78341239It was a short email. All it said was:

“Dear Soo-Inn, Thank you for walking with us.”

It was the subject of the email that made it special. It read:

“The Emmaus Road”.

The email came from one of the students in my preaching class. This was the first formal class I had taken in a long time. As always I struggled with how Christian teaching was to be different.

First, I felt that much of secular education was too individualistic. People may be grouped together in classes. But basically they functioned alone. At least in our part of the global woods.

But the Christian faith is a communal faith. We function as a team. Or as Paul would say, as different parts of a complex unity, like the different interdependent parts of a human body. I hoped and prayed that the class would gel into a community. At least for the duration of the course.

The members of the class were very different. They came from different denominations. Their life shaping experiences were incredibly diverse. Slowly, the class started to feel like a family. There were some tense moments here and there. But very early, there began to arise spontaneous acts of love and care, testimony to the maturity of the class members. I was glad.

Second, so much of secular education is incredibly competitive. There is the spoken or unspoken quest to be first in class. And if someone is first then someone else must be second, and someone else third, etc., down the pecking order. Classes soon assign people to their different roles. “She is the smartest. Her grades are always outstanding. He is not academic. I am sure that he will just scrape through and that is if the instructor is merciful.” Most classes are expressions of Darwinian competition that divide people into winners and losers. To score you must do better than others.

But the Christian faith speaks of complementation, not competition. We all have equal value going in because we are all children of God. No grade can add or take away from that dignity and worth. If we seek to do well it is an expression of our desire to maximize our God given potential. And a large part of “doing well” consists of helping my fellows do well. I knew that this class was going to be special when I saw the class members reaching out to encourage one another.

Third, education as it is normally done, has one expert, one guru who has knowledge and skills that the students do not have but desire to acquire. Education is therefore primarily unidirectional, with knowledge flowing from the teacher to the pupil.

But the Christian faith recognizes only one ultimate “expert” — Jesus Christ. As Jesus tells us in John 13:13:

“You call me Teacher and Lord — and you are right, for that is what I am.”

In the Christian faith, we are all students, all disciples. The Emmaus Road encounter (Luke 24: 13-35) gives us some clues for Christian pedagogy. Christian teacher and pupil (and in the end we are all pupils irrespective of our de jure titles) walk together in our shared humanity and need. And in walking together we provide the context for the Teacher to enter our lives and to teach us. For only He can set our hearts afire with His truth.

Instead of distancing himself from her students, the Christian teacher recognizes that she too is a pupil. Of course instruction has to take place. I am not saying that every Christian lecture become sharing time. I guess it is more an attitude of the heart. Instructor and students walk together in community with hearts open to what the Teacher has to say.

When I look at my class members I wonder how it could be otherwise. Each of the class members is so special. Each brings a wealth of life experience to the class. I know that by the time the course ends I would just have scratched the surface of the wonder that is each life on the class roll. We have so much to learn from each other.

I may have a little bit more technical knowledge about the intricacies of homiletics. But preaching is finally about life, not technique. What a waste it would be for us all if we were to ignore the feasts of life that the ‘students’ bring to the table.

It is fashionable for teachers to say that they receive more than they give. It also happens to be true. In the few months I have had this class I have been blessed many times over.

The email from the student was a bright light in one of the most stressful periods of my life. We had met on the Emmaus Road.

Your brother, Soo-Inn Tan