In My Back Yard
The view out the back door
A (Low) Tech Perspective

all the ways we teach

Everything teaches. That is to say that people learn lessons on so many levels, not just from things that are intentionally taught. Parents say, "Do as I say, not as I do!" because 1. our actions often clash with our stated principles, 2. children learn by imitation, and 3. we would like to control what our children learn (but not change our behavior). Forget it.

We need to learn that teaching happens at many levels, not only the verbal/intellectual level. That is to say, content is only one level of teaching. The way we talk (and listen) and the context we create also communicate important truths. For example, if you look at at a normal church gathering, you'll see multiple levels of information transmission going on ... multiple levels of learning taking place.

For starters, at a top level (a conscious level), there is the spoken content, an intentional lesson communicated for intellectual assent. It will include ideas the speaker wants to communicate, a reason for the gathering, and maybe goals for the future. Vision is transmitted, truth is communicated, and boundaries are laid for behavior or discussion. In a sermon given in a church on a Sunday morning, this would be the idea you hope the listeners would leave wrestling with, even the truth you hope they'd grasp.

At a slightly deeper level, the listener will learn values by how the lesson is communicated. Does the speaker sit apart from the listeners? Is there time for discussion? Questions? Is the whole talk manuscripted, or is the speaker willing to adjust the talk based on who is present? Each of these questions gets at how the speaker values the community that has come to hear the talk. In a church context, encouraging discussion (vs lecturing, or "speeching", as Doug Pagitt calls it) teaches the value that the whole community has the capacity to contribute ideas of merit. In the same way, priority given to prayer would communicate a value that God's voice is of (at least!) equal importance to the voice of the speaker. To fail to give time to prayer and listening would communicate a disregard for God's voice, or worse, that only the speaker can hear God's voice, leaving all others dependent). Similarly, the type of language used in a talk may indirectly communicate attitudes of sexism, racism, or other isms, attitudes, or values that may be reproduced in the lives of the hearers.

At a deeper level still the format of a gathering, the experience of coming together, teaches a worldview. What does the speaker (or organizer) feel about community? What is true about this particular group, and how will the structure of the meeting reinforce or compete with that truth? Will they sit and listen and then go home? Do they participate passively? Is the goal of a meeting only to answer questions, agree on some facts, or achieve consensus? What if the organizer was intentional about the experience of the meeting? The venue, style, formality, process, and rythms all "teach" a member of the community what it means to be a member of the community. In a church, our gatherings should have a flavor of heaven. How do you organize that? If we believe that the church is the body of Christ and the temple of the Holy Spirit, then our meetings probably should not look like a meeting of local business leaders. If we believe that Jesus is the Head of the body which is the church, then do we think that each meeting should be the same as the last one? There is a reason why heaven is popularly pictured as boredom among the clouds.

Church leaders (I include myself in this category) say a lot from behind the microphone about heaven that doesn't exactly align with the experience of our gatherings. What we teach at the top level is not the same as what is being learned at other levels. Do we really want to be caught saying to the people we serve, "Do as we say, not as we do" ...?


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