[rb_dropcap]Y[/rb_dropcap]esterday I taught my last class for my “Introduction to Christian Spirituality” course for Singapore Bible College. This is the fourth time I have run this course and I still have to pinch myself. When I first taught this course I was filling in for the teacher who normally taught it. He was not available and the school had to find someone in a hurry. When I was approached it was quite close to the start of term and I jokingly asked the school if I was the sixth choice. (The one who approached me was a friend.) No, he said, you were the third choice. I was privileged to be any choice at all. This is a compulsory course for all the School of Theology (English) and School of Counselling students. Once in a while I also get students from the School of Church Music. I get a chance to share with all these precious souls, ministers in training, how to nurture their walk with God. This is a very high calling. I know I am not qualified but it’s all about grace anyway and that is one of the key lessons of this course. Might as well have a lecturer that demonstrates this principle.
Every time I get to the end of the course, I feel there is so much more I could have taught. How to teach Christian spirituality in one semester? Can one actually teach Christian spirituality? But this is not my main frustration. God has been teaching these dear folks long before they came to this class and God will continue to teach them long after they leave the class. I no longer have any illusions about my place in the scheme of things. When I was younger I felt the pressure to teach all that I felt was important. This had two unfortunate results. Talks/lectures/sermons that were inordinately long, or I would end up speaking too fast. In both cases I lost the people. Nowadays I no longer feel the need to teach people all the material I have. For one thing, I can’t. There is too much to learn. For another, force-feeding rarely works, literally or metaphorically.
My greatest frustration is the impersonal nature of the classroom experience. I use small groups in my class. I take seriously questions and comments from the class. I have the whole class over to my place for dinner. (This is a gargantuan task now that the class has 50+ students. Bernice handles this virtually single-handedly, one more reason why I am in awe of her.) And in small groups, I see each member of the class at least once for lunch. But I am barely scratching the surface. Each soul is unique, each soul is special, and Christian education, if it is to be truly Christian, must be personal and relational. It must be a dialogue between what is, the Word of God, and the life of the student, and the teacher. Yes, I know that Jesus preached to the masses but He spent most of His time with twelve. He shaped those lives through on-going community. And seminary education should be closer to discipling than public teaching.
2 Timothy 3:10 is a key verse that guides my teaching. Here, Paul thinks he is going to die soon and wants his chief disciple, Timothy, to remember the important things he has taught him. Paul writes:
You, however, know all about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance . . . (2 Timothy 3:10 NIV)
Paul refers to his teaching but quickly goes on to talk about his way of life. The most important things of faith and life are taught through modelling and mentoring. No “content dumping” here. (When I see the word “dumping” other material come to mind.) Of course when one gets close to a teacher/discipler, one will see the strengths and weaknesses of the discipler. As a teacher I must be aware of my weaknesses and I know my students will see these early. I must show how I am dealing with my weaknesses and put them forth as “negative examples” in the meantime. Paul understood that he was the worst of sinners (1 Timothy 1:15). I know that I am “worster” than him. Follow my example as I follow the example of Christ, every teacher of the faith must say (1 Corinthians 11:1a).
I am fully aware that budgetary constraints means that seminaries must find creative ways to get more bang out of their bucks. Every theological school I know is struggling financially. This side of heaven we live daily with the tension between the ideal and the real. Still, I will not retreat from my conviction that Christian education must be personal and relational, and that must be our spirit at least, regardless of whatever constraints we may be under. And so, as I come to the end of another “Introduction to Christian Spirituality” course, I am deeply grateful, and frustrated. I entrust the class to the Lord, trusting that He will make up for the shortfalls of teacher and system.
Will I be teaching this course in 2013? God willing, God knows. These four years have already been a bonus.