[The following is my personal interaction with Howard Hendricks‘ (who passed away earlier this year) book Teaching to Change Lives: Seven Proven Ways to Make Your Teaching Come Alive. This short essay is highly practical and not written as a critical book review.]
Christian education is a part of all churches in one form or another. The problem is many of these churches just go with the flow of the church culture in what they teach and how they teach. Trends are set and then followed. Many churches lack consistency in not just their content, but more seriously, churches lack consistency in the way their teachers teach. This greatly influences how learners are learning or even if they are learning at all. This important work by Howard Hendricks addresses how Christian teachers can biblically approach education in the most effective means. He presents seven methods or “laws” for becoming an effective teacher and having an effective teaching ministry.
Law #1: The Law of the Teacher
In chapter one, Hendricks outlines his first law to becoming a more effective teacher. The first law is the law of the teacher. Hendricks defines this law as “if you stop growing today, you stop teaching tomorrow” (17). This law goes to the heart of a teacher being a lifelong learner. Hendricks argues that learning happens best when the teacher yearns to learn himself. When the teacher becomes a student again, he or she will view the learning process in a whole new way. The most important point I gleaned from this law is the insistence on continued learning throughout life. It is this very assertion that I can practically apply to my life that will dramatically help my teaching now and later. Practical ways I can apply this law are to read even more than I am now. A more disciplined approach to learning new things myself will greatly help me to develop a greater desire to see my students learn. By applying this law, I will not only be better prepared to teach content, but I will be able to instill a desire in students and fellow believers I am teaching to learn and never stop learning.
Law #2: The Law of Education
The second law is that of the law of education. Hendricks defines it in these terms: “the way people learn determines how you teach” (39). He discusses the roles of both teachers and learners here. Teachers are to be motivators and stimulators that “excite and direct the learner’s self-activities” (39). The most important points of this chapter are the three goals or objectives to go into teaching with. Hendricks writes that teachers should teach people how to think, learn, and work. In my context, I can be more organized and pointed in my preparation when I teach. This will keep the objectives clear and will help me become a better stimulator, which will allow for better learning. Applying this law will help me to get to know my learners better and foster a teaching environment in which true growth can be seen as my teaching will be much more than a mere presentation of content.
Law #3: The Law of Activity
Hendricks writes, “The Law of Activity tells us that Maximum learning is always the result of maximum involvement” (emphasis his, 56). This law deals with truly impacting learners rather than simply talking to them. Teaching and Christian education as a whole is not about the teacher impressing the learners and then signing a few autographs after a lesson. Christian education is truly about life change and deeply impacting the lives of learners. What we are after in Christian education is change, not just information transfer. This is the most important point of this chapter. I gained a lot from Hendricks’ discussion of getting students actively involved in the learning process. This chapter is highly practical, so it is easy to see many ways I can change my current teaching methods to better influence my learners. One thing I can immediately change is to add more interactive activities into my teaching in order to better engage my students to improve the learning process.
Law #4: The Law of Communication
The fourth law presented by Hendricks is that of the law of communication. This is a very important law for the teacher. This law implies that “to truly impart information requires the building of bridges” (70-71). Communication is not surprisingly the most important component to teaching and Hendricks sees it as the number one teaching problem (69). An important point I gleaned from this law is the three-part formula to communication. In communicating we communicate things we know, feel, and do. Teachers should want to be excellent communicators and this statement from Hendricks has stuck with me: “If I know something thoroughly, feel it deeply, and am doing it consistently, I have great potential for being an excellent communicator” (71). I can apply this law by reflecting on why I teach and on why I teach what I teach. I can also plan to teach in such a way that not just my knowledge of a subject is heard, but my love and desire for it are felt, and my actions to supplement it are seen. By applying these things to my teaching, I know that my learners will trust me and my communication of the eternal truths of the gospel will be much more effective.
Law #5: The Law of the Heart
In chapter five, the all-important law of the heart is discussed. Here Hendricks writes that “teaching that impacts is not head to head, but heart to heart” (85). Hendricks explains that teaching heart to heart is the much more difficult way, but it is the biblical way and most effective way. The most important points I gleaned from this chapter were those that dealt with how a teacher’s ethos, pathos, and logos together that collectively impact learners. The teacher’s character produces confidence, his compassion produces motivation, and his content produces perception (86-87). I was challenged through this law to be a teacher marked with character, compassion, and content, not one over the other. Only then will I be able to teach as a total person to total people. Practically, I need to show grace in my teaching. While truth is vital, I must not abandon grace for truth in teaching. If one of my learners for example is not listening and constantly is daydreaming, I could show compassion and see if they are struggling with anything in their lives that is causing this distraction. By showing my students that I care and sharing what I struggle with, I will show my students that I am just like them and I will gain a voice with them that I otherwise would not have.
Law #6: The Law of Encouragement
The sixth law is the law of encouragement. This law asserts that “teaching tends to be most effective when the learner is properly motivated” (100). While Christian teachers typically ignore this all-important law, some Christians improperly motivate learners. There is one statement from Hendricks in particular from this chapter that was the most important aspect of this law for me: “[M]otivated people become change agents” (113). If I am going to motivate those I am teaching, I must be motivated myself. I also gained from this law the truth that I must never prohibit without also providing. I can become a better encourager/motivator by focusing on the needs and abilities of my students and then transferring an impassioned desire for God to them, so they will see that glorifying God in all of life is not only worthy, but ultimately satisfying. My teaching will be greatly improved by applying this law. By seeking to involve my students in creative ways in different ministries, they will see their importance in the body of Christ.
Law #7: The Law of Readiness
Finally, the law of readiness is as follows: “The teaching-learning process will be most effective when both student and teacher are adequately prepared” (115). This law hits home with me as I have been calling for this in my local church. Something I was really helped by from this law Hendricks’ discussion on assignments to help teachers and learners prepare. In order to help alleviate the problem of teachers coming in prepared to teach and discuss a passage, the law of readiness calls for assignments to be used in Christian education. Hendricks shows that these assignments will precipitate thinking, provide a background, and develop habits of independent study (117). These assignments will not only help learners be prepared to be taught, but also help them become lifelong learners. And that is the goal of education, especially Christian education. I will directly be applying this law by taking Hendricks’ advice and start preparing and giving assignments to my learners. I think we will all benefit as I will not be the only one coming into a teaching session in awe of what I have seen in the Word. I will implement the characteristics of a good assignment that Hendricks proposes. By applying this law, deeper teaching and learning will take place and the desire to learn will be more easily instilled.
In summary, my approach to education has been slightly altered (positively) as a result of reading this book. These seven laws each contain elements that will greatly help my teaching ministry. The application of these seven laws will be a tremendous means of grace for the sanctification of those I teach as well as this teacher of the Word.