Stop Being a Baby and Grow Up, Already!

One practice I appreciate at our karate studio is that of upper belts teaching lower belts.

All students begin their martial arts careers as white belts and proceed through a progression of colors until, eventually, they achieve their black belts. At our karate school, or dojo, as soon as you move up in rank, you help to teach those coming up behind you.

Not everyone is great at teaching at first. Some students eventually excel at teaching others and go on to lead classes or are sought out by students needing extra assistance. Some, however, only teach others when it is required in class but even those students progress in their skills.

Here’s what happens through this practice, though. People mature into their belt levels.

There is a culture cultivated at the dojo that we are all always students. Our head instructor, or Kyoshi, reminds us often that achieving a black belt is like graduating from kindergarten – there is still much to learn beyond that. In fact, karate instructors are referred to as “Sensei”, a word meaning simply, “One who has come before”.

But there is also an expectation that as a student progresses in rank, he or she should be capable of and willing to pass that knowledge on to the underbelts behind him or her. In this way, we learn that often we don’t know what we don’t know until we try to teach another what we think we know.

Teaching others makes us better students and raises the level of the entire learning community.

So, during class, under our instructor’s watchful eye, we teach one another. As he watches us fumble around, it often proves to be a test of his own instruction. He can see where we all may have a similar misconception. He can see if any upper belt is passing a bad form onto those behind him or her. And, through instructing others, we each deepen our understanding of the material required for us at our level. We each grow up a little more.

I wish we applied this practice more often in the Body of Christ.

This is the time of year when church leaders are desperately seeking teachers for classes and Bible studies that begin in the fall. Many are approached but most are frozen – frozen in a perpetual state of spiritual infancy that is marked by the motto “I couldn’t possibly teach others. I’m still learning myself!”

The writer of Hebrews goads believers onto maturity with these words “We have much to say about this, but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.” Hebrews 5: 11-14

“But!” Christians cry. “I don’t have the gift of teaching!”

Well, we are not all gifted in evangelism but we are all called to share our faith. We are not all gifted in giving but we are all passed the plate to share what we can. We are not all gifted in mercy but we are all called to be merciful. Can we not have an expectation in the church similar to that of the dojo that we should be learning all the time and that, as we learn, we should be capable of passing on that truth to another?

Perhaps we need to find a model for instruction that is not based on modern schools where we all head off into separate classrooms with black boards and take-home pages. Maybe that model gets in the way. Maybe we need to get more creative about how to free others to teach what they know to those who are younger or less mature. But we’ve got to do something because the modern church is a giant nursery of infants all crying out to be fed milk tended by a relatively few haggard grownups who have learned to eat solid food.

There’s nothing easy about growing up but the kingdom of God is not about easy.

To progress up the ranks in karate requires many false moves that result in bumps, bruises and long weary practice sessions – constant training. The same is true in the church. Growing up in Christ requires that we practice what we learn and get up off the mat each time we stumble and fall.

As we study truth and practice our faith and fumble, fall and try again, we gain knowledge that is not ours to keep but to pass on and thus is built up the body of Christ.

Next time you’re in church, look behind you. Is there someone coming up in the ranks that needs to learn what you know? And if there is no one behind you and you’ve been at this for a long time, I’ve got the same message of encouragement for you that the writer of Hebrews had – “Stop being a baby and grow up, already! Strive for a black belt kind of faith.”

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    The Conversation

  1. dlynne222 says:

    You nailed it girl! It’s too true. Great blog. Thanks!

  2. Andrea says:

    Blessings, andrea