Teaching Children through Grace

One of my favorite books on education and the Christian life is Donovan L. Graham’s insightful book Teaching Redemptively. This book has blessed me as both a school administrator as well as a Sunday school teacher.

Graham’s premise can be summarized easily: If our students are to live by the gospel, they must experience it in their learning environment.

But as you can see, putting that into action is easier said than done.

First, we must decide just what we mean by this thing called grace? The New Bible Dictionary describes grace as God’s undeserved favor to sinners (Romans 3:10-12). Christians know that it is by grace through faith in Christ that we are saved and justified. Most of us would also agree that we are glorified by grace.

So what does all this mean to us as Christian teachers in the classroom?

Start with, when the world watches us teach redemptively, they should not see a people who are finally ‘getting it right.’ Rather they should see a band of sinners, broken and fallen, but healed, who now live freely and explore eagerly in the hope, grace, forgiveness, and righteousness of Christ.

We are recipients of grace, and we must live in gratitude.

Our Sunday School Must Be GRACE-full!

Sunday schools with grace as the prevailing atmosphere do not look at the issue of motivation in the same way as most do. When grace is truly experienced, the response is gratitude and love—a motivation quite different from completion, reward, and avoidance of punishment.

Classroom management and discipline in a redemptive teacher’s classroom are not based on a system of rewards and punishments. Instead, discipline seeks to build character.

Biblical Norms for Educational Purpose

Education is not an end in itself; it is a means to develop a response to our calling in life.

What is God’s intended purpose for the Christian life? The Westminster Catechism asks, “What is the chief end of man?” and gives the answer “To glorify God and enjoy him forever.”

Education, then, serves as a catalyst for each individual’s pursuit of his or her calling by God, to help them discover about themselves, the world God created, and their place in it.

Characteristics of a Redemptive Teacher

As he studied teachers who captured the essence of teaching redemptively, Graham found some common interaction styles, including:

1. The teacher was able spontaneously to provide a range of roles that varied from fairly active, dominative supervision to a more reflective, discriminating support.

2. The teacher was able to switch roles at will rather than pursue a single interaction style to the exclusion of other possibilities.

3. The teacher was able to bridge the gap between his diagnosis of a given situation and the course of action he should take.

4. The teacher was able to combine sensitivity and critical awareness so that, as the classroom’s master observer, he was able to make reasonable diagnoses of current conditions.

True Transforming Learning and Curriculum

The heart is at the root of learning and the source of our behavior. In order to affect behavior, learning must touch the learners’ hearts.

Learning is accepting something as the truth, making a heart-level commitment to it, and acting on it. Learning must be more than simply intellectual storage or assent.

Because our beliefs direct our actions and learning must ultimately take place in the heart, there are some key characteristics that must be reflected in any curriculum.

One, it must be designed so that the students reach conclusions in the process of learning rather than in listening as the teacher dispenses the correct conclusions and then expects the students to apply them.

The curriculum calls for the students to get OUTSIDE the classroom to be aware of what is going on elsewhere in the world and to be in contact with people outside their immediate sphere.

Here are a few ways we sum up the learning and curriculum section at the school, Grace Academy, where I am Head. I believe some of these can apply to the Sunday school classroom:

—        All truth is God’s truth

—        Bible is integrated across the curriculum

—        Connected to life

—        Differentiated instruction

—        Enriched learning environments

—        Focused on exploration and problem solving

—        God-honoring

—        Hands-on learning

—        Integrated with technology

—        Joy in knowing Jesus as personal Lord and Savior

Why We Do It: Demonstrating GRACE

Just as redemptive teaching requires that we try to structure the education process according to biblical creational norms, it also requires that we teach from a framework of grace, for redemption is completely an act of grace. Redemptive teaching, thus, should be a living picture of that grace.

The concept of grace does not directly determine our purpose for education, nor does it design a curriculum in a way to encourage good behavior. Grace is the atmosphere in which the educational endeavor occurs. It is a means through which the character of God is demonstrated and realized.

Redemptive teaching is a living picture of God’s grace to us. This grace is gratitude expressed through loving God and each other. We want teaching that engages students to the world and lives out the reality of God’s grace.

I hope you will read the book because there is so much more than I am sharing here. Meanwhile, enjoy this Thanksgiving with a grateful heart for God’s amazing gift of  grace to us!