For the last sixteen years I have taught lessons, asked questions, answered questions, guided people to understanding, and helped them navigate life.
But I have only been a classroom teacher for the last four years.
Before spending a year as an instructional assistant, I was a youth minister for seven years, then a pastor/church starter for four. In that capacity, I did much of what I do now, just with different content. Both teaching and ministry require innovation, relationships are foundational to success for both, and as the instructor I feel the content is highly important and should be shared.
Despite all my time in the church and in the classroom, there was a connection I never made until I was attending church this morning. It connected via Matthew 28:19-20.
"Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”--Jesus last words in the Gospel of Matthew
This morning, as I listened to the message, I was asking myself this question: " Am I teaching students or making disciples?"
While the word "disciple" has a distinctly religious impression for most, we do often refer to students who buy into their teacher's view and content as disciples. Aristotle was a disciple of Plato. There are plenty of disciples of Stephen Hawking. Therefore, I think it is safe to apply the term disciple to our educational relationships.
But disciples and students are not not the same thing.
Students Study, Disciples Apply
A student reads books, takes notes, and reviews. Their end goal is to earn a grade and move on to the next lesson. A disciple does all that, but they seek ways to apply the lessons. If you are making disciples, they are making connections between the content and the world outside the class. They WANT to find how the conten is relevant. A disciple maker does not just know their content, they enjoy it and it shows. Their students like the content because the teacher does and makes it easy to see the relevance.
Students Test, Disciples Use
A student demonstrates understanding by reciting or calculating or writing on a test. A disciple demonstrates learning by finding ways to use the learning. For students, the test is the end of their relationship with the material. If you have made a disciple, they continue to ask questions, to dig in and to engage with the content. It is the disciple-maker's ambition to demonstrate that learning is not a one-time event, but an ongoing process.
Students Become Graduates, Disciples Become Teachers
Its all about the goal. A student wants to get through the material to get their diploma. A disciple wants to explore the content so they can share it with others. A teacher hears that parents are glad the student got a good grade. A disciple-maker hears that the kids keep telling their friends and parents about what they learned that day. A disciple maker grows the disciples to a point where they lead the class. School 21 is a school that applies this principle through oracy- which I believe is British for "student voice." When you can, check out this video below for more details:
The common thread that seperates teachers from disciple makers is the depth of relationship they build with students. Disciple-makers relinquish control to their kids. This is because they develop a mutual trust that only comes from respect bestowed by the disciple-maker.
While disciples learn in large part because of their respect for the leader, this does not mean we are making "mini-mes." It is not about you or a cult of personality. Aristotle eventually developed his own views and ideas. But he was only able to reach that point because Plato invested in a type of education that centered not on tests, but on application, use, and reciprocation.
If you make a disciple, they will help others to learn. It was true in ministry, it is true in education.
My question to you is this: tomorrow, will your room fill with students, or disciples?
I teach Psychology, Sociology, Communication Applications and Debate at College Station High School, as well as coach the debate team and co-sponsor Student Council. I am an aspiring administrator.