Flashcards or Word Problems? How do we disciple?

On facebook these days, there are a lot of pictures of people graduating from high school or college… many of them the children of my high school peers… (which is weird because mine is only 5! – that’s another blog) But it has gotten me thinking about my school days….and the teachers that I liked the most, and now I look back at how they taught, and what it means to educate someone… and then, I look at how we disciple people in the faith.

Do you remember flash cards? You know those things you used to memorize stuff – either math facts ( 2+2=4 or was it 5?) or definitions of words in your early years of school, and languages and formulas and such later on? I hated them – because if you showed you knew the stuff once, for months they still made you practice with them! The answers were easy, and I suppose it gave you a sense of accomplishment. But it was data – and you basically ended up as a computer printer – able to print out whatever was told to you to print out.

Probably because of my dad – I learned to love those things I have heard others dread – word problems. Driving around with my dad -he would ask practical things – like how many bags of cement would we need – to extend our stone wall, or make a planter. How fast he was going over the speed limit.. Or what Carl Yazkremski’s batting average would be if he went 2 for 5 against the Yankees But then I loved them in school. There was something practical that would develop from knowing at what time the two trains coming from point a to point b ( I always rewrote the question to assume they were on the same track!) But the difference in educational strategy is simple – one causes us to spit back the right answer – the other develops in us the ability to apply what we’ve learned…

In discipleship, while making people memorize things is good, we can’t leave it there, or we have created robots, not people in relationships with a loving God who wants to be part of their life, and share His life with them. Memorizing the creeds isn’t enough, if what they teach can only be spit back, but never taken to heart. Remembering what hymn # 347 is in the old hymnal, (and getting upset when the numbers are all changed in the new one!) isn’t beneficial, enless those words as well, pierce the heart and there is a deep connection to what they are saying. Sometimes that connection is sub-conscious – sometimes not… but it is good to think through them and see how they relate to our life.

Ultimately, “word problem” faith is the kind of faith that allows us to see how God sustains us, in the midst of things we cannot understand. It gives us the ability to see God’s word as more than just laws, but the way in which He has designed us to live, how to reach what Maslow called self-actualization, what the Army calls being “all you can be” (though neither really gets it) or what we call holiness – being set apart for a special relationship, to live in a special community, one that God has crafted for Himself, and His people.  It is the kind of life that finds joy in the midst of sorrow, grace and mercy in the midst of betrayal and sin, light in darkness, life in the face of death.  Far to often we reduce what God has commanded to “flash card” status, not realizing that what He has commanded (See Matthew 28), (better translated commissioned ) is Creation… and for us… our new birth, that He has created us anew.

The “Word” in the midst of the problems… which aren’t so big anymore….for we have the WORD (another of Jesus’s titles) present in our lives… always.. and we get that!

So this day, as you are going about, working with the Father, crafting disciples…..teach them to treasure, to guard that which God has commissioned…

About justifiedandsinner

I am a pastor of a Concordia Lutheran Church in Cerritos, California, where we rejoice in God’s saving us from our sin, and the unrighteousness of the world. It is all about His work, the gift of salvation given to all who trust in Jesus Christ, and what He has done that is revealed in Scripture. God deserves all the glory, honor and praise, for He has rescued and redeemed His people.

Posted on June 6, 2012, in Devotions and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. So, from the teacher viewpoint–so true! I think many people not only prefer spit-it-back answers in school, but also in life. However, neither one really has any practical value to true learning or discipleship. This is a great reminder that life is not about drills and paper/pencil tests, but applying what we’ve learned to God’s glory.

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