We Teach Too Little Because We Try
One key to good teaching is concentration on one "big idea." Like a magnifying glass on a hot summer day, concentration turns ho-hum teaching into fiery hot teaching. It is the teacher's job to select what is really important to teach and converge all of the teacher's energy on that. This truth was illustrated to me recently when I attended a parent-referee soccer training class.
I have been around soccer a long time. My older son has played since he was six. My wife has coached my younger son's team for two years. I served as a parent ref back when they only required you to read the booklet. I have spent many a Saturday pacing the sidelines of a soccer field. I watched soccer, talked soccer, refereed under-six soccer and helped coach soccer. I know the basics of soccer. (By the way, my son's team has never lost when I was the parent-ref. Just a little soccer trivia!)
When I signed on as assistant coach on my son's under six soccer team, it was still required that either my wife or I attend this parent-referee soccer training class. Since Sharon had attended several times before, I volunteered. Sharon had warned me that it could be a bit boring. I brought a book and sat at the back of the room. Attendance--as opposed to learning--was all that was required to meet qualifications.
I thought about the job of the presenters. What do they need to communicate at this two and a half hour meeting? What is really important? What results do they want to see? What would I do if I were them? How could they make it interesting? What is more important, how could they help parent-referees to perform competently on the field?
In under six soccer, the parent refs are more like parents than refs. They tie little Jennifer's shoes and remind Sean that his team is going that way. They watch when the ball goes out of bounds and allow the other team to throw the ball back into play.
There is one rule in under six soccer that is a little bit confusing. When the ball goes out of bounds on the side line, it is a throw-in by the team that did not kick it out. When the ball goes out of bounds on one of the end lines, it is kicked in. If the defending team was the last to touch the ball, it is a corner kick by the offensive team. If the offensive team was the last to touch the ball, then it is a goal kick by the defending team. A goal kick is kicked from the corner of the goal box. Are you confused? It can be a bit confusing when you are standing in the middle of the bumble bee swarm of under six soccer players.
But, here is my point: even though this is a bit confusing, don't you think you could understand and communicate this little bit of information if it were your job to do so and you had two and a half hours to do so? You could explain it several times. You could explain the rationale behind the rule. You could explain it the way I got it into my head from reading the book: it is a goal kick if it makes sense, if not, it is a corner kick. It is easy enough to figure out who is supposed to kick it in. The confusing thing is where they kick it from. I just ask myself, "Does it make sense for this team to kick it from the corner of the goal box?" If it is the attacking team that is doing the kicking, then it most certainly does not make sense. The attacking team can't have the ball three feet from the goal. That doesn't make any sense, so, in that case, it must be a corner kick. If it is the defending team's ball, then, yes, it does make sense for this to be a goal kick sense they are kicking away from, not towards, the goal.
To explain this concept in two and a half hours, you could draw diagrams. You could set up a mock soccer game and have the adults kick it out and decide where and who is supposed to kick it in. You could ask for several volunteers to explain it to those who were slow to catch on. You could use all kinds of creative methods to pound the truth home. In two and a half hours you could come up with all kinds of ways to teach this rule, couldn't you?
After sitting through the two and a half hour training session, the test came. Not a piece of paper, but a real test--game time.!
I watched as the first ball rolled over the chalk at the south end of the field. Would the parent ref call it right? Had the instructors done their job?
Tweet! The whistle blew. Blue team kicked it out. Red ball. (So far so good.) Corner kick by the Red [defending] team. Unbelievable. Two and a half hours and this parent ref still did not understand. "Listen, it can be a corner kick by the attacking team or a goal kick by the defending team, but it cannot be a corner kick by the defending team. That just can't happen." They moved the ball to the corner of the goal box and the defending team kicked. No big deal, but it caused me to wonder. I knew this Dad. He was a reasonably intelligent person. How could he not get it?
The reason he didn't get it was the lack of concentration on the part of the presenters. They talked about everything you can imagine. They talked about the history of soccer. They talked about the size of the field. They talked about the size of the nets. The talked about the bureaucratic organization of kids soccer. (It is very bureaucratic.) They talked about this and that. And, they mentioned the rule about what to do when the ball is kicked out at the end of the field. They mentioned this along with everything else.
Why do parent refs need to know about the history of soccer of the size of the field? The field is already chalked off. These things may be nice to know. They may be interesting to know. They may be fine to teach as long as they do not distract from the main thing of teaching parent refs how to do what parent refs need to do. In this case, they taught too little because the tried to teach too much.
I thought, "How often do we do this in Sunday School?" We scrape the Milky Way with all kinds of high-sounding truth about this and that and never get around to telling people how to read the Bible for themselves, how to be a good parent and spouse, how to memorize scripture and how to know that we are forgiven for our sins.
It is fine to explore some of the intricacies of theology and biblical background and history and cultural issues. These are good to know, nice to know, interesting to know and helpful to know. But the key thing is, how do our pupils perform at game time? Are we making disciples who know how to relate to God, enjoy God, serve God, get along with others and advance the kingdom with the gifts God has given them?
I have been guilty at times of teaching too little because I try to teach too much. I am too interested at times in all kinds of detail related to the Bible that is nice to know, good to know, interesting to know, but not absolutely necessary to living the disciple's life. I want to be a teacher whose teaching is fiery hot because of the concentration the message around one single idea. I want to invite you to select from each week's passage one idea that you want to drive home. Pound away on that one idea. Support it; explain it; give examples of it; discuss it. Draw illustrations of it. Mold it. Shape it. Cut it. Map it. Discuss it. Ultimately, lead your group to apply this one salient idea when they get on the playing field of life.