Thursday, July 3, 2008

Shining Eyes

My friend Tara linked to a couple of interesting videos today. One of them was a guy who did some very cool stuff with a Wii remote control. But the other video was the one that really got me thinking.

In this video, a guy, Benjamin Zander, talks about classical music. His thought is that, although not everyone is a fan of classical music, everyone can appreciate it. The trick is to get people to understand what it is that they're listening to. Appreciation comes when the listener can experience what it is that the composer is trying to do with his music. He illustrates this by walking the audience through a piece by Chopin, helping them to not concentrate on the individual notes, but on the journey as a whole from the first note to the last. And he does a great job of it. Check it out (kind of a longer video, roughly 20 minutes or so, so grab some popcorn...)

Now here's the part that got me thinking...While watching the video, I kept thinking about how this presentation could easily be applied to the Bible. As a Sunday School teacher, I have been frustrated by the various curriculums that are out there. I have found that they just take tiny pieces and parts of Scripture and form them into a lesson about some sort of moral issue. Maybe it's helping others or obeying your parents or remembering to pray.

Here's an example from last week. I'm not teaching my normal class over the summer (I'll resume in the Fall). Instead, they're doing a video based curriculum that focuses on missions. The lesson last week was about helping your friends. It told the story from Luke 5 about when Jesus heals the paralytic. The point of the story (according to the lesson) was that the paralytic's friends helped him to see Jesus. They brought him to the house and lowered him down the roof. So we should be like the paralytic's friends and help people who are sick.

This lesson bothered me for a few reasons. First of all, there was very little Bible related material in the lesson. I felt that, with a little modification (or perhaps none), this same lesson could have been taught at some non-Christian churches and would have still fit in. Second, helping out sick people is fine, but I don't see how watching this video is going to make any of these kids more likely to help out sick people than if they had not seen the video. But most importantly, at the end of the lesson, the kids have really not learned anything about the Bible.

My goals as a Sunday School teacher is to help kids learn about the Bible, to share God's love with them, and to help them develop their relationship with Christ. When I teach a Bible story, I want the kids to really learn the Bible story! I want them to know why this story was SO important, that God felt it was necessary to put it in His Word. It seems like many Sunday School lessons teach the Bible as a collection of stories or as a rulebook for life. The emphasis is put on the various characters in the Bible. Be like Joseph because he forgave his brothers! Be like Noah because he listened to God! Be like the paralytic's friends because they helped their sick buddy!

But the Bible is not a story about these people. It's a book about God! It's a story of God's love for us and His plan of salvation! And focusing on the details that may or may not be that important makes us miss the big picture of what the Bible is all about. Just as Mr. Zander helps his audience to understand Chopin from the first note to the last, I want to be able to help kids understand the Bible as a whole from beginning to end. Just as Mr. Zander explains the context of the various notes in relationship to the whole composition, I want to be able to help kids understand the place of the various Bible stories in relation to Christ's redeeming work on the Cross.

But this is all stuff that I've thought of before. The interesting part came near the end of the video when he talks about how he knows if he's doing his job or not. He says that his job is to 'awaken possibility in other people'. And the way that he tells if he's doing this or not is to look into their eyes. If their eyes are shining, then he's doing his job. If they're not shining, then he needs to figure out why.

I realized that this is what my focus in Sunday School needs to be. It's important to help the kids learn about Scripture. But I want to be help kids develop an appreciation for Scripture. I want to be able to help kids develop an appreciation for God's great love for them. I want to be able to help kids to understand that the Bible is more than a storybook or a rulebook. And most importantly, I want to help them develop a desire to learn more about God and His Word.

And do you know how I'm going to go about doing this? No? Me neither!

Well, I have a little idea. I need to think of ways that make the Bible really accessible to kids. To be able to take their experiences with family and friends and school and sports and whatever and use them to somehow relate to the things that God is sharing with us in His Word. To take things from their lives that will bring about that 'Ah-a!' moment where their eyes will start shining.

Now I'm not saying that I'm expecting to have a class full of joyful, Spirit-filled, shining-eyed kids just because of what I'm teaching. I'm just saying that I think that my kids will have a better chance to appreciate the Bible if I'm able to present its true meaning in a simple, yet complete way that's meaningful to them. I'm hoping that by helping them to really understand what the Bible is all about and by helping them find ways that they can experience God's love, they'll have a nice foundation for exploring their faith as they grow up and develop.

I'm not sure what that's going to look like or how much work it's going to take, but I've got most of the summer left to think, study, and pray about it.


Tara said...

Wow....and amen! That is beautiful and amazing and convicting. Thank you so much for sharing that!

Petty said...

Your post is interesting and it touches on the key matter of communicating the Gospel in any culture. This matter is one of values and the problem we face (as every culture does) is that our society does not value the things God values most.

The teacher you mention conveys the value of a piece of music (or works to instill an appreciation for it in others) by getting them to look at the music as the composer did. The Bible, from start to finish, is trying to do that. It shows the story of man's relationship with God from God's perspective. In seeing that, we can find what God values.

The goal of a minister or teacher of the Bible, then is to help his or her students understand the value of those things too. It's very hard to do in our society because we usually get one to three hours a week with each other. The rest of the time the members of our churches, largely through the media, are buried in powerful messages that push the culture's opposing values.

From what I see in churches I've visited is that we rarely ever address this directly. Some churches ignore this important front completely. They are mostly stagnant.

Others try to slip the Gospel in along with things the culture does value. The example you gave about friendship illustrates this well. We can agree with our culture that friendship is important, so along with it we try to put in some Jesus. I see my own congregation falling into this trap as they've changed over to a "seeker friendly" format in our Sunday services. The end result might be a growing church in terms of numbers, but leaders deal with lack of commitment. There's little depth. What generally happens is people get their eternal life in order, so they believe, and while they're here they get on with chasing the same things everyone else chases after.

Ultimately, when our world keeps telling us, "Get more for yourself" and Jesus said, "He who loses his life for my sake will find it" we are completely at odds with the world at the fundamental level. The church that takes this matter seriously and addresses it in creative ways will be filled with Christians who are alive and making a difference. How do we do this? I don't have any answers at this point. I'm just encouraged to hear of people like yourself that are on the right track and seeking God for guidance.

BigKat said...

Thanks Mike. Your point about not having a limited timeframe is a good one. I think it would be nice if Children's Ministry and Adult Ministry could have some coordinated overlap in a dedicated Family Ministry. Where both parents and kids could get really excited about something they learned at church, and work together to explore it during the week. I would really like to see the parents at our church taking a larger role in the spiritual development of their kids. I don't know how similar our congregation is to others, but for us, this is an area that definitely could use some help.