About Jesus    Steve Sweetman

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Teaching And Being Teachable


One mark of being a mature disciple of Jesus is our ability to be teachable.  Not being able to receive instruction shows a measure of immaturity.  By definition, a disciple is one who learns and puts what he learns into practice.  There are many things that hinder us from learning and being the disciple we should be.   Here  are a few of them.  I'm sure you could add to this list. 


We tend to always want to be right.  Even when we're wrong, we'll fight to the end to prove we're right.  The fundamental reason why we always want to be right is a pre-occupation with self.  This tendency prohibits us from learning, and it's also a destructive factor when building relationships.          


In the process of wanting to be right we find ourselves unable to admit we are wrong.  To be the humble person Jesus wants us to be requires us to be able to say, "I am wrong."  That's a simple definition of the word "repent", and repenting is fundamental to the gospel of Jesus.  Too often we just laugh our errors off, or ignore them altogether, hoping no one will see our frailties.  Yet in an attempt to save face, we end up looking bad.  We  gain much more respect if we can say "I am wrong."  


Our confession of being wrong must be honest, and from our hearts.  Too often our admission sounds like a pity party.  "O yea, I'm wrong. I'm always wrong - never right.  You're always right…"   Jesus enjoyed a good party, but I can't see Him enjoying a pity party.  


Too often when we actually let the other side explain their thinking, we're so pre-occupied with our own defense, we don't hear a word that is said.  We therefore learn nothing.  If we can learn to listen, and not just hear, we'll be teachable and be a good disciple.      


Trying to listen forces us to lay aside our own agenda.  It's like the Biblical principle of "death to self."  Laying aside our own point of view for a few moments in order to understand the other side certainly feels like death at times.  If we want to understand, if we want to be teachable, we've got to lay aside our obsession with our own thinking.  At the risk of prolonging the other side's time to speak, we will have to ask some questions for clarity's  sake as well.  We often fail to ask such questions because we can't wait to get the floor back.


Being judgmental doesn't help things either.  Finger pointing only makes the other side angry, and once anger enters the dialogue, all learning ends.  The discussion becomes cyclical, hurtful, and useless. 


Being defensive prohibits us from learning as well.  It only exposes our insecurities. It builds walls, hurts relationships, and prevents the truth of the matter being learned.  


The other side of being teachable is being able to teach.  We must learn how to relate the issues as we see them in the most effective way possible.   


I think there are three ways in which we can teach.  There's simply stating the facts.  There's providing a living sample of what we teach.   There's involving the one being taught in the learning process.


I'll relate these three ways of teaching to how parents teach their children.  Let's say I want to teach my son to forgive his brother.  The most popular method of teaching is to stand behind my invisible pulpit and tell him to forgive.  He'll probably reply by saying, "yea dad,  I've heard you say that before."  My words go in one ear and out the other.


Simply stating the facts of a matter is teaching, but it's the least effective way to teach.  Ironically, it's the most used way of teaching in the church.  Most of us can only sit and listen for so long, and those who like to teach tend to keep teaching long after our minds have left the room.


The second-best way to get my son to learn to forgive his brother is to provide him with a living example along with our words.  If mom and dad can forgive each other, he'll see how it works and is more likely to do the same.  This works in reverse as well.  Children see our bad habits and copy them.  It seems easier to learn bad behaviour than it is good behaviour.  


The best way to teach our children, or anyone, is to involve them in the learning process.  If I want my son to learn how to forgive his brother, I should sit down with him and his brother and help them work out the issues that lead to forgiveness.  If this can happen, he's learned to forgive, and he's learned how to be teachable.  This obviously takes time and patience.  Ask Jesus about this.  He spent many frustrating hours doing just this with the Twelve.   


It seems to me that in life, and especially in the church, we've got this backwards.  We spend more time teaching from the pulpit than involving ourselves in the lives of those we're trying to teach.  I'm not saying that public teaching isn't important.  It is.  It's just the least effective way to teach, especially if that's the only way you teach.  Finding a living example of what is taught is sometimes hard to come by.  Having someone to personally walk us through the issues can be harder to find, unless it's in a clinical situation.  In my thinking, church is already too clinical.  Jesus wasn't  clinical.  He was relational, and from these relationships He personally worked through the issues He taught.  That's why those He taught were called His disciples.  Jesus taught in all three of these ways.  Yet, when it came to those He trusted His gospel with, He was a living example of what He taught, exerting much energy as He personally worked out the issues.    


So there are two sides to the learning process.  There's being teachable, and there's teaching effectively.  The thing that gets in the way of both is our pre-occupation with self.  We 're often not teachable because we always want to be right.  And those of us who like to teach, the pulpit can easily become a place of pride.  May Jesus help us all to be His disciples.


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