on learning through teaching

Posted: October 27, 2015 in Uncategorized

Last week in church, and then also in the Growth Group discussion later in the week which followed up on that week’s message, we were asked in what setting we learn best.  The point of the question was that most don’t learn best by simply listening to a lecture – most need to see it demonstrated and then practice it in order to really learn something.  This was something that was hammered into me as I took the necessary classes to get my teaching certificate as well.  Don’t just stand up there talking – let them interact with the material, or they probably won’t learn it.  

As I spent time throughout that week mulling this over, I ended up taking it even one step further.  Yes, I learn better when seeing and practicing than when merely being told how something goes.  But you know when I learn best?  When I have to teach something.

When I teach, I have to interact with the material on a whole other level.  I can’t just do that thing that is tempting to do as a student and just learn it barely well enough to get by.  I have to really dig in to it.  I have to look at it from all angles.  I have to see if there is more than one way to deconstruct and reconstruct it.  I have to know the history of it.  I have to explore the “what, where, how, when, and why” questions.  I have to find the exceptions to the rule.  I have to run some clarifying examples through it.  I have to poke at the weak areas of my understanding until they solidify or break, revealing where I had it wrong.

I realized as I was sharing a bit of this with the Growth Group that probably part of why I was a good student as a kid was that I kept getting asked to tutor others.  All that grammar stuff?  I kind of got it…until I sat with one of my classmates to explain it.  The explaining helped me to understand it more.  Algebra and geometry, which are some of my weakest areas?  I was helped IMMENSELY in grasping them when a friend asked me to help her work through problems.  All that time, I thought I was being asked to tutor because I was one of the smart kids.  Turns out, probably one of the big reasons why I got good grades…was because of having been asked to help others.

This morning as I ponder that, my mind returns to the way that those who work a good 12-step program do things.  When you’re working that program, sooner or later you become a “sponsor” of someone who hasn’t come quite as far down the path yet as you have.  In that role, you use whatever light you have in your own life and shine it on the trail ahead of them.  You share your “ESH”…experience, strength, and hope…in other words, your own story.  You let them know that it’s going to be okay, that their struggle is not new or unique – we think we want to be unique, but when we are struggling, one of the most comforting things we can hear is that others around us have struggled just the same way.

The cool thing about sponsoring is that, just like I didn’t need to be a teacher or even have finished a course to tutor another person at my age and stage of life, you don’t need to have a degree or be really more than just a step or two ahead of the your sponsee on the path.  You’re not “an expert.”  You’re just someone who found something that worked, and who willingly shares that something with another struggler.  The sponsee benefits greatly from this relationship, but the secret some don’t guess unless and until they become a sponsor is how greatly the sponsor benefits as well.  In the teaching is great learning.  In the teaching, what is just barely grasped begins to solidify and become real on a whole other level.

My friends who have received the most benefit from working a 12-step program – the ones whose very lives were saved from the all-consuming force of addiction to alcohol or drugs by it – often note how we in the church fail to grasp the importance and power of the sponsor/sponsee relationship.  I think the reason they “get it” more is because they literally know they may well have died in/from their addiction, if not for the work done through that relationship.

The 12 steps are a part of my life, but not to that level.  I wasn’t addicted to anything that might kill me.  My problem was codependence – a relationship killer for sure, and a murderer of personal peace and well-being, but not something that might take my life in one bad moment, you know?  So it’s easier for me to forget the importance and power of the sponsor/sponsee relationship.

I think that’s why we in the church so often miss out on utilizing this great gift of walking beside one another, leading one another, teaching one another, sharing with one another what I think is the best and truest gift and tool God has given us – our own story.  Our own experience, strength and hope.

We miss it because we didn’t almost die, and so we pretty easily forget what our level of need was (and what the level of need in others might be) once we’ve moved a little further down the path.

We miss it because we think we have to be “experts” – Bible scholars – before we can encourage another in the faith.

We miss it because we get the idea that listening to sermons once a week will change us, and we forget that our faith journey isn’t only about self – that following Christ isn’t just another self-improvement program.

We miss it because we so often show up to church trying to look and sound like we’ve got it more together than we really do, and others do the same, and everyone measures their insides against the outsides of others, so we all think we’re failing as compared to those we see.

We miss it because when we think we want to be like Jesus, we don’t think about Him traipsing around the countryside with those wayward kids (we call them “disciples,” but first they were more like wayward kids, it seems to me) investing Himself in them, and we don’t think about what they in turn did with that either, for that matter.

We miss it because we’re not alcoholics or drug addicts, and somehow that makes us too good in our own minds to need a program.

The thing is, we all too often miss it.  We have this amazing opportunity to be of help to another, and to learn on a whole other level along the way, and we miss it.  I’m not picking on YOU here, nor am I on a rampage about the church.  I’m talking first and foremost to myself.

What would happen if we decided to move beyond small talk into really investing in one another to this level?  What would the church look like?  How would the greater community around the church perceive us?

Worth pondering and praying over, for sure.


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