Teaching with Imagination: Part 2

Since we can think of teaching as functioning in just two categories [I recognize this is impossible, but stick with me] let’s briefly redefine those.

Feel free to visit the post below this one if you are interested in the beginning of this two-part series.

Moving quickly ahead, the first category is deposit-making. A teacher can perceive her job to consist of depositing factual information into the minds of students. One can picture this teaching style like serving ice cream: each cup needs it, and in approximately equal amounts.

The second category is problem-posing. In essence this consists of raising awareness of problems. At first glance it may appear to lack guidance, but this is exactly the point. To establish a problem implicitly invites a solution. It invites imagination and enjoins the student’s faculties to action. According to Speech Act Theory, communication precipitates action. Let me illustrate.

Recently I listened to a man who had planted a church and pastored it faithfully for a number of years. It had grown significantly both fiscally and numerically. Many would say it grew spiritually as well. As the pastor continued, he revealed his motivation for such dedicated work. He had been cut from the basketball team in 7th grade. He tried out again the next year and failed again. After a long and difficult conversation with a coach, he was instructed not to pursue basketball: “son, it’s just not for you.”

He refused to quit. Fueled by these words and assisted by a growth spurt, he practiced unceasingly between junior high and high school. Having made the team his freshman year, he started all through high school as a center. Later he received a robust scholarship for college basketball, and he flourished in the sport.

He intimately described the motivation for his success both in basketball and then in pastoring: “I didn’t want to be told ‘you can’t do that.'” That was it. And he went on to prove them wrong. Though it eventually led to some critical errors in leadership, it was fuel sufficient for a season.

What does this mean? It means that words are extremely powerful. To instill imagination in people is to plant seeds of hope. As a Christian, the words of Jesus have sparked hope and life in me. Teachers, pastors, and leaders of every kind have the ability to invite imagination at every turn. And it is in the way we teach that we can either spark incredible change or cause irreparable damage.

Teaching is more than revealing factual information. For the Christian, it is about capturing the imagination for the sake of sustained participation in the Kingdom of God. For Christians and secular thinkers alike, though for differently ultimate purposes, teaching is about capturing the imagination for the transformation of the world.

In the illustration about the pastor, words – discouraging words – were powerful enough to, in a certain sense, drive him to both create and build, to push himself to his limits, and to react to how others had [foolishly] instructed him. May we as teachers have the courage to ask the right questions, helping listeners to better understand the haze of the world we live in. The world sees more clearly when teachers ask the better question. For the Christian mind, we live to advance the Kingdom of God. And in advancing the Kingdom of God, the world of believers and unbelievers flourishes.



Teaching with Imagination: Part 1

Animals and people are similar in so many ways. We see a chimpanzee at the zoo and immediately (though subconsciously) mentally list its similarities to the last baby we saw watching the chimp from a stroller. Both have a face, though the human’s is slightly softer. Both have hands, even opposable thumbs! However, as we synthesize similarities, we also analyze differences.

This task of making this delineation is equally simple at some level. The chimp likely will probably not excel in physics, though he can likely learn to play a video game. She won’t graduate from elementary school, but she may very well flourish as a hunter-gatherer in a tropical jungle. Animals are a part of the world, immersed in the same surroundings as their human zookeepers and zoo-supporting philanthropists. But they do not seek to change their world. Rather, they simply want to survive and reproduce.

Humans, on the other hand, make a choice. They must make the choice of how they will influence the world. Every human has agency – the ability to affect change. Though humans use their agency differently, each human possesses it to some degree.

No one would argue that education is an irreplaceable aspect of human participation in the world. Educations alerts individuals and communities to the world around them, helping to guide and direct young persons in their forthcoming autonomy, their long-anticipated independence from parents.

In education, however, young people are, at times, treated as vessels for holding information. Instead of sparking the imagination of youth and inviting their participation in the world, education often trains up young ones to know every state capital and the names of all the US presidents. Of course, there are many excellent educators in our world, and they certainly don’t simply deposit facts in students’ brains. But this does happen.

Paulo Freire, a Brazilian philosopher and educator, has juxtaposed two means for pedagogy. The first, deposit-making, consists of giving information, of filling the minds of students with information. The second, problem-posing, invites the agency of the individual to factor in to the pedagogical matrix. In other words, Freire believes critical intervention in the world is essential for
thorough and meaningful education.

In my next post I’ll take a closer look at how this pertains not only to education but also to preaching, politics, government, and other spheres.

The Four Calls of a Pastor

What the heck do pastors do?

Sermons, right? That’s what they do. They sit around and think of sermons all day. Well, that is certainly a part of pastoral work, but there is more. In John Stott’s influential book on preaching, Between Two Worlds, he references Samuel Voldeba, who lectured at Calvin Theological Seminary here in Grand Rapids, MI. They were published after his death under the title, “The Pastoral Genius of Preaching.” They contain a simple yet wise explanation of the role of the pastor:

1. Feeding

Pastors are to give nourishment to spiritually hungry people, people who are suffering from a lack of direction, a questioning of identity, a concern about eternity.

2. Guiding

Pastors point the way toward the mission of God seen most clearly in the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Son. This is the implementation of the Kingdom of God – the tangible presence of God through the Spirit, given at Pentecost.

3. Guarding

Pastors are to name the powers that be: myths of scarcity and meaninglessness, untruths regarding money and fame as the hallmarks of success, sexuality as power over others. Pastors name evil and seek to steer faithful people away from attractive yet insidious ends.

4. Healing

Pastors attend to the many wounds people suffer in the maelstrom of human existence. People do terrible things to one another, and pastors help introduce and re-introduce the reality of God’s healing work for all people.


God is Making All Things New

“Look! Look! God has moved into the neighborhood, making his home with men an women! They’re his people, he’s their God. Death is gone for good-tears gone, crying gone, pain gone-all the first order of things gone.”

-Revelation 21:5a, MSG.

People of faith in Jesus often think of this verse and it’s ramifications for the future. And how important this is! And yet, God’s work is now just as it is yet to be. Look down at your hands. Go ahead. Do it. How often are your hands used to help? To comfort? To give? You are a living answer to prayer should you respond to God’s work in you.

Certainly our best intentions are nothing apart from God’s redeeming work within us, but we can rest assured that he is using his gathered people – the church – to do his work. May we be found faithful as we seek to make our neighborhoods, our relationships, and our offices new, anticipating the full completion of these things at Christ’s return