The Challenge of Challenge


It is once again the beginning of a new academic year.  For the 23rd year, I have a new batch of students, some eager, others apprehensive. It has been a very long time since I was in their place, and knowing what I know now I would take more risks in my own learning if I were in their place.

It is because of this that I strive to open my subject up to them.  They are after all, not just the future (generally), but the future of theology and religious studies.  If I cannot capture their imaginations with the wonders of the divine, then the trend of society as a whole (increased secularisation) will continue.

So what shall I do?  Try gimmicks? No!  Challenge them? Yes.  I need to not give watered down baby food.  I need to see these young people as entrants of my trade and profession.  I need them to own the subject.

Many educators make the mistake of feeling “they” own the subjects that they teach. They treat their learners like empty vessels ready for them (the teachers) to fill with their vast resources of knowledge.  Okay, we are educated people, and have a wealth of experience and knowledge.  This does not mean our students have nothing to offer, however.  They bring with them insights, and perspectives that can help each of us to gain from.

Here is where challenge comes in.  Everyone believes something.  The art is to tease out the reasons for such beliefs, to build on the foundations, and to expand the horizons.  My department head and I were recently uplifted by the comments of one of our administrators. It seems that he had been at the exams venue at the close of last years’ tests.  He asked one of our students how it had gone.  The response was one of confidence.  When asked why so confident, it was explained that the student felt more challenged by the expectations of our department than that of the examining agency.  We had called on our students to become our fellow theologians, not just “apprentices.”

So as educators what can we do?  Nurture and challenge!  As people of faith what can we learn? Be true to our calling, and not water down the truth.  As preachers, pastors, and religious teachers how do we proceed?  The answer was once phrased this way, “sermonettes make Christianettes.”  Or more simply, lift your congregation up, don’t dumb it down.


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