A Matter of the Heart: Developing Empathic Skills in Church Teachers
Christian teachers lead godly change in the lives of people whom they influence. The preparation of people to lead as teachers in the church requires the development of inner character that is consistent with Christian purposes. One of the fundamental attributes of this sort of character is empathy because it engages the heart in all of its dimensions. My argument in this thesis is that the qualities of empathy can be used as a means to highlight specific practices and skills that Christian teachers need. Helping Christian teachers to cultivate such practices and skills provides them with a more sustainable foundation than any set of teaching techniques found in teacher training materials. This approach enables the church’s education program to effectively shape people’s hearts to follow Christ and serve one another.
Drawing upon a broad selection of literature that includes narrative theology, adult educational philosophies, developmental psychology, and business leadership perspectives, this study begins by examining the nature of empathy and spiritual practices. I propose that a teaching ministry is most effective when it encompasses two specific practices that cultivate identity and integrity. A practice of formative presence highlights the incarnational nature of the teacher’s role and identity, and a practice of resilient trust establishes a framework for building and sustaining integrity. Both of these are patterns of communal action in which the benefits of God’s presence and power are made available to people. Furthermore, these practices depend on some underlying skills that help Christian teachers develop empathy. My discussion includes three specific skills: reception is a collaboration between people that communicates acceptance and understanding; reflection is a way of fostering shared meaning-making; and response is a type of action that expresses accountability with collective wisdom. When these practices and skills are wrapped in empathy and empowered by God’s Spirit, godly character and shared learning are cultivated in both teachers and students.
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