Saturday, June 23, 2007

Disciple Making

In my last post, I spoke of the privilege I’ve had to teach my daughter how to teach. Teaching doesn’t always occur in the classroom. Nor does it happen in the framework of a structured prepared lesson. Sometimes the best moments of teaching happen sitting cross-legged on Mom’s bed, working together in the garden, or riding for miles in the car.

One of my greatest teachers is my Aunt Katherine. Over the years, Aunt Katherine has taught me invaluable lessons. Some of those lessons have come through wonderful talks doing the everyday stuff of life. I remember fondly the times I spent at her trailer in Southern Arizona, the hikes we took through the mountains or the year she lived with my family. She’s the one who broadened my horizons about missions and evangelism, who taught me about life in the church, the confidence we can have in the Bible as God’s infallible word. She has helped me sift through misleading doctrines and understand what the Bible really means about key issues of our faith.

I also learned a lot from Aunt Katherine through watching her example, I learned to accept people as they are and to treat people equally. I learned how to show compassion as I saw her reach out to broken hearted woman who had taken one too many blows from the world.

Finally I’ve learned through working and playing together. Aunt Katherine’s natural enthusiasm invites people to share the journey with her. I’ve gone with her to missionary conventions, different churches and women’s retreats. She’s one who’s willing to roll up her sleeves and get a job done. She has a “can-do” spirit that melts away obstacles and tensions from other workers. I fondly remember how she came to visit my husband and I after our new home suffered damage from a hurricane force wind. She surveyed the damage and said, “I think we can take care of this” and off she and my husband went to Lowe’s to buy the necessary lumber. When she would join my childhood family for family games, I learned how to handle the difficult attitudes of other players.

I’m forty six years old and Aunt Katherine is still teaching me. In March of next year, I’m going with her on my first overseas missions trip. We’ll spend two weeks in Austria at a bible leadership training college. Our job will be to cook and serve meals to pastors and lay leaders who come for bible college level teaching. These pastors come from a number of the surrounding Slavic countries. What a joy it will be for them to devote themselves to their studies, not having to worry about the preparation of their own meals or the daily care of their rooms. A team of people from the United States will serve like a hotel staff to take care of those needs for them.

This is no glamour trip. There won’t be time to sightsee all the wonderful sights of Austria and surrounding charms of Europe. We’re going there to serve, to do the work of servants. Once more, Aunt Katherine will teach me and lead me in something she’s already participated in. She’ll teach me how to have the heart of a servant and how to emotionally and spiritually prepare for such a trip. I can hardly wait!

Jesus told the twelve apostles to “Go and make disciples (Matthew 28:18-20).” The Greek word for “Go” is not an imperative in that sentence; it should be translated, “As you go.” As Aunt Katherine has traveled the journey of her life, she has been making disciples – me – and so many others. That’s truly the essence of teaching.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Teach To Teach

My daughter is teaching preschool worship this month at our church. I have to admit, she was a last ditch effort recruit. Out of the blue, one of our teachers quit without even letting the other teachers or coordinators know. So, since my daughter is home from college on summer leave and was pining for something to do, she got recruited until we could catch our breath.

She’s taught before. During her junior and senior years of high school, she rotated with two other ladies in the Primary Sunday School class. But preschoolers are a new group for her, one with which she isn’t totally comfortable. However, she’s doing a great job.

This week, her lesson was on Ruth and Naomi, how Ruth was kind to Naomi. With her eyes crinkling into her characteristic smile, she told me, “I still remember when you taught that lesson. It was the first time I had even seen barley.” I had bought barley to show my class the grain Ruth gleaned. Later that week, I used the leftover barley to make barley soup for my family.

“Do I need to stick with barley?” she asked, “And what can I use for a healthy snack this week that would tie to the lesson?” We talked about how preschoolers wouldn’t catch the significance of barley – they wouldn’t care if it was barley or Cheerios. The focus of the lesson was Ruth picked up grain so she and Naomi could stay alive. Katherine decided she would spread a large clean sheet on the ground and sprinkle it with Cheerios, letting the kids pick up the Cheerios and put in their own paper cup for their snack, all the while telling the story of how Ruth picked up grain for Naomi.

Saturday morning, my girls joined me sitting crosslegged on my bed, with the dog in between us for a girl powwow. Katherine said, “I’m still not happy with my lesson.” She got her book, asked me how to handle certain activities considering the age and personalities of certain kids, and how she should organize the lesson. Actually, she did most of the talking, coming to conclusions on her own with just a little input from me on how kids that age would respond. Finally, she said, “I know what I could do! As the kids are picking up Cheerios, I could encourage them to leave some Cheerios for the poor people, just like they did in Bible times.” Now, even as a long time curriculum writer, I had not thought of that one. That is a good idea.

I was about to bust! My mother taught me how to teach; now I had the privilege of teaching my daughter how to teach. We were fulfilling 2 Timothy 2:2 which tells us to teach faithful men who will be able to teach others also. As teachers, we teach not just to enable our students to learn; we want to teach them so well, that some day, they will replace us as teachers.

Thursday, June 14, 2007


When I first began to teach, I was so uptight. My greatest fear, I explained to others, was knowing how to discipline the children. The truth was, I was afraid of losing control.

A Sunday School teacher has limits on what discipline to use. We can’t spank. We’re afraid to speak too firmly to kids because they may never come back again. We certainly can’t deny them snack. (Oh, horrors!) Yet, if we’re too lenient, one child can disrupt an entire class and keep a teacher from imparting God’s precious Word to these little ones. What’s a teacher to do?

However, no one told me of this delicate balance. I just wanted kids to sit primly and properly at my table and listen to my words of wisdom as directed in my teacher’s book. With three rowdy boys in my Sunday School class of first and second graders, that was a dream gone by the wayside.

My mentor/mother loaned me the book, “Logical Consequences” by Rudolph Dreikurs (an excellent book, by the way) and taught me about time-outs. With renewed vigor, I went fortified to my next class with my new enlightenment on containing children. With the first sign of inattentiveness, I zapped one boy in the corner. Someone else did some seemingly horrible violation; he was relegated to Corner #2. My third rowdy boy dared to cross the line of my strict expectations and trudged, head down, to Corner #3. (Boys, I still remember your names. If you happen upon this blog and have suffered lifelong emotional trauma because your Sunday School teacher put you in the corner for something stupid like grabbing your tablemate’s scissors, please, oh please forgive me! I was so new in this teaching thing!)

“I’ve got one corner left,” I declared to the two remaining girls, “Who is going to be next?” You can only begin to imagine the not-so-peaceful silence that fell upon that room. One little girl, eyes round with awe and fear, told her parents the whole incredible story on the way home from church. “I’m not sure what we did, but Miss Karen sure was mad.” The parents laughed. (I remember your name too. I hope your parents’ laughter diffused the emotional blow to your self image.)

Today, I cringe when I think back on that day. I can’t believe I did that. I can’t believe any Sunday School superintendent in their right mind would ever let someone who was grouchier then a person with tight underwear continue teaching. I can’t believe that I didn’t just quit and vow never to teach again when I realized how petty I was.

Most adults don’t parade their mistakes on blog sites. Yet all of us have had moments of failure. All of us have made mistakes, mistakes that sometimes hurt others. When we realize the depths of our failure, we have a choice. We can quit and decide we’re just not cut out for that job. We can allow our remorse to deter our future efforts. Or we can learn from our mistakes and try again.

I still occasionally put children in corners, but please believe me, my tactics are a lot different. The time out is tempered with love and affirmation. The time out has become a last resort instead of a first resort from an easily frustrated teacher. Part of my problem in those early days was that I didn’t have enough for the children to do. I’ve learned that bored children are rowdy children. I’ve learned to turn inattentive children into interactive children.

The greatest failure is the failure to learn. We have the choice. We can fail to learn – or we can learn from our failures. Only when we are humble enough to learn from our failures will we become successful teachers.

Friday, June 08, 2007


Over the last few days, my daughters and I have worked on research about our rural region in Ohio for a book project I’m working on. Together, we have visited historical sites, gathered information and conducted interviews. I ask the questions, one daughter takes notes, and the other runs the camera. It’s been a wonderful shared experience.

When we got home yesterday from a particularly delightful interview of a couple in their 80’s, we debriefed over root beer floats as we sat in our white wicker furniture in our sun porch. My older daughter sighed as she reminisced about the childhood experience of Don and Mary. “I really hope I have as good a life as they had. It would be cool to do some of the things they did as kids,” she said.

The other daughter said, “Our family has had more of the simple fun than most kids our age.” And suddenly they erupted with a flow of memories from their own childhood:

Making homemade lime sherbet

Birthday parties with a green theme or making bread art with bread dough as a craft activity.

A Halloween alternative party at our house with a Fully Rely On God theme

Playing in the backyard, making chalk drawings and turning a broom into a play horse

Reading Chronicles of Narnia and Little House on the Prairie books

Since I hate decorating cakes and the nearest Walmart was 65 miles away, we replaced the highly decorated cakes all their friends had for birthdays with creative cake decorations like a pink iced cake with peppermints or creating a bouquet of balloons with licorice and gumdrops.

Making homemade Christmas wrapping paper with sponges cut in Christmas motifs and dipped in tempura paint.

I was amazed. At the time, I struggled against the norm of the highly decorated birthday cakes, visits to Chuckie Cheese, and hours of tv. I tried to come up with family fun but wondered if it meant anything to anybody. At the time, they didn’t seem excited, still pining after what their friends did. Now as they are on the verge of stepping over the threshold into adulthood, those memories are rising to the surface. “Those things are special to us now because they were different,” they told me. “If you had done what everyone else did or did the decorated cake thing every year for our birthday, it wouldn’t have been as special.”

Creating family memories takes patience and courage. A family creates a memory by their willingness to do something different, something new, something unique that others wouldn’t necessarily do. I hope when my children are 80 years old, a younger generation will listen to memories of their childhood and sigh and say, “I really hope I have as good a life as they did.”