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Learning from Jesus, the Master

By: Betty Belue Haynes

Are He-Man and his heroes more real to your children than the True Master of the
Universe? Too often parents and teachers have to answer a revealing "Yes" to this
question. The appeal of fast-paced, colorful TV programs for children can make even a
real live giant killer pale in comparison.

Jesus' reminder, "The children of this world are for their own generation wiser than the
children of light," is plainly demonstrated by people who produce children's TV shows.
They carefully analyze their audiences to decide what "works." Surely we need to do the
same--we need to use whatever we know about children and how they learn. After all.
our goals are much higher than tempting them into the nearest toy store!

But, "Forewarned is forearmed." More specifically, Jesus Himself provides us a model as

the Master Teacher. His understanding of human nature and how to communicate ideas
effectively is wonderfully demonstrated in the teaching He did among men. All good
instructional strategies can be traced back to his methods in one form or another. Our
task, then, becomes one of adapting the general principles found in His example to our
teaching/learning tasks, both at home and in class.

One outstanding feature of Jesus* teaching is the importance he placed on the individual.
Surely if the Son of God thought it worthwhile to take time to teach a Nicodemus or a
Samaritan woman one-on-one, we can see that the number of children we have in our
charge-- one or twenty--does not really matter. And whether we are working with
children in our own family or teaching in a class setting, the principles apply.

Perhaps most basic to His approach was His "starting where people were"--in their
interests, in their knowledge of the subject and in every other way that is important to
learning. Jesus Himself might have lost his "teachable moment" with the Samaritan
woman if He had begun with a tirade against the Pharisee's pride instead of addressing
the subject that was on her mind right then.

And so our first task, too, is getting and holding the attention of children. Sometimes this
is dismissed as something beyond our control since most young children have short
attention spans. It's even possible to conclude prematurely that restless children are
hyperactive. But psychiatrist William Glasser points out otherwise. He suggests
observing children before the television set. If they can sit through a half-hour (or a
whole Saturday morning), of cartoons we have to admit the problem is not one of short
attention span: it becomes a problem of how to present material in a way will capture
their attention.
For a beginning, we know children are most interested in things concerning about them.
We see that God in His wisdom opens His revelation with an explanation of how that
world came to be, the origin of man and even an account of the beginning of our
problems. He then gradually develops an understanding of His eternal purpose through
descriptions of families similar to families today. So in our teaching, we will begin with
these things that have strong interest-appeal for children.

Another great motivator for children is the undivided attention of adults who are
important to them. Studies show the shockingly small segments of time devoted to
children by both mother and father during the course of day-to-day contacts. Children
will go to great lengths to please someone they love. Having that person take time to
show his own regard for the truths of the Bible and his desire to have the child come to
share his regard can be a powerful incentive to listen and learn. What begins as a desire to
please later becomes a desire to find out more--and make application to one's life.

We know children learn with all their senses through first-hand experiences. During
childhood they are developing a larger understanding, speaking and reading vocabulary.
They need to see, hear, feel, smell and/or touch the real thing whenever possible to relate
them to the new concepts they are
constantly meeting. Helen Keller's teacher demonstrated this principle very well--she had
Helen feel water at the same time she was introducing the word.

And Jesus referred often to his hearer's own experiences. e.g., calling to their minds
visual pictures
of the birds of the air, and the flowers of the field.

Again we see the value of Jesus' example. In his use of questioning, he did not merely
stress details as we so often do, but helped his hearers synthesize their leanings and arrive
at a more complete understanding for themselves. Thus the use of "Why?" and "How?"
questions are as important as the
"'Who", "What?", "When?", and "Where?"

Participation through questions, activities and other methods is also important for giving
adults feedback as to the child's level of interest, how much he is learning and seeing
where he needs additional help. If children are never given an opportunity to take part
spontaneously. how will we know what's going on in their minds?

We know children need repeated exposures to ideas for concepts to become part of their
body of knowledge. "Drill" gets boring--but the use of a variety of activities allows the
adult present the same ideas in several ways. Think of the different parables hat Jesus
used to teach similar truths--for example, in Luke 15. Games are especially good for this,
along with songs, pictures. role-playing. and other techniques mentioned. We should
never take for granted that a child has internalized an understanding just because he can
parrot it back to us after one hearing. Most children need several repetitions of the same
Children will need help in seeing the continuity and relationships so important for an
understanding of the Bible as a whole. Many times we concentrate on the topic at hand
and fail to make connections with what has gone before or what will come later. As a
result. children "know 'Bible stories" but do not have an overall view of the unity of Bible

Not only are visual aids such as timelines useful in helping children see the flow of Bible
History-when we begin new subjects, we can review the connecting links from past
discussions and lead them to anticipate "What will come next?' When we use games for
follow-up we can include questions that go back to pick up crucial threads of continuity
which are woven throughout the Bible.

The unity of Bible teaching about the nature of God, Christ, man, Satan, sin and law is
also fully appreciated only when seen within the entire context of the Scriptures. We all
come to understand the infinite power, wisdom. love, providence and mercy of God.
along with His just wrath. as we learn
about His dealings with man throughout the ages. And we can all know more about
ourselves as human beings as we see how others have reacted to situations like those in
our own lives.

In His frequent admonition "Take Heed how you hear", Jesus stressed the importance of
his disciples making application for their own lives. And He usually ended a session by
helping his hearers draw conclusions about implications for themselves personally. A
"Bible story" about something that
happened to someone else in another time and place may be entertaining. But it has little
permanent meaning unless insight into one's own experiences is encouraged.

Finally, we see Jesus, the Master Teacher cared deeply about each person he taught. His
contact with the rich young ruler in Mark 10:21 was apparently limited to the exchange
described. Yet we are told that when Jesus looked at him, he had feeling of love and

Children sense whether or not we are truly concerned for their welfare. Surely our hearts
will be touched when we consider the years before them. That realization will help us
accept their normal immaturity in order to accomplish our goals. What can be more
sobering than an opportunity to equip them for the challenges ahead? After all, we know
we are not teaching for time only-we are teaching for eternity as well.

Yes, we are equipped for this good work of teaching children by Jesus' wonderful
example. We need to study that example carefully, looking for ways to better emulate It
In our own teaching. Then, enlisting the help of our Heavenly Father through prayer, we
can approach our task with confidence that His Word will accomplish the purpose for
which He gave it.