The Kickboard or the Keyboard

“Scissor stretch – left knee – Tim, language,” I called out.

Tim’s five-year-old voice replied, “Japanese.”

As I and nine daycare kids who were lined out in front of me lowered our heads down to our left knees, I began counting, “Ichi, ni, san, shi, go, aki, noki, arigato, miyagi, hai.”

We raised our heads and I said, “Right knee – Clare, language.”

Clare piped up, “French.”

Our heads dropped to the right and I began counting, “Un, deux, trois, quatre, cinq, six, chien, crepe, zsazsa, taupe.”

As we continued with our pre-karate stretches, we prepared our calves, our glutes (always a kid favorite), and our upper body – all while I counted in Spanish, Chinese, German, Russian, Pig-Latin, and Esperanto. I was quite the gifted polyglot (used in the linguistic sense of “one who can speak many languages”, as opposed to the theological sense of “one who worships many glots”). There were more than a dozen dialects in which I could count – at least up to three. Some I could even get to five, but for most it tailed off from there. Thankfully, I was dealing with a bunch of five to seven years olds who didn’t know the difference.

When Nancy and I first arrived in Dallas, I needed a job. My brother, Rick, had just graduated seminary and was moving away. He asked if I wanted to take over his job – teaching karate to kids in daycare. I asked him the qualifications needed, and he told me that all his boss wanted was someone with a brown belt who would show up on time and keep the kids entertained. I reminded him that I had quit karate six years earlier while sporting a barely-earned yellow belt. “No problem,” he said, and declared me an honorary brown belt on the spot (which, I have to tell you, gave me much more confidence that I could defend myself should I meet an honorary mugger in a back alley). That was good enough for the boss, and thus I began my brief career as a daycare karate teacher.

It was a good gig, and no one ever questioned me. I’d show up wearing my white gi with my brown belt tied around just right. I looked like a karate teacher. I talked like a karate teacher. The daycare workers liked me. The parents liked me. And the kids had a blast as long as they knew they would get a chance to break the kickboard at the end of each class.

The problem was that the kids didn’t learn anything. They got the basics, but there was no progress. The reason was that all I knew were the basics. Once one of the fathers pulled me aside and said that it didn’t seem like his child was learning anything new. I told him, “Don’t worry, I’m just about to introduce a new technique.” This was before Google, so immediately after class I made a panicked run to the library to learn a few new tricks (library = a building with a lot of books [books = bound collections of paper with information written on them {paper = very thin sheets of pressed wood pulp}]).

Part-time karate teaching didn’t pay all the bills, so I picked up a second job as a piano teacher. I had started playing piano when I was eight and, despite my abhorrent practicing habits, I had gotten pretty good. I also had experience teaching, taking on my first students several years earlier. The experience for my piano students was very different than that of my karate students. They didn’t have quite as much fun, but they learned a whole lot more. The goal for my piano students was growth; the goal for my karate students was entertainment. My personal depth and experience with the piano allowed my students to excel. My personal shallowness and inexperience with karate allowed my students to feel like they were learning something even when they weren’t.

There are two prevalent philosophies of church today. There are those that are designed to entertain and those that are designed for growth. Typically, the entertainment churches are larger and, by definition, a lot more fun. This isn’t always true – there are a lot of powerful big churches and a lot of weak-sauce small ones, so don’t just judge by size. The entertainment pastors preach very uplifting and practical sermon series like It’s Already Yours and YES is in Your Future (both currently available on Joel Osteen’s website) and How to be Happy in Your Workplace (a series by a former pastor of mine that convinced Nancy and me that it was probably time we look for a new church). Their sermons are filled with stories and testimonies and a lot of happy talk, while their over-sized Bibles sit on their pulpits like props. Those who attend these churches enjoy their time and always walk away feeling like they’ve learned something, even when they haven’t.

Those churches that are designed for growth are often smaller, because the expectations are higher. Rather than walking away feeling good about themselves, often attendees leave a Sunday service contemplative and feeling challenged. The Bible is the center of Sunday sermons, and every point, illustration, and application are grounded in what the Word of God says.

Just like the quality of my teaching came down to who I was (real piano guy or fake karate sensei), the quality of a church typically comes down to who the pastor is. Make sure that your pastor is steeped in the Bible. If the Word of God is not his passion, then chances are you are going to hear a lot of fluff in his sermons. If personal spiritual growth is not evident in his life, then it’s unlikely that he will lead you to any great spiritual heights.

This is the standard that you should hold your pastor and your church up to. This is the same standard that I expect my congregation hold hold me up to. If you’re getting God’s Word explained and taught in a relevant and applicable way, then you’ve found yourself a home. If you’re just getting life taught through a thin veneer of Scripture, as entertaining as it may be, you may want to think about moving on. And if your pastor shows up on Sunday wearing a white gi and a perfectly tied brown belt, it’s probably best just to run away.

1 thought on “The Kickboard or the Keyboard

  1. Vicki Reply

    I very much appreciate you and your obedience to the Lord and your teaching of His Word.
    I am always reminded of the Southern Gospel song “Preacher, Tell It Like It Is”. “Don’t tell me like I wish it was, Preacher tell me like it is.”

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