A Message by Mr. David Ward, Mystic, Connecticut
At the 39th Annual Sunday School Teachers’ Conference
St. Catharines, Ontario — May 12, 1962
This afternoon we considered something of Lesson Preparation and we haven’t begun to exhaust the subject, just perhaps to stir up our pure minds a little bit about it; but after the preparation of a lesson, there is its presentation. The teacher has something in mind which he would convey to the pupil. The teacher must, therefore, first of all prepare himself in respect to the matter that is to be taught. But then that material, those concepts, those precepts must be conveyed to the individuals in such a way that they will apply them and use them in their lives. One has well said that education is not the accumulation of knowledge, but the use of it. And it is well that we remember this as we teach in any capacity.
In order to present material to others, it is first of all necessary that we establish contact with them. There can be no flow of ideas from the teacher to the pupil until he has gained the pupil’s interest, until the pupil is in harmony, in conjunction, in symphony with him. Therefore, the first thing that we are face-to-face with is making contact.
There are a number of ways to make contact. One of the best ways is by reviewing the previous material. Some have estimated that review should comprise 25% to 33% of our teaching. This is an excellent way of bringing in new thoughts, by reviewing the old — tying in with that which is past as we present some thing that is new.
As a matter of fact, this brings us to one of the basic laws of teaching and that is what is known as the “law of apperception.” Which simply means this — that we only teach something new as it is related to something that is already known. Suppose, for example, that we had two containers here on the platform, and I told you that what was in the container on my right hand was exactly the same as what was in the container on my left hand. Now you would have learned something if you first knew what was in the container on my right hand, but if you did not know what was in this container, then you could not determine what was in that.
It is something like the algebra problems that we all had when we were back in school, which my teenage girl is groping with and grasping after these days. Oh, these unknowns, x’s, y’s and z’s! Well, if you have one equation it’s all right to have one unknown; if the other things are known, you can solve the unknown. But if you begin to have two and three and four unknowns in one equation, you are not going to solve any of the unknowns. So it is in the conveying of spiritual truth.
If we try to move from the unknown to teach the unknown, we end up exactly where we started. Therefore, it is necessary to ascertain what our pupils know and then we move from what they know to that which they do not know. Someone has illustrated it in this way. You enter a room in which there are five hundred people, let’s say, and you don’t know anyone in that company, then you are at a loss where and how to begin to know anyone. But you enter through the door and suddenly you see Jim Brown. And you know Jim. And so immediately what do you do? We all do the same thing. We seek out Jim Brown and we are so glad he is there and he in turn introduces us to our new friends and thus we begin to know the people who are there. So is the teaching process.
As we bring a child into a room where there are total unknowns, it’s a very, very difficult situation. But there is someone in the room of ideas that he knows, then we can introduce the unknowns to him through the known. This involves the teacher using language which the child understands. It involves making application in the area of thinking and living in which the child lives. The teacher doesn’t talk about sin in areas in which the child is not acquainted, like covetousness, adultery, murder and so on. But he speaks of sin and applies it in the area in which the child is very much acquainted —cheating at school, disobedience to parents, lying, and so on. Now he is beginning to take the subject and get it down into the thought area and perception area of the child.
Let us suppose, for example, that our aim for this lesson is to make the children aware of the fact that God is holy. What does this mean to him?
Well, it means a lot of different things to a lot of different children. How can we convey this concept? We can’t go on talking for a whole quarter, or a whole year, or a whole Sunday School career about the holiness of God without ever giving the child to understand what it is.
We think of the hospital perhaps, and we think of the cleanliness that prevails in the hospital, the absolute purity, physically speaking, and we have an idea. And so we begin to talk to the boys and girls along these lines, about the nurses in their nice white clean uniforms, about the operating room with the instruments as they are put into the sterilizer, and the doctor as he puts the gloves on, and so on. We emphasize the importance of cleanliness there in the hospital. Why? Because the hospital is seeking to combat disease. This disease in turn brings about death. We are in an area they are beginning to understand. They are with us.
We now move from this area into a new area. That demand for cleanliness and purity in the hospital in order that disease might be combatted, in order that death might be thwarted, is similar to what we have in connection with God and His dealings with mankind. God is fighting a greater disease, and that disease is sin. This brings about not only physical death, but eternal death, and just as the hospital must be clean and the attendants must maintain cleanliness and the doctor and instruments must all be clean, so it is that God has to maintain His cleanliness, His purity, His holiness. Now do you understand what holiness means? Holiness has to do with God’s abhorrence of sin, has to do with that which is God’s character as being in contrast to sin and impurity. We are beginning to move into areas in which the child can understand.
Now all of our teaching, if it’s going to really reach the children in the classroom, must be taken from theological terms, from high-sounding phrases or cliches, phrases which we are very familiar with perhaps —taken from those down into the area of the child. This of course, varies with the age of the child; and again, remember, with the needs of the children within the class.
Let’s get their attention first. First of all by review. Then by the use of illustration, as we just suggested. That which is known is presented and then that which is unknown is brought in in connection with that which is known. An illustrative incident from the news of that week (perhaps something that even happened locally) will give you an entrance into the class attention and from there you move with that which you want to teach them.
Notice how careful the Lord was about making contact. A rabbi comes to Him and the Lord says right away to him, “You must be born again.” Wow! Did He ever make contact! Nicodemus said, “What?” he was startled. That’s a means of making contact. The Lord immediately shocked him and He made contact with him and had his ear and poured in the wonderful water of the Word, as we are hearing this afternoon.
The next chapter, John 4, a woman comes to the well and the Lord Jesus says to her, “Give Me to drink.” And right away He’s made contact with her, moving in the area in which she’s thinking and living at that particular moment. By the way, pre-session activities are important. Vitally important! We had that suggested here this afternoon. I trust that we all realize that if our Sunday School starts at 9 o’clock, or 9.30, or 11 o’clock, or whenever it might be, the good teacher starts his Sunday School class at least fifteen minutes before that time. As has been suggested, one needs to get to know the youngsters, but another very important reason is to get the children into the movement for that which is to come, so you don’t spend valuable class time in trying to gain attention and atmosphere, shall I say, which should already have been gained in pre-session and then in the actual opening of the Sunday School.
Now then, attention is concentrated consciousness. I called on you to lend me your voluntary concentrated consciousnes this afternoon. Sometimes we say “Well, I’m going to make myself listen; I’m going to make myself take this in.” I’ve had this experience. “I’m going to make myself get this now.” That’s not the best kind of attention.
We ask our class to give us that kind of attention, maybe, but the best kind of attention is involuntary attention. The teacher is so interesting in the presentation of his material, that unconsciously, the children are absorbed in that which is being presented to them … and their eyes open, and their mouths open, and their ears open … and you pour in the precious Word of God.
We’ve made contact, but attention begins to wander; we need to maintain contact, remember. One of the most valuable ways to recall that attention was suggested this afternoon — by the asking of a question. At this point it is best to ask a direct question. There are times when a direct question is not good, but here the direct question is good. My teacher back in grammar school always used to seem to have that right down to a knack. She said she had eyes in the back of her head and we believed it, because it would seem even when she was writing on the board she was able to say, “David!”, and she would give me a question when she knew I wasn’t giving attention to what she was saying. And so the directed question, at a point when the mind is beginning to wander, is a good way of calling that individual back again to that which is being presented.