Teachers come in two flavors: educators and experts. The educator studies learning style and process. The expert focuses on his subject to the exclusion of all else. The field of missionary education is replete with experts but nearly devoid of educators. This imbalance produces a corresponding misaligned emphasis among students taught by missionary educators, but it can be easily corrected.
Looking back to a moment prior to graduating from Bible college, I recall thinking, “I just can’t wait to get out there and share all this great information with the people who really need it.” The subsequent successes and failures of early ministry experiences caused me to reflect at length on this perspective. Eight hours of prep time and multiple invitations to my church congregation produced exactly zero participants in the Holy Spirit Seminar I had been planning for weeks. The resulting disappointment led to a subsequent success: Finding that what my congregation most needed at that time was one-on-one coaching with their personal devotional times, and watching this practice pay spiritual dividends in their lives.
Others’ failures and successes in their attempts to spur along my educational process continued to shed some light on the subject. A professor in my graduate studies program enjoyed the experience of “talking over our heads” and invariably drew questions evidencing students’ complete ignorance of his discussion topics. When asked to clarify, this expert would invariably streak off on another tangent filled with obtuse vocabulary. His point came across loud and clear every time, saying as it were, “I am smarter and more highly educated that every other person in this room.” Many have shared similar experiences.
Another professor in the same program had not yet participated in post-graduate studies but was permitted to engage the students in a class as an adjunct faculty member. His graduate degree was not even in the same field as the class subject! However, the teacher proceeded to open up a topic with which most of us were already familiar, and advance our learning several levels through the use of dialogue. He identified our own points of reference and tailored the material to address the students’ experience. It was an amazing process to behold, and to this day I count it as my most valuable educational experience ever!
Upon further scrutiny of my teaching methods, a discrepancy arose between intended class content and the result in the students. Despite a healthy range of final grades in the classroom, the post-classroom evidence of change was severely lacking. I was transmitting content but not a new way of thinking or living!
The missionary teacher must therefore face major decisions regarding his or her own educational program. The resulting value system, whether education or expertise-oriented, will reverberate through every single student encountered, and above all through those sharing a high level of personal rapport. This means that the students impacted will leave the classroom with varying levels of comprehension, but when they walk into a Sunday School classroom or step into the weeknight pulpit to teach, they will reproduce the teacher’s method and style as the bedrock foundation laid for an audience to build their own learning.
The reader’s educational persona may not reflect the extremes previously mentioned, but there is always potential to take a step in the direction of interest. If the goal is life change, there must be a corresponding recognition that mastery in a field of expertise will not help students if they follow an example that leaves them talking over their audience’s heads. Earning an advanced degree without once having been exposed to teaching and learning methods themselves may produce more experts but it will not develop a single educator.
However multifaceted the problem, the solution itself is simple. Research on adult education and learning styles is readily available through textbooks and the internet. An even better goal would be to enroll in a class on adult education. A truly committed educator might even consider switching their degree to an Ed. D. in place of a D. Min or Ph. D. Future students, and their students, would be rewarded by our efforts on their behalf.
Missionary to Suriname