Dr. Lesa Seibert--Faculty, School of Education at BJU
Every educator has her own personal teaching philosophy. She demonstrates this teaching philosophy in ways such as choosing to use a group round-table discussion (instead of a lecture) or choosing to suspend the teaching of her content (even though it may make her a little behind in her lessons) so that the whole class can pray for Timmy because his favorite dog died last night and he is really upset. Sometimes she may take extra time to answer a student’s question, involving other students in the answer, so that everyone can learn that particular content. All of these situations are examples of choices made based on a teaching philosophy. In its simplest form, a teaching philosophy means the underlying reason the educator makes the teaching decisions she does (i.e., putting her beliefs into practice).
Many of my teaching philosophy choices focus on what teaching strategies or what specific assignments (project or exam) I choose for my students. In teaching, I don’t choose randomly. I choose based on what I know about how my particular group of students learn. The more I know about the nature of students, the better choices I make for those students—and the better learners they become.
A basic “rule of the learner” involves making active learning choices specifically when the students (1) are younger or (2) are not native English speakers or (3) have weaker educational backgrounds or (4) need more time to process the information. These students need to be doing something in order to learn (NOT merely listening to something). For example, I may have a group of students to whom I’m trying to teach good sentence writing. I already know that these students have not done well so far on their previous grammar assignments; so I determine they need more processing time and more involvement in the learning (i.e., active learning). Therefore, I would choose not to lecture about the seven types of sentences for most of my 50-minute class period. Instead I choose to demonstrate one type for a shorter period of time and then have the students practice using that one type. They will demonstrate their learning before I move on to the second type, and then the third type, etc.
To extend my ministry even further, not only do I need to know about my learners as a group, but I need to know specifics about each of my learners. I may discover, for example, that one of my learners has a reading disability. This reading disability may affect his ability to choose the correct subject and verb in sentences only because he struggles to read the words (not because he doesn’t know how to make the correct choice). This type of student would profit from some adjustment in my teaching. If I (or his parents) read the sentences to him, he can make correct choices--because he is hearing them and not having to struggle to read them. (By the way, as a teacher, I have the legal [and ethical] right to research the records of each of my learners to determine if there is some specific information which would help me make even better teaching choices.)
I make good choices, as a teacher, when I know about my learners. And the more information I have about my learners, the better choices I make, which, of course, means the better learners they become. For me, personally, my most deliberate and important teaching philosophy choice is that each student with whom I work means more to God (and, therefore, to me) than the content I teach.
I have taught English to high school students and now teach educational methods to university students. (And yea for teaching!) No amount of educational content, however, is more important than any other need my student has. I am as concerned about the spiritual, physical, and social well-being of each image bearer with whom I work (Luke 2:52) as I am with his educational well-being. So, it makes logical sense that the more I know about the spiritual, physical, and social aspects of my students, the better choices I will make in meeting their needs.
For several years, I have taken seminary courses here at BJU. I began taking them as part of my doctoral work, and just last year I took another. In that one course, I obtained a better understanding of image bearers who are ethnically and culturally different from me. And, I am excited about being able to fellowship and worship and learn with “every nation, tribe, people and language” (Revelation 7:9, ESV).
In my classroom, I have students who are different from me. And many have different problems than I do, and different plans, different goals, different dreams. It is a great joy to be able to minister to them and to fellowship with them spiritually. The more I learn; the better choices I make—and the better I can minister.
You and I matter to God. Students—people—matter to God. It is a blessing to know how to minister to those God for whom places in our path.
Dr. Ted Miller Jr., Bible Faculty at BJU
It was in middle school that I first began to think that God wanted me to serve him in some kind of ministry. I had no specific idea regarding how to pursue this sense, and the idea of preparing in a formal sense certainly wasn’t on my mind.
By the time I graduated from high school, I had given far more thought to where I would study than what I would study (my dad sent me to visit five different colleges). Once I decided to enroll at BJU, choosing a major was almost an afterthought. I didn’t know what to choose, and I wanted to sample a lot of options, so I majored in Humanities.
However, I always felt like I was leaving “money on the table” if I didn’t take as many credits as possible (without increasing my tuition bill), so I regularly enrolled in a variety of extra electives, among them additional Bible and speech classes: Poetic Books, I Corinthians, Persuasion, and even Pulpit Speech.
I don’t think I could have realized it at the time, but the Lord was shaping my interests and guiding my opportunities in ways that I could never have orchestrated. I didn’t know where I was going, but between classes, sports, music, and a jumble of other activities, I had a great (and somewhat chaotic) undergraduate experience.
Through a sequence of events too involved to rehearse, in the Spring of 1994 I enrolled in the MDiv program in the seminary. After that one term, I was out of money and options for continuing, but I applied for and was hired to teach En 101 and 102 as a Graduate Assistant. This job made it possible for me to finish the next four years of graduate work at the seminary.
Looking back, my path to the ministry was not as direct as others. I certainly had no flow chart of possible professions. However, I am amazed at how God guided my education—in all its stages and forms—to make it possible to do what He has called me to do for the last 20 years, both here at BJU and in my local church.
I believe that the Lord calls people to the ministry in a wide variety of ways and through a wide variety of paths. And although God wants your heart above all things, it’s easy—and not uncommon—to wonder: If what God wants most is a willing heart, isn’t that enough? Why spend time on education?
One of Paul’s best-known instructions to Timothy dealt with his personal discipline and effort in correctly understanding God’s word: “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (2 Tim 2:15).
The fact that God’s word is truth doesn’t mean that everyone who handles it does so correctly. Paul knew this personally—he was extremely well-trained in the Scriptures before his conversion, and yet he had been entirely ignorant of his own Scriptures and of the Messiah they pointed to. After his conversion, he did more than just evangelize. In Ephesus—one of the few places where he settled for any length of time—he established a school.
For a young person entering the ministry, the skills, content mastery, and discipline to study and to teach God’s Word are essential. And very often, a formal education—going to school—can make it possible to develop in those areas in ways that would be difficult otherwise.
For me, the two greatest values that I gained from my formal education in Bible (in both undergraduate and graduate school) have been the ability to study the Bible in the original languages, and the ability to read the Bible.
This value of latter ability—reading the Bible—may seem odd at first. (Why study to do something that I’ve been able to do since the first grade?) However, as I continue to teach, I’ve learned that I need the ability to read Scripture both for its microscopic as well as its macroscopic meaning.
By the microscopic reading of Scripture, I mean the kind of analysis that is made possible by the study of the Bible’s original languages: Understanding the usage of Greek tenses, the forms of Hebrew verbs, and how to do a word study in the original languages. The ability to use these skills and others shed important light on the study of God’s word, and I learned these skills in classes. It would have been difficult if not impossible for me to learn them otherwise, I believe, even with all the excellent study tools that are available today.
By the macroscopic reading of Scripture, I mean the kind of understanding that comes from reading the Bible as it was intended to be read: Finding the theme within a narrative, following the flow of thought in a theological discourse, or enjoying the beauty and power of divinely-inspired poetry. There were specific courses—both undergraduate and graduate—that contributed to my ability to see the whole of a line of thought, even as I was reading only one part. The work required in courses such as Old and New Testament Theology, Prophets, Systematic Theology, and History of Doctrine put ideas and concepts on my radar screen as I read. I was able to make more connections and notice more in Scripture because of the unique value I got from studying for those courses.
Both of these methods build on each other, and I believe that they are one of the ways that God provides the wisdom that makes it possible to follow Paul’s next statement to Timothy: “shun profane and vain babblings: for they will increase unto more ungodliness” (2 Tim 2:16).
For a young person entering the ministry, the skills and discipline to study God’s Word are essential. The practice of these nurture the wisdom we need to know when God’s word is being used correctly or incorrectly.
Gaining the skills and knowledge to serve the Great Shepherd by being a good shepherd can involve hard work and significant time. The diligence associated with careful study often excludes other good activities. But the calling is high, the rewards are great, and the privilege of serving as ambassadors for Christ requires us to give nothing less than our best efforts to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, our Savior the Lord Jesus Christ.
Audrey Smiley, Seminary Student at BJU
Experiences of a zealous college graduate
When I finished undergrad, I took a job working at a group home for adolescent girls who had been rescued out of sex trafficking. Sex trafficking is a horrific and heartbreaking thing I learned about during a project in college. It happens in almost every neighborhood across America, and many different organizations are seeking to fight for those who are victimized. After I spent ten months living and working in this group home, I left burnt out, disillusioned, and with an overwhelming sense of failure. I don’t have any amazing stories to tell about how lives were changed dramatically by the Gospel. I can’t give you reports on how the ministry has helped hundreds of girls escape terrible situations. I’m sure it sounds like it was a huge failure and I feel that way about it a lot as well. However, with God, nothing is wasted.
The need for Christians and churches to bring the Gospel to these women (and men, too) is very real. I hope that someday I will have the opportunity to work with this population again. God used my first experience to teach me so much and, in turn, led me to Seminary.
Whose fault was it, really?
I have yet to mention that when I decided to leave that ministry, it meant the home would need to close. At the time I was one of two house moms on staff. The girls were placed elsewhere or sent back to their homes. This decision was one of the hardest I’ve ever made in my life, but I came to the conclusion through counsel and prayer. As I spent the next year simply making lattes and trying to process what had happened, the Lord graciously brought me to some conclusions. Those conclusions can be divided into both internal and external categories.
First, I’ll explain what I meant by “internal”. When I graduated college, I thought I was ready to turn the world upside down by jumping into ministry. However, I have come to realize that my own personal walk with Jesus and my personal foundation in theology was on the shallow side at best. It’s not that I never prayed or read my Bible, but my understanding of the Word and walk with God was not my source of life at that time.
There were also external circumstances which contributed to the failure. As you can imagine, working with people who have been severely traumatized is taxing. In hindsight, a lack of practical theology rooted in a biblical and systematic theology caused problems on an organizational and philosophical level. One of my most trusted mentors made a comment to me about this while I was still working at the home. I brushed it off at first, thinking that I had finally found people who were passionate about helping the suffering, and if we just all believed in Jesus, nothing else really mattered. Even if they weren’t as “theological” as my previous pastors and professors in Bible college, it wasn’t a big deal. I can see now that this added to the strain and difficulty I experienced while serving at the home.
I ended up at BJU Seminary.
It’s a humbling experience to go back and say “you were right,” but if we never have to say it, we aren’t growing. My mentor graciously and patiently helped me to see that philosophy and practical theology must come from a deep understanding of the Bible. This is especially true when working with the hardest cases. So many organizations and churches seek to help the poor and needy and follow our Savior’s example. However, in order for this ministry to be sustainable and God-honoring, it must be rooted deeply in truth.
I must give a caveat to avoid misunderstanding. I believe that God is sovereign over the fruits and successes of our ministry. We could work for years to come up with the perfect strategies based on what we find in the Bible and never see anyone come to Christ and their lives turned completely around. That would be part of His sovereign plan. However, we should seek to minister out of a deep understanding of who God is and what His plans for His image bearers are.
Through attending Seminary, I began to see specific theology and truth apply in retrospect to my experiences. The Gospel must be the center of ministry and helping people know Jesus Christ is the ultimate. Caring for the physical needs of the suffering isn’t just a liberal concept, but Jesus Himself authenticated His ministry as the Messiah through feeding the hungry and healing the sick. He didn’t exclude the spiritual, but He gained their attention and trust through His care. The Bible has the answers for all of life’s problems, and Jesus is the true Healer of our hurts. Each and every person is made in the image of God, and true value comes from this. These truths and many others need to be the foundation for which the Lord’s work is built on.
My own personal view of God and understanding has grown more than it has in any other time of my life. God has been working on those “internal factors”. Through His help, I can look back on my “failed” attempts to serve at the home and realize my lack of dependence on Him for ministry. His love for me is greater than my failures, and He’s used them to show me my need to abide in the Vine in order to truly do His will. He has graciously allowed me to study under some of the most passionate professors I’ve ever had and allowed my understanding of the Bible to grow in tremendous ways. God has greatly used my time in Seminary to change and grow me. I look forward to taking the tools I now have to bring the Gospel to the hurting and bring glory to His name.
*If RSS feed is not working for you, please add it to your app or software manually by adding this url:
The CGO Blog
Written by the CGO staff, with guest posts from students and other faculty/staff at BJU to provide thought leadership for missions in a new millennium.