I have learned over the years that teachers, especially the good ones, have several enigmatic sayings like, “There is no such thing as teaching, only learning.”
As a first year teacher, I asked a good friend of mine and master teacher to observe my junior literature class. After the observation her advice came in this form. “My mother, who taught for 40 years, said to me, ‘Talking is not teaching.’”
Every teacher who is honest recognizes that grades don’t only reflect a student’s ability to learn; they also reflect a teacher’s ability to teach. As a teacher I had the accountability of frequent tests. Students demonstrated, at times weekly and daily, whether my talking was actually teaching. I saw it in their grades—whether they learned the lessons or not. A teacher has two options when it comes to teaching. They can learn the material and communicate it through talking. Or they can guide students through systems whereby the student arrives at the same destination as the teacher. I began to see teaching not as acquiring certain information, but arriving at a particular destination. In Communicating for a Change, Andy Stanley writes of the need for pastors to take people on a journey toward a particular destination rather than merely communicating information.
It is easy to stand on one side of the Grand Canyon and beckon to our students across the chasm, “Come on! You can do it!” Shouting out directions, “turn left there, go around that tree, no not that one.” It is another thing to walk back across the chasm and lead each student by the path we have come. Good teachers guide students down the path they have taken. The best teachers find short cuts and new paths based upon the student’s abilities—all the while with the goal at arriving on the other side. Some of our students may have a limp and have to take an alternate path. But it is our job to help them arrive at the same destination.
As pastors we are in the business of teaching. We want people to arrive at a particular destination. Let’s face it; we are sometimes called preachers, because we are seen primarily as talkers. With all of the talking, preachers are in the most danger of losing sight of what actually helps people get to the other side of the grand canyon. It is easy to lose sight of the fact that our processes/systems by and large trump what we say. Our processes and systems are our most powerful tools in helping people become spiritually mature.
At the 2006 Drive Conference the components of a system are defined as:
Example: Northpoint Community Church has a rule for its family production called “No Dropoffs” They expect for parents and children to attend Kidstuf together. They reinforce this expectation by not offering anything during the Kidstuf timeslot that would compete for a parent’s attention. There are no adult Sunday school classes on Sunday morning, no adult worship service occupying the same timeslot. Andy Stanley is rigorous about ending the service on time so that parents can pick up their children to attend together. There is a very important lesson here: Our stated expectations are meaningless if our systems reinforce different expectations.
Key Questions: What expectations do our systems reinforce? How can we align our systems with our expectations?
2. Rewards (or lack of) What is rewarded is repeated.
Example: We began a family production (a shared experience for children and parents) in our church in November of 2005. To see what we did, go to www.kidstufventura.com . Within a month we went from 15 children to 150 parents and children in the same room. Huge win if numbers was our win. It was extraordinarily tempting to advertise the success of our numbers. But a large crowd was not my goal—transformed lives was. I felt that I needed to make a conscious effort to redefine the win: from numbers to transformed lives. Shortly thereafter my team began to work on ways to gather stories of how the family production was impacting family’s lives. I intentionally began telling these stories rather than numbers to our production staff, small group leaders and church staff. I would retell the stories during the family production, while the team found creative ways to reward parents who were winning. I.e. teaching their children about faith and character during the week. We set up a discussion board on our website where parents and children could write about how they were interacting with the virtue of the month. The curriculum provided by www.ReThink.org was also very creative. We gave away a foot of duct tape for every story of resourcefulness written by the children. At the end of the month we taped our co-host to the wall. We had over 170 stories.
Key Questions: What do we reward? Do we reward the behaviors we want to see repeated? Are we currently rewarding things that we don’t want repeated?
3. Consequences (or lack of)
Example: over the summer we began enforcing small group leader/student ratios in our children’s small group program. This communicated several things. It communicated to our small group leaders that we did care about their sanity; it meant that we were serious about not slamming a single small group leader with a large group of 25 four year olds. It communicated to our parents that we cared about the safety of their children. There was an unforeseen positive consequence. In our laid back So. Cal beach climate we now have parents arriving early to ensure their child gets a spot in their small group. I think Jim Collins calls these policies with teeth.
Key Questions: Have you changed anything recently that resulted in inadvertent results? What were they? What about your system created them?
4. Communication (content and style)
According to David F. Wells, at the 2006 Desiring God Conference:
it becomes more and more imperative for preachers to make sure that the truth that they are preaching intersects with what is going on inside people’s minds so that the line is drawn so clearly, that people in their own lives know whether they are being obedient or not and what they should do with that truth when they have heard it. Now that is contextualization. And so it goes all the way through from people sitting in pews in American and missionaries preaching in Hindu contexts in India.
Our communication, its content must align with what we are trying to produce in our systems, and its style must intersect with what is going on inside people’s minds so they know what we are asking them to do.
Key Question: Am I spending time on Sunday communicating strategy to the church members? Does the content of my communication align with or contradict the created/established system?
5. Behavior (of those in charge)
Example: I think we can all come up with some examples of this one. The most compelling reason to change is seeing such change lived out in our own lives as leaders.
Key Question: Where does my own behavior not align with my expectations of those who follow me? What must I do to change that? (By the way, when you do change misaligned behavior in your own life you have great power in helping others make the same change. Plus your living illustration is preachable.)