Myth # 7. When the students look like they aren’t listening, they aren’t listening. I was in the mall a few years ago … I only go about once a year … and a woman ran up to me with her husband trailing behind. I was a bit afraid, as she’s bigger than me and we’d last spoken on less than friendly terms. As she approached, she ran faster and seemed very anxious. I considered running, but I figured that running from an older woman is just not the manly thing to do in a mall.
She came up to me breathlessly. “Jim and I are so glad to see you!” Jim, her husband (name changed for internet purposes), had never said a word in her presence, so far as I’d even seen.
“Really?” I said, trying hard not to show my relief. “I’m certainly gl…”
She interrupted. “When we transferred our membership a few years ago, I … I mean, we were so mad at you. The things you said in class were so infuriating!” She clearly had vivid memories, and so my fight-or-flight instincts were kicking back in.
“We were so mad,” she continued, “that we pulled out our Bibles to prove you wrong, and we spent months trying to do it. We called friends and preachers. I was going to get up in front of the whole church and prove you wrong!
“But you were right! And I’m so thankful that you were persistent enough to persuade me!” She hugged me with a massive, chest-crushing hug. Jim smiled.
Now, up to this point, my clearest memory of this couple was her scowling and taking notes during my classes. She asked very pointed questions and clearly was unhappy with me, and yet she was among the most faithful attenders. She’d later transferred to another congregation, for reasons not entirely related to my heresy.
It’s nice to occasionally have someone tell you that your Sunday school teaching mattered to them. And I’ve had people try to prove me wrong more than once. (Every once in a while, they succeed.) I’ve even had teenagers whom I would’ve sworn were narcoleptic recall in my presence lessons I’d taught years before. I mean, some of these kids sat in the back row mouthing “boring!” over and over while I spoke.
The point is that you never know whom you’re reaching and whom you’re not. And you never how many years it might take for the lesson to kick in. Some people accept the teaching immediately and others take years. Some just need to hear it once, and others require several repetitions.
And so, when you walk out of a classroom knowing you’ve failed to reach anyone, when the class’s body language screams “failure to learn!”, don’t get too down. The Spirit works at his own pace. Maybe a later sermon or someone else’s class jogs a memory or fills in a blank. Maybe a verse suddenly becomes clear and they finally realize what you meant. Maybe years later the Spirit uses your lesson to change a student’s heart. Just keeping on planting seeds and let God give the increase.
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