Jesus shocked his contemporaries with his method of teaching. He didn’t go on and on giving commentary on the law, as most of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law of his day did (and many “scholars” do today). His method was simple: gather a group of disciples, live with them, teach them the way of the kingdom of God, and most importantly, show them the way with your life.
First, Jesus was clearly a big fan of experiential education. As he traveled from town to town in Judea, his disciples observed him in the most intimate way on a daily basis. The followed him as he taught from mountains and boats. The saw him heal men with leprosy and women with bleeding. The heard him refute the best arguments of the day from the Pharisees. They ate with him as he was get a foot bath from a prostitute with an expensive gift. And they received from him a foot bath of their own on the night he was betrayed. Jesus clearly was an intellectual. He was the smartest man who ever lived. But his character was transferred through high contact over an extended period of time between teacher and student.
Jesus once said, “Students are not above their teacher, but all who are fully trained will be like their teacher.” And similarly, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” Learn from me, become like me, follow me. Interesting. Jesus wanted his disciples to learn both from what he was saying, but also, and more primarily, from his own lifestyle.
When I graduated from seminary and became a pastor, I found that I was rather ill-prepared for many aspects of pastoral ministry. Planning, counseling, pastoral care, leadership – many of these tasks were so different from what I had learned. I had been a divinity student for three years. I sat in lots of classes, listened to lots of professors speak, and stared at countless PowerPoints. Sure enough, when I graduated, I was well prepared to give classes, talk a lot, and make lots of PowerPoints. I had learned some of the content from seminary. Of course. But I had intimately learned to imitate my teachers without even knowing it.
When Jesus educates us, when he calls us to be his disciples, he calls us into a relationships of teacher/student, master/disciple. And he does this realizing that we become like the people we surround ourselves with. Even today, when we surround ourselves with people who live like Jesus, it rubs off.
Because Jesus’ own methodology for teaching is so personal, we should question several practices in our society. One is the rise of online education. Online courses are certainly convenient, and they make school budgets work. But one cannot imitate a teacher on the internet. Online blogs and wikis can be helpful as an addendum to class, but as the class itself, they fill our minds with more data, and in many instances, in an uninteresting fashion. Listening to lectures online, typing, and commenting on threaded posts will never take the place of humans transferring their own characters into other humans – in person. Christians have been called to “go and make disciples.” Jesus immortalized the teacher/disciple relationship with the Great Commission. We’d do well to think carefully about how we learn.
The real key to education is this: we become like our teachers. Choose your teachers wisely.