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January 1977 · Vol. 6 No. 1 · pp. 24–26 

Effective Teaching for Christlikeness

Bruce Ewing

Everyone knows that a good, progressive, Sunday School program is marked by a large number of impressionable minds, colorful rows of pins dangling from blouses or shirts indicating perfect attendance or number of verses learned, two or three red Bibles indicating a sort of evangelistic outreach for the few who invited the largest number of friends, carefully graded classes taught by well-prepared teachers, cartons of literature and promotional ideas purchased, correct questions eliciting correct answers, and of course the good classroom—the quiet classroom.

But what are the results? Do the use of perfect attendance pins, busing, and red Bibles suggest a gimmickery trap resulting in short term objectives at the expense of developing a total lifestyle of Christlikeness? Today many Christian educators are concerned that church education has not integrated biblical truth and life principles. The result, often, is apathy in ministry and casual leadership among the laity.

Christian education is at a critical point and we who are engaged in it must reevaluate it, and, in some cases, restate its objectives and methods.


That many churches are dying is in radical opposition to the theology of the Gospel. Jesus said, “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly” (John 10:10b). And he taught his disciples in such a timely and relational way that Christlikeness permeated the whole lifestyle of his disciples. Christ was more than a transmitter of knowledge. He appealed not only to the cognitive (intellectual belief) need but also to the affective (emotional attitude) and effective (will, behavioral) needs of the individual. His classroom was the world, in which people exist physically, spiritually, and emotionally. The church of the first century might also have died had Christ used our traditional classroom approach.

Cognitive objectives relate to knowledge and appeal to the intellect. Under most circumstances the Christian educator accomplishes this objective. This is not to say that the knowledge has been applied or {25} used, rather it simply suggests that data has been placed in the “computer.” To picture this one might imagine a truck loaded with knowledge backed up to the dock or classroom and its load of information dumped on the students in the highly structured way of a formal classroom. This characterizes the typical Sunday School.

Affective objectives define what the student is desired to feel. Here the emotional need is spoken to. It answers the question, “What attitude is the key to motivation. The affective dimension of learning is essential for translating knowledge into a way of life. Instead of the truckload of information simply being dumped in the hope that some will benefit, the truckload of information is backed up to the dock and the child is taken by the hand into the truck and allowed to touch and to pick up the truths that meet his or her felt needs. It is at this point that real teaching begins. All the creative resources of the teacher must be drawn upon, for it is at this point that the student “tunes in” or “tunes out.” Here credibility between the teacher and the student is established.

The third learning objective is often assumed but seldom realized. The effective objective might be called the behavioral or will objective. The effective objective expects a positive or negative response on the part of the student and can normally be measured. The effective objective makes the teacher “result” conscious. This behavioral objective is greatly dependent upon the success of the cognitive and affective objectives. After the truck has been backed to the dock and the student has been sensitively ushered into the truck and the truth related to his need, the student must be motivated to ask, “What can I do?” Or, better yet, he is led to decide, “This is what I will do.”


These considerations have led us at Koerner Heights to adopt the concept of the learning center, a mode of teaching that is basically designed to carry out all of these learning objectives. It seeks to create an informal and reality-centered environment directed to the intellect, emotion, and will. Through the use of drama, role play, puppetry, flannel graph, film strips, and stories, both the teacher and the student are able to interact and share life’s experiences together.

The mechanics of the learning center take advantage of one of the most difficult problems in teaching youth—the short attention span. This problem is converted into a positive element for learning. Instead of one teacher being responsible for a group of children for one or two hours, the group is broken down, and teams of teachers teach a particular truth in such a way as to meet one of the three objectives. A given teacher might teach the same truth, meeting the same objective, to three different groups of students in a given hour. Instead of hours of general {26} preparation for an hour with thirty children, the teacher spends less time zeroing in on a limited well-defined truth and objective while personalizing it for perhaps three groups of ten students for fifteen minutes each.

This is an immensely freeing experience for the teacher, and it gives great confidence that the job is being done well. No longer is one filling a position but rather one is meeting needs and seeing results by using God’s Word.

Concerning curriculum, there are basically two options. First, and most ideal, is to write your own. This would allow more opportunity for the expression and creative work of the teacher; this could also be co-ordinated with what the pastor is preaching or what the parent is being exposed to in the learning hour. The second option is to use a standardized curriculum. In published material the objective may already be stated, there is expertise behind it, and it is normally graduated.

In our own experience, Sunday School Plus has been readily adaptable to the learning center. It allows the needed freedom for creative teaching, had good biblical content, and is very relational. It also has a means of evaluation structured within it. The danger with Sunday School Plus, as with any curriculum, is the tendency to use it as a crutch at the expense of creativity.

When measuring results, both short and long term, the question must continually be asked, “How effective have we been?” The ultimate result must be the transference of biblical truth into the lives of individuals so that they might more naturally reflect Christlikeness in their total lifestyle.

Rev. Bruce Ewing is associate pastor at Koerner Heights Church of the Mennonite Brethren, Newton, Kansas.

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