Monday, January 11, 2010

The Student Teacher

Last week, I shared how we taught our children’s church class about setting goals. This week, it was time to return to my regularly scheduled lesson from the curriculum. Since we use a rotation of three teachers, I haven’t taught for two months. The last teacher couldn’t quite remember which lesson she had taught last, so she and I guessed at which one it would be. I was delighted. The lesson I thought was next dovetailed beautifully with what I had shared with my students the week before.

The scripture text was from Acts 16, how the Spirit of God kept Paul from going into an area where Paul wanted to go next. Then Paul had a dream of a man from Macedonia imploring, “Come help us.” My curriculum suggested the application that God will guide us in what we set out to do. Perfect! As I told my class the week before, life doesn’t always happen the way we want it to but we definitely won’t reach our goals if we make no goals at all.

There was an extra dimension to this lesson, however. On first read of Acts 16:6-15, the story seems confusing and I began wondering, “Why am I teaching THIS passage to elementary age kids?’ My bible scholar husband enlightened me. You have to know the geography of the Mediterranean to catch the significance what God did. Paul was in southern Asia Minor and wanted to go up north. But God sent him to Macedonia, an entirely new country, across the Aegean Sea, an area Christianity had not touched. In fact, there were so few Jewish believers, only a few women met at the river for prayer each Saturday. In modern terms, it would be like my husband and I wanted to start a new church in Cleveland and God said, “I’m sending you to London!”

Paul’s life goal was to preach the gospel, particularly where the gospel had never been preached. He thought he would reach his goal by going to Bithynia. But God said, “I’ve got bigger plans for you!” When Paul reached Philippi, the main city of the area, he led Lydia and the Philippian jailer and their entire households to the Lord, thus starting the nucleus of the Philippian church. It was a harvest ripe for the picking!

I arrived at church, excited to teach my lesson. To my dismay, I had forgotten my copies. No problem. I’ll take the kids with me to make copies. One boy looked over my shoulder. “We already did that lesson!” I met the teacher in the hallway. Indeed they had, but in front of the kids, she and I both affirmed each other that teachers teach differently and I will come at the lesson from a different angle.

I was living what my lesson taught; that God will guide us to accomplish His purposes. Proverbs 16:9: “In his heart, a man plans his course but the Lord determines his steps” was reenacted on the stage of my classroom. I built upon what I had taught the previous week about goals. I led the kids to make concrete goals that were character based rather than just accomplishment driven, something I had hoped to accomplish the week before. One little girl, after finishing the worksheet, remembered how she had applied the lesson the last time. Her goals had been to be nice to someone who wasn’t nice to her. In the next week, her “enemy” got his coat caught on something and she reached behind him and freed him. She would never have had the chance to give that feedback had we not repeated the lesson.

At the end of the lesson, I had the kids state their goals for the week. Then I told them, “Prayer is simple. All you have to do is say, ‘God help me’ then state your goal.” We did that. Then I said, “Praying for others is simple too. You say, “God help (the name of the person standing next to you)’ then say that person’s goal.” For the first time, we had a solid prayer time where everyone participated and some kids even expanded their goals. We prayed for each other instead just sick people none of us knew. None of this would have happened if the previous teacher and I had nailed down the correct lesson. God was guiding me to teach that particular lesson a second time.

The kids walked out with a goal for the week. And I learned to trust God to guide me when I face roadblocks to my lesson plans. As I said to one student, the teacher always learns more than the students.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Teaching Children to Set Goals

New Year’s Resolutions. Weekly goals. Day planners. To do lists. All of these are at the forefront of our brains at the beginning of each year. It’s good to make plans. If we don’t plan, we’re guaranteed we won’t reach our dreams. If we do plan, we might catch some of our dreams. I’d rather bank on 50% failure than 100% failure.

Children can learn to set goals too. But how? Should we waste our time teaching children how to set goals? Why not! Setting goals surrounds our lives with structure and discipline. When there is a lack of discipline, folly moves in to fill the void (Proverbs 5:23). We – and the children we teach – will grow faster and more effectively in our spiritual lives if we purposely set out to grow in specific ways. The idea behind the biblical phrase, “seek the Lord,” is looking for specific ways to please God.

In college, one-third of my class on educational psychology was devoted to the art and psychology of setting goals for students. We learned such big words as cognitive, affective and psycho-motor. We learned that goals should be attainable, realistic and specific. How do you translate that to a child’s level? Yesterday, in our junior church session, we taught the kids about goal setting. Here was our lesson plan:

First, we asked the kids what they had accomplished in the last year, what did they enjoy doing, what did they do for the first time? Next we asked them what they would like to see happen in the next year. We told them no idea was a bad idea – at this point, we’re just dreaming.

The kids were a little shy. I can understand why. It’s difficult to share your inner dreams with adults you don’t know well. To encourage their thinking, I read a list of my daughters’ goals they had written in 1998 when my husband and I did this exercise with them. Soon, each child in the class was able to list one thing they wanted to do in the next year: play more baseball, learn the guitar better, learn a classical piece on the piano.

We talked about what they would have to do to accomplish their goals. We talked about wording the goal in such a way that it was possible to reach it. A boy may have the dream of playing professional baseball but circumstances beyond his control may keep him from reaching that goal. But he can reach his stated goal, “I will ask my older brother or dad to practice baseball with me every day this summer.”

Next, we talked about setting spiritual goals. I told the group God is more interested in who we are rather than what we do. He wants us to become closer to him. I think they had a harder time with this section, but at least we planted some seeds. We looked at such Scriptures as Proverbs 16:3, 16:9 and 21:21. Proverbs 21:21 is a great verse for spiritual goal setting, for the verse tells us that if we want success, long life and a good reputation, we must seek righteousness and love. How will we learn what is right? Kids came up with the goal to read the Bible every day.

Our next step will be to work on some art projects that will be visual reminders of the students’ goals. They’ll decorate the front of a journal where they will write their goals and keep track of their progress. They’ll make a calendar where they will put reminders to themselves to schedule time for working on their goal.

You know, God has set some goals for us as well. Psalm 40:5 says, “Many, O Lord, are the wonders you have done/The things you planned for us no one can recount to you/Were I to speak and tell of them, they would be too many to declare.” Proverbs 16:9 says, “In his heart, a man plans his course but the Lord determines his steps.” God has wonderful plans for us. He has an exciting, fulfilling life planned for us with an even better eternal existence. When we insist on our own way, we thwart God’s best plans for us. Regardless of how we try to live life our own, we are not in full control. God has the final say regarding our eternal destiny. Our job is to commit to the Lord whatever we do, then our plans will be successful (Psalm 37:4,5).