Parents say strange things. “Keep your arms and legs to yourself”. “Stop punching your sister in the head with that staple gun,” “If you’d done as you were told and sat still, you’d never have fallen into that tank of piranhas.”
Stranger still, when you become a parent and these self-same phrases that induced massive fits of eye-rolling and sighing when you were a child, just fall from your lips like nonsensical pearls.
I used to notice that I dropped my ‘mommy’ tone of voice after being away from the kids for a while and with adults. Now I don’t even notice the ‘mommy’ tone of voice. For all I know I’m taking advertising briefs from my clients then instructing them to put the lids back on their pens, and asking if they need the bathroom. I fear this is the beginning of the end.
“Some people find it reassuring to know the right answer.”
Some people are naturally didactic. Teachery. They have a mommy voice whether they are a 6.7ft tall weight-lifter with a bushy beard or a 12 year old gymnast who scrapbooks about Persian cats. They like to be right, and often they are.
Some people find it reassuring to know the right answer. I can understand the appeal of subjects where there are actually answers. The satisfaction a book keeper must feel when all the columns add up, and every penny is accounted for. Everything’s in its right place and all is well with the world.
Me? I’m drawn to subjective subjects where the right answers are debatable. I love a good mystery; the unknown is what gets my brain-cells jiggling. Possibility, options, creativity; I find life in the gaps between facts and figures.
What’s the point of Bible teaching?
Historically the evangelical church has been very teachery indeed. It has made us sit straight, remember all the right answers (it’s always ‘Jesus’) and eat every last one of our peas. It has not been very comfortable with the mystery of God. It’s all been from the very best of intentions of course – to keep the kids from doing something stupid that might get them killed. And to this end, a lot of church teaching has been like this:
Mom: Don’t jam that wet coat hanger into the electrical socket!
Kid: (continues to jam coat hanger into electrical socket) Why?
Mom: It’s dangerous! STOP!
Kid: (still doing it) Why is it dangerous?
Mom: Because of electricity and water and metal…and STOP THAT RIGHT NOW.
Kid: (still doing it) What is electricity, anyway? Why can’t you put water into it?
Mom: BECAUSE I SAID SO. Don’t talk back to me. Give me that coat hanger. Go brush your teeth, sit up straight, keep your hands and legs to yourself, eat your peas. Go to your bedroom. GRRRRRR.
The upside of this style of teaching is that the kid is still alive at the end of it. (Good one.) The downside is that no real understanding has been imparted other than “I mustn’t do this.” Curiosity has been quashed and no real answers given to an inquisitive mind. Has the church been like this and taught that it’s dangerous to ask ‘why’?
What’s the point of teaching? It’s more than learning facts and figures like a parrot, isn’t it?
Isn’t the point of it to inspire and nurture curiosity, to cause us to question, and to think for ourselves?
Look, we have molars!
Just take a look at the Bible. There are some suitably didactic passages of ‘Do this and Don’t do that’. But there are huge swathes of the Bible that are dreams and stories and frankly just plainly mysterious. Song of songs, Revelation – the books that make you go ‘huh’? That’s not a flaw in the Bible. Some teachery types like to explain everything or draw an embarrassed veil over the bits that make no sense. But that’s the mystery, that’s the fun, that’s God playing Hide and Seek; sticking his foot out from behind the curtain so that we’ll go and find him.
When we teach grown-ups exactly what to think, we are treating them like small children. That kind of teaching is milk and not meat because we don’t trust the congregation to chew. Look, we have molars! We can eat kangaroo steak, so let us ponder and consider and come to our own conclusions. Mystery makes us engage with the Holy Spirit. All the right answers, just fill up our notebooks and make us self-righteous.
“I think asking ‘why?’ is good”
Of course there are absolute truths and absolutely, we need to teach them. But the question is when and to whom? To babies and toddlers in the faith. Let’s think about who we’re usually talking to on a Sunday morning. The kings and queens of the kingdom are meant to be equipped and inspired to rule through relationship with the Holy Spirit, not noting down another fascinating fact about whales from the story of Jonah.
Scripture is vital. But why? If the goal of everything God does is to draw us into deeper relationship with himself – is that how we are approaching scripture? Are we being taught how to meet with the Living God in the pages of the Bible – I mean actually, tangibly, life-changingly encounter him? If a teaching session leaves you wanting to go and engage with God more, if it increases your appetite for him, if you’ve met with him and been transformed, I’d say that’s the true ministry of teaching in evidence.
I believe we need to ask why we do what we do a lot more. Why do we have teaching as the main bulk of a church meeting? What subjects are we teaching and why? I think asking ‘why?’ is good, even if the results – like sticking a coat hanger in a socket – can be a little shocking.
But, more importantly, what do you think? And why?