Learning by teaching, growing by discipling, gaining by giving

It’s amazing how much you learn when you teach. Most educators can testify that one of the most rewarding aspects of their jobs is (in addition to helping their students arrive at ‘light bulb moments’) learning from their students!

Earlier in the year, I spent some time teaching my younger sister how to ride a bike. I’ve tried several times to no avail, so I wanted to make sure that she learnt how to ride before the school term started. It was difficult, for both me and her. If you remember what it was like to ride a bike, you’ll know that one of the biggest psychological barriers is the fear of falling over. This fear leads us to stop peddling and the absence of forward motion results in the inevitable fall, thus perpetuating that very fear of falling over. So we worked hard. I pushed her from the back but the moment she felt my hand let go, her mind blanked and she stopped peddling. We repeated this process again and again (with a few ‘I hate riding bikes!’ and ‘I don’t want to do this anymore, I give up!’ being uttered) until we finally got it (yay!).

We’ve been riding semi-regularly since, and today I brought her on her longest ride yet (12.2kms!). And this was a fascinating experience. Like teaching her how to ride, taking her out on a long ride was frustrating because now we occasionally had to go off bike tracks and on to the road. So I had to get off and on my bike to help her cross the road, make sure she had enough space to get off the ground, make sure that I was close enough to her incase she fell over, encouraging her to keep going, telling her to drop her gears when we arrived at hills, and so on. Further, if you ride with cleats (bike clip shoes), you’ll know that this entire ordeal is made harder because you’re trying to not fall over yourself.

Suffice to say, this was frustrating. Yet, in the midst of my frustration, it struck me that somebody else went through the same process with me. That person was my dad. He would have done exactly the same – picking me up when I fall, teaching me how to shift gears and pedal, and encouraging me along. And as far as I can remember, he was patient with me, always making sure I was alright, and told me that home was only a few more pedals away. That realisation changed my attitude completely. Rather than being short fused and upset, the awareness that somebody was not short fused or upset pushed me to be more patient and kind. Rather than feeling ‘ugh, I could do this ride in half the time’, I started to think ‘wow, I get the privilege of helping my younger sister gain the skills of riding a bike well’. Rather than teaching her how to ride, here I was learning about patience and grace.

It’s always important to remember where we’ve come from because if we don’t, it is easy to grow in pride. It is easy to assume that we are who we are on our own merits. It is easy to forget that people have walked with us along the way to shape and mould us, for better or for worse. And I think a great way to remember where we’ve come from is to help those who are in positions where we used to be. You see, had I not remembered that I too used to struggle with riding without training wheels, I would have easily thought ‘ah, you’re so slow’ or ‘come on, what’s wrong with you. Just keep peddling!’. But because I was in a position to teach someone, I remembered how much help I needed. It’s amazing because in the process of teaching, we are in fact learning.

So I wonder if that is a lesson for Christian discipleship. You see, if you’ve been a Christian for awhile then it is also entirely possible for us to grow in our pride – to assume that our current state of godliness or maturity happened in a vacuum. But if we’re completely honest with ourselves, we know that who we are is a product of men and women who have by the Spirit invested and poured their lives into us. If we realise this, I’m sure it’ll drive us to greater humility, further gratefulness for Christian community, and deeper dependence on God. And I believe one of the ways for us to arrive at this is to disciple others who used to be in positions where we were, that is, non-Christians or Christians younger in the faith. Because when we do, we’ll be hit with frustrations. ‘Oh why don’t you understand what the ‘kingdom of God’ means?’ or ‘My goodness, don’t you realise that dating that person is no good for you’? My hope is that we’ll be hit with grace soon after we’re hit with frustration because we realise that this guy or girl that we’re discipling is exactly where we used to be. And that’s a beautiful image because you’re in a position to help someone grow while growing yourself.

So while our culture continues to tell us that ‘it is about me’ and pushes us to be consumers rather than givers, I think there is real value in giving by teaching and discipling because we learn while we teach and we grow while we disciple. In other words, we gain while we give. 

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