Reflect on the difference between hearing (or reading) the words of a lesson and having the lesson transform a student’s life.

2. Think about your personal learning / growing plan toward a very mature faith. Is there any system or rhythm to it? Do you have a plan or, for example, a personal rule of life (a defined set of standards that you set for yourself regarding your practice of spiritual disciplines, life goals, personal study, and so on)? If not, what would it take to make a plan that you will find compelling?

For Further Study and Reflection
1. Work with the other teachers and education leaders to explore your over-all curriculum plans. Are classes isolated, picking and choosing from a "menu" rather that taking a systematic approach with clear learning plans? Is there a flow to the Christian education and formation ministry that helps persons grow to mature faith, or are there recognized "stopping places," (such as "graduation" for post-confirmation youth or settling in with the now-60 year olds in the "young marrieds" class)?

2. Examine the curriculum you use or are likely to use. How would you describe the theology? the goals of the lesson? the flow of the lessons? the array of learning options? Will that help you and your class achieve your own learning goals? What time and effort are you willing to give to ensure that the curriculum is appropriately adapted to your group or class?

Human touch is important throughout the life span. Children need to be touched and hugged in appropriate ways to receive the nurture that allows them to trust and relate to others. Youth touch one another through horseplay and then in affection as they mature and take an interest in the opposite sex. Adults shake hands, embrace, place an arm around the shoulder, and use other physical means to show support and caring to others. Older people living alone or in nursing homes report deep longing for a loving touch and "someone who calls my name."

Teachers of children, youth, and adults must be aware of the power of touch—and the serious nature of abusing this power. Touching other people in appropriate ways contributes to their well-being and enhances learning. However, punitive and sexual touching can be emotionally, physically, and spiritually damaging to people.

Teachers need to think about the way we welcome, interact with, and say good-bye to students. A handshake is appropriate, but a pat on the arm (for an older person) or a pat on the head (for a child) can be either welcoming or demeaning. The recipient of your touch determines whether the touch is affirming or abusive, no matter what your intentions. It is wise to ask if a touch is ok before you do anything other than shake hands.

Dig Deeper: Personal Exercises
1. Read two stories of healing touch: Luke 8:43-48 (where a woman touched Jesus) and Luke 13:10-17 (where Jesus touched a woman). Reflect on the power of touch, on the controversy it created, and the conversation it generated. What do these two stories teach you about the power of touch?

2. Practice one or more of your spiritual disciplines using something you touch, such as a smooth stone, a small religious figurine, or prayer beads. After gaining some familiarity and comfort with the practice, does it help you focus more on that particular discipline? How does adding (or using) something with texture affect your disciplines?

For Further Study and Reflection
1. If you have not already done so, participate in theSafe Sanctuariestraining.

2. Consider working with other teachers, education leaders, and/or your church council to explore some form of healing touch ministry. This could be as simple as using anointing oil when you pray for a group member or go on to the introduction to the use of anointing/ touch in regular congregational prayer services.

The church has long known the power of words. When we pray the Lord’s Prayer or sing a hymn, we are doing more than simple recitation. What we say over and over again gets in our bones and our souls and influences what we believe and how we act.

Words can build up people or demean them. Teachers need to be aware of the power of words—both the words they speak and the words students speak in their class. Affirming words, sarcasm, friendly words, and teasing words each influence a life for good or destroy self-esteem. If we constantly criticize someone, that person will begin to believe that he or she is not a capable individual. If children are told they are fat, or dumb, or clumsy, they will have difficulty developing healthy self-esteem.

Humor, when used appropriately, can relieve tension and create a helpful environment for dealing with difficult topics or tasks. However, humor can also be used in a cruel manner. Jokes that belittle another group reinforce old stereotypes and contribute to an "us versus them" mentality. Teasing can be painful for the person being teased. Even if the person laughs and appears to be unaffected, that doesn’t mean that no harm has been done. As a teacher you have a responsibility to ensure that no members of your class are being teased by other members.

Dig Deeper: Personal Exercises
1. Ask yourself these questions as you think about what you and others say in your class.

  • Do I or other class members ever engage in put-downs?
  • Do I affirm class members when they offer an idea to a class?
  • What do the words I use to describe God say about my understanding of God? Is my language about God (and others) appropriately inclusive?"
  • Do I say things that may exclude some members of the class, for example, telling children to ask their mom something, when some children in the class may not live with their mother; or talking as if everyone in the adult class has a spouse, when some people in the class are single?
  • How skilled is my class at discussing differing points of view while still respecting individuals?
  • What spoken and unspoken agreements does the class have about what can or cannot be discussed?
  • Does my language indicate that everyone in the class is equally valuable? For example, do I ever suggest that quiet activities are more appropriate for girls and that boys should participate more actively?
  • What things are said regularly in the class that remind class members that they are beloved children of God?

2. Read John 1:1-3 slowly and meditatively. Scan Genesis 1. Reflect upon the power of words.

For Further Study and Reflection
1. Engage other groups or classes with you in a letter writing or email campaign to advocate for a cause in which you have interest.

2. Encourage your groups and classes to explore Beyond the Roll Book, a workshop model that prepares groups to share the faith with others (evangelism!) through the Christian education ministry.

In addition to doing no harm and doing good, there is one more General Rule. In Wesley’s day this was worded, "Attend to the ordinances of God." Like doing no harm and doing good, the ordinances of God are means of grace, or ways that God has provided for us to experience God’s grace. They include public worship, Bible study, Holy Communion, prayer, Christian conversation, and fasting or abstinence. These are examples of acts of piety or personal and corporate devotion.

In addition, John Wesley advocated acts of mercy, including but not limited to the acts of compassion mentioned in Matthew 25:31-46—feeding the hungry, visiting those who are sick or in prison, and so on. Wesley felt that both acts of piety and mercy were required for a balanced life. One practice without the other was empty and failed to give the proper glory to God.

One way to be intentional about living the faith is to participate in an accountability group such as a Covenant Discipleship Group. A Covenant Discipleship Group is a small group that develops a covenant or an agreement that describes what the members intend to do to grow as disciples. The covenant is based on the General Rule of Discipleship, a contemporary interpretation of the General Rules: "To witness to Jesus Christ in the world, and to follow his teaching through acts of compassion, justice, worship, and devotion, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit." Whether you become part of a Covenant Discipleship Group or find other ways to grow as a disciple, this statement provides an excellent guide for living out the faith.

Dig Deeper: Personal Exercises
1. Develop your own Rule of Life: a standard by which you choose to live that includes the habits and behaviors you find spiritually healthy, such as proper diet and exercise, daily Bible reading and prayer, and regular service to others. This Rule would be yours, and there are numerous ways to practice the classical spiritual disciplines. Prayer, for example, does not have to use any particular vocabulary, nor does it require any certain type of posture. You can pray by singing, when walking, by journaling, and so on.

2. Commit to try a spiritual practice that is presently unfamiliar to you. See the article:"Uniting Knowledge and Vital Piety" for suggestions.

For Further Study and Reflection
1. Check the website for The Upper Room for numerous resources for spiritual growth, such as theCompanions in Christ series. If you do not have a Companions group, work with the pastor or other congregational leaders to start one.

2. Consider gathering a small group of people who are willing to become a prayer cell within the UpperRoomLivingPrayerCenter. Or, organize that group for regular service opportunities of your choosing.

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