Jesus, the great teacher, shows us the three things that really matter.
The great Bible teachers leave a mark.
They masterfully carve God into our lives. They reveal an inconceivable forgiveness. They expose divine opportunities. They detail unimaginable dreams.
Master teachers change insights, values, and lives. They know what really matters every time they teach.
That doesn’t mean they’re unprepared or dispassionate. Nor do they overlook the finer details of a lesson plan. Master teachers rarely work for a curriculum anyway; the curriculum works for them. Creativity flows from preparation, and experienced instructors know “if you don’t prepare, you repair.” Mediocre teachers deliver lessons. Good teachers animate lessons. Great teachers tattoo lessons. Their teaching always leaves a memorable mark.
Jesus was the type of teacher who left a mark.
No matter his environment, circumstance, or students, Jesus taught for a change. He built cultural bridges through story and simile. He used object lessons, teachable moments, and experiences to communicate truth. Jesus often left his students “emotionally disturbed.” He aimed for the heart and caused the religious leaders to leave mad, the rich young ruler to depart sad, and Zacchaeus to be glad. Wherever Jesus taught, he left his mark. He left God.
And so can you. Every opportunity to touch a child is a divine moment. It’s why you teach every lesson as if it’s your last. It’s why you never allow the temporal to crowd the eternal. God’s Word is living and active (Hebrews 4:12) and able to leave a penetrating mark. Scripture that tattoos a life changes it. Forever.
Too many Bible teachers believe just “teaching a lesson” is the goal of Christian education. I call it the dump truck teaching model: Fill up. Back up. Open up. It doesn’t matter if kids can’t swallow it all or even if they choke or complain. It doesn’t matter if time runs short. As long as the lesson is dumped, the teacher has taught. But, in reality, a lesson doesn’t teach; it’s just a map — it’s not the destination.
So what are the three most important things that matter every time you teach? What memorable lessons will you impress and imprint into your children’s lives? Like Jesus, we need to leave a mark, and, ultimately, we need to leave the imprint of God.
One day the lawyers and religion teachers hauled an adulterous woman before Jesus to teach them both a lesson. The law was clear: Adultery was a sin worthy of death (Leviticus 20:10). Jesus seemed trapped. Already accused of befriending winos and prostitutes, his reputation was on the line. Conversely, his life purpose was to save — even if only a nameless, sinful woman set to be stoned.
Jesus crafted a new lesson. He started by scratching something in the dirt. Maybe he wrote: “Thou shall not commit adultery.” Regardless, the religious leaders pressed harder and finally Jesus suggested whoever was sinless got the first toss. And then oddly, Jesus started writing in the dirt again. Whatever he wrote caused the accusers to release their rocks and retreat.
Jesus then turned his lesson to the woman. No one was left to condemn her. And the only one who could, wouldn’t. She was free and forgiven to live without her sin. At that point, Jesus could’ve delivered a lecture on sexual sin. He could’ve outlined Levitical law. He could’ve had her draw a sand picture, too. But he didn’t because the lesson was already carved in stone. Jesus marked her life with grace.
That’s why grace is amazing. It’s undeserved, unbelievable, and unfathomable. It flies in the face of justice. It dances on the grave of death. Grace enters the messy and murky. It’s also our deepest spiritual need. We all hunger for grace.
Consequently, master teachers shower grace on their children. They give the benefit of the doubt. They forgive and forget. They bless the kids who curse them. Grace is letting Jeremy know his past troubles with other teachers are truly past. Grace is recognizing Katie’s angry, hurtful comments rise from being abandoned and rejected. Grace covers a multitude of sins (James 5:20).
Many teachers prefer law to grace, however. Such teachers state rules but sacrifice relationship; they create consequence, but strangle risk; they produce order, but forfeit freedom.
Some argue that grace lets anything happen. Really? True grace sets the sinner free to live without his sin. It forgives fault so a child can fly. Will some children take advantage of your grace? Sure. But you’ll find deeper loyalty and engaged learning from a child living under your grace than under your law.
After a long day of ministry, Jesus separated from his disciples to pray while they sailed ahead into the night sea. Just before dawn, they watched a figure walk toward them on the water. It was Jesus delivering a new lesson on faith. Peter boldly invited himself into the sea and was soon walking the waves. Eventually, Peter sank in fear and Jesus rescued him (Matthew 14:25-31). It’s a well-worn example, but don’t miss the central truth: With Jesus we can boldly go where no person has gone before.
Jesus revealed the power of possibility. Master teachers also create opportunity. They design situations where kids leave their safe, comfortable world to experience miracle moments. But here’s the catch: The teacher’s already in the water. The instructor is ahead of the students. Mediocre teachers stay in the boat. Good teachers test the waters. Great teachers walk the waves. Your children can’t go where you haven’t been.
Consequently, a lesson is meaningless unless it lives outside of class. Don’t opt for the safety of Sunday mornings rather than the reality of kids’ lives — messy Mondays and fearful Fridays. Don’t avoid lessons that might rock the boat. Don’t dismiss situations that might expose weakness. Don’t silence experiences that spark mission and movement. Don’t fall for the myth that teaching is limited to one hour a week — learn to extend your lessons to every day of the week. The greatest lessons live all week long.
Children are so open to opportunity. They want to change their world. They believe they can do anything. Every lesson should invite them into the water. After all, that’s where Jesus is!
Peter was visionary. When Jesus was transfigured, Peter proudly offered to build memorials for Moses, Elijah, and his Master (Matthew 17:1-4). Peter had his visions, but Jesus designed a greater dream for him.
During a teachable moment, Peter confessed Jesus was the only Messiah and God’s son (Matthew 16:16). Jesus first blessed the apostle for his recognition and then handed him the “keys” to the kingdom. Like a child getting the keys to the Ferrari, Peter was uniquely ordained to “bind” and “loose” earthly matters. He was in a divine driver’s seat.
Despite denials, failures, and verbal slips, the fisherman Peter was destined to be a rock in Jesus’ hands. Peter lived a dream he never could’ve imagined.
Dreams are the most precious gifts a teacher can give. Dreams can change culture. Dreams are the fuel that forge divine destiny.
A few years ago, my son shared with his Sunday school teacher how he wanted to be a rock guitarist. Her response? “Good Christians don’t play rock.” He later nicknamed her the “Dream Crusher.” Don’t be a dream crusher.
Master teachers learn not to denigrate dreams but to help design better ones. Such teachers tap into kids’ interests and abilities and cast them into the future. I’m a writer today because of a childhood teacher who encouraged my writing and envisioned my words being read in books and articles. Great teachers capture kids’ dreams and help fit them to the child.
LEAVING A MARK If you look at your life, you’ll see how great teachers have left their mark on you. You may still recall a creative lesson that really stuck. Or maybe you’re impressed by a former teacher’s spirituality or integrity. These are all signs of a good teacher. But if you’re honest, the truly great ones left God imprinted in your life. They engraved grace. They tattooed opportunity. They cast a dream. What they left was their mark.
It’s also possible that you never experienced a great teacher, you never enjoyed grace or welcomed opportunity or imagined a dream. Maybe the teaching models for you were mediocre, boring, or apathetic. Those impressions are gladly forgotten.
Leave a better imprint. Leave God. That’s the only thing that really matters.
Rick Chromey holds a doctorate in Ministry and is an author, consultant, and leader in children’s, youth, and emergent ministry. Check out his blog.