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Teaching with Authority "Every Sabbath day he went into the synagogue and taught the people. They were amazed at his teaching, for he taught as one who had real authority." (Mark 1:21 b-22)

After yet another discouraging class session during my first semester of full-time university teaching, a student approached me in the staff parking lot. I stopped next to my car and waited, bracing myself for the kind of mocking criticism I'd come to expect from members of this class of senior ministry majors. The student did indeed express frustration with me and with my class. I tried, as usual, to explain that my teaching style was modeled on Jesus - gentle, peaceful, non-resistant. "But Jesus taught with authority. Why don't you?" he challenged. He walked away exasperated, and I drove away angry.

That student's words continued to challenge me all year. Shouldn't I "turn the other cheek" to students' disrespectful classroom behavior, modeling Christian humility? Or should I teach with authority, pandering to student expectations of "teacher as expert"? My teaching style is relational, built on mentoring and facilitating students' own ability to learn. My aim is to connect them with the tools of research and critical thinking so that they know how to gather and analyze information, not to tell them what to think. I resisted being forced into the role of lecturer, disciplinarian, disengaged intellectual. Did my resistance to the role of lecturer, disciplinarian, and disengaged intellectual condemn me to being perceived as weak in the classroom?

The effectiveness of Jesus' teaching style can't be exclusively attributed to his audience's belief that he was fulfilling messianic prophecies. Even those hearing him for the first time asked excitedly, "What sort of new teaching is this? It has such authority!" (Mark 1:27) Jesus didn't simply lecture, he provoked his listeners to discussion, then left. His students sought him out, insisting, "Everyone is asking for you." (Mark 1:37) Jesus responded, joining his students to travel and teach "because that is why I came." (Mark 1:38b)

Jesus' students perceived his teaching as novel and authoritative. His teaching encouraged discussions, which he didn't attempt to facilitate. He often left his students alone, thinking and talking. However, he was also accessible and responsive to their needs when they requested further guidance and contact. Finally, though both he and his students understood that Jesus was their teacher, they shared a journey together. Jesus viewed teaching as his purpose in life.

While teaching spiritually does indeed mean that I am in some sense my students' sister and co-traveler, I have responsibilities in my relationship with them as their teacher that are not mutual. Teaching with authority requires confidence. In my case, that confidence has grown with experience in the classroom and through successful relationships with students. Teaching with authority requires demonstrating confidence in students as well as myself. Facilitating their learning doesn't necessarily mean that I always have to direct their conversations or even be present. Yet I am responsible to present ideas and questions in ways that are new and provocative and to be accessible for further discussion. If this is what it means to teach with authority, then the goal is attainable even (perhaps especially) for anyone who aims to teach with spiritual sensitivity.

All references are from The Holy Bible. New Living Translation. Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House, 1996.

Heather Ann Ackley Bean, Ph.D. Azusa Pacific University
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Author:Bean, Heather Ann Ackley
Publication:Academic Exchange Quarterly
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 22, 2001
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