Stretch the Sheep

In middle and high school, there are typically teachers whom students avoid like the plague – teachers whose names are synonymous with high expectations and low grades. For me, that teacher was Mrs. Slaughter. No…I’m not making that up; her name really was Slaughter. And, as you can imagine, it magnified the fear of having her. I was, consequently, thankful when I managed to sidestep her in junior high and equally horrified when I couldn’t do so in senior high.

Time, however, can change our perspective on things. While I don’t recall particularly enjoying Mrs. Slaughter’s class as a student, I do look back with appreciation at the education I received. Without a doubt, she had high standards, but they helped to make me a better student. And, for that, I’m truly thankful. In fact, I wish now that I’d taken more of her classes…not less.

A lesson for shepherds.

As I reflect on my experience, I wonder if there’s not a lesson in it for all those who teach in the church. I wonder if we shouldn’t learn something from Mrs. Slaughter’s high standards when it comes to shepherding those in our care.

In fact, maybe setting a high bar for people isn’t just a way to get the most out of them but, also, the biblical way. Just consider the standards Scripture sets.

Doesn’t Moses command us to love God through comprehensive instruction in his Word?

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates (Deuteronomy 6:5-9).

In Proverbs, aren’t we told to work hard for wisdom?

My son, if you receive my words / and treasure up my commandments with you, / making your ear attentive to wisdom / and inclining your heart to understanding; / yes, if you call out for insight / and raise your voice for understanding, / if you seek it like silver / and search for it as for hidden treasures, / then you will understand the fear of the Lord / and find the knowledge of God. / For the Lord gives wisdom; / from his mouth come knowledge and understanding (Proverbs 2:1-6).

Or, consider the bar Jesus set. What does he send us out to do?

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you… (Matthew 28:19-20).

These expectations for learning are Everest high. None of us can summit them alone. Yet, our inability doesn’t remove the standard; it remains the Lord’s goal for his people. Therefore, when we inevitably fall short, the Holy Spirit applies the gospel to us with surgical precision – then, promptly picks us up, dusts us off, and sends us again after the high bar of Christ.

Some pleasant surprises.

We recently raised the bar with our adult Sunday school offerings, and a strange thing happened. When we advertised a new, advanced class – with required readings and rigorous discussion over the material, as well as the goal that all participants would engage and contribute – rather than scaring people off, this high standard excited and attracted people. We now have about fifteen to twenty regular attendees who are learning and growing in their knowledge of God through the study of his word. It’s tremendously encouraging to see their excitement.

And, this isn’t simply true of adults. We have a 4th and 5th grade Sunday school teacher who regularly challenges her students to memorize large passages of Scripture and teaches deeply through books of the Bible. Her students absolutely love this. In fact, one 5th grade girl, who’s been helping with our audio-visual ministry in worship services, recently told her dad she didn’t want to be scheduled if it meant she’d have to miss Sunday school. Let that sink in – she loves learning about God in new and challenging ways more than getting to use a computer. Isn’t that beautiful!

So, stretch the sheep in your care – because a great treasure is worth working and sacrificing for, and because knowing our Triune God more and more is the greatest treasure of all!

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Jason Abbott
Jason has served as a teaching pastor at Community Evangelical Free Church of Harrisburg since 2012. He and his wife, Natalie, live in Hummelstown with their five children.
Jason Abbott

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1 Comment

  1. Eva Kroeze on September 5, 2018 at 12:12 pm

    Thank you, Jason, for this article to challenge our Christian education expectations at church and at home. As a teacher, public and church, I have seen the change over the years to “fluff” entertainment curriculum many times producing biblically illiterate children, but now back (in many churches and homeschooling) to strong content with application. Word-centered learning with good tools (e.g. music, graphics, etc) can be productive as well as rewarding!

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