Example #48 Failure and Community
What if failures were seen as opportunities to serve?
David taught a class of older modern language students, and after the first major test it was clear that the makeup of this group was going to be a challenge. He had become concerned about what he saw as a tendency for his students to think in a very individualistic way about their learning, focused mainly on their own success or failure.
"Almost half of my students did very well on the test; almost half did very badly. There were relatively few scores in the middle of the range. I decided to treat this as a learning opportunity. When I gave the tests back, I explained about the scores and intentionally stated that 'we' (not 'I') had a problem, because some students needed to move ahead faster and others needed to go much slower. I also handed round two kinds of cards, telling students that they could choose one of them to sign and return if they wished. One card said 'I think I am struggling with this material. I would appreciate having someone available to give me some help.' The other said 'It seems like I am doing really well – I would be willing to give a little time each week to serve as a tutor to another student who is finding this hard.' I explained to them that this was a chance for us to build a learning community in which we took care of each other and grew together.
"About half of the students returned one or another of the cards, and I used them to connect students with each other, having them agree how to contact one another outside class. This was of course not the only way I tried to keep everyone learning. However, it became one of the ways we worked together to keep everyone engaged."
What’s going on here?
David saw poor test results as an opportunity to help students consider their responsibility to help others, and wanted his students to see others’ learning struggles in a communal context as an opportunity to show that they valued their fellow learners.
He engaged learners in identifying their needs and reflecting on how they could use their abilities to serve, leading them to make a voluntary but specific commitment.
He reshaped his practice by choosing his language intentionally to promote community ('we' have a problem), using response cards to structure students' responses, and providing a concrete way for them to help one another rather than a general exhortation.
How do I do this myself?
What does this have to do with faith, hope, and love?
Love, writes Paul in 1 Corinthians, is not self-seeking or proud – instead it protects and perseveres in kindness. A Christian community is, among other things, one in which weaker members are honoured and cared for, and the strong do not boast in their strength. This lesson was an attempt to apply 'love your neighbour as yourself' to the classroom community.
What difference does it make?
David helped his students take some responsibility for one another’s well-being in the class and moved the focus from individual success to class success and serving.
Where could we go from here?
It is good to celebrate individual achievement – but it is also worth considering whether our classroom practices, such as the ways we report test scores to students, or the ways we structure group assignments, encourage mutual responsibility among students.
Individual achievement is celebrated in the Bible, be that success in battle (David), wisdom (Solomon), faith (Esther), skill (Bezael the craftsman) or intelligence (Abigail). Yet there is also a strong emphasis on mutual serving and responsibility. Christianity is not a religion of 'lone rangers'; faith grows in community and is practised in community. Christian fellowship is about a quality of community between Christians where all are interdependent with each person being important and working for the good of the whole. Christ is the head of the community and all are dependent on him (1 Corinthians 12:22; Ephesians 1:22). The Holy Spirit binds the community together (Ephesians 4:3).
… the duty is now emphasized of serving God in the world, in every position in life. Abraham Kuyper
All the blessings we enjoy are Divine deposits, committed to our trust on this condition, that they should be dispensed for the benefit of our neighbours. John Calvin
Our society looks for freedom and happiness in wealth, fame and power. The Bible sees it in giving and serving others. One Anglican prayer describes the service of God as ‘perfect freedom’. Those words translate ‘cui servire, regnare est’: ‘To serve is to reign’. To serve God and others is the highest honour; it is what we were created for.
One thing I know: the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who will have sought and found how to serve. Albert Schweitzer
Explore similar examples:
What if anxiety about tests could turn to thankfulness?
What if perseverance were acknowledged, not just perfection?
What if success in maths depended on forgiveness?
1My friends, you asked me about spiritual gifts. 2I want you to remember that before you became followers of the Lord, you were led in all the wrong ways by idols that cannot even talk. 3Now I want you to know that if you are led by God's Spirit, you will say that Jesus is Lord, and you will never curse Jesus. 4There are different kinds of spiritual gifts, but they all come from the same Spirit. 5There are different ways to serve the same Lord, 6and we can each do different things. Yet the same God works in all of us and helps us in everything we do. 7The Spirit has given each of us a special way of serving others. 8Some of us can speak with wisdom, while others can speak with knowledge, but these gifts come from the same Spirit. 9To others the Spirit has given great faith or the power to heal the sick 10or the power to perform mighty miracles. Some of us are prophets, and some of us recognize when God's Spirit is present. Others can speak different kinds of languages, and still others can tell what these languages mean. 11But it is the Spirit who does all this and decides which gifts to give to each of us. One body with many parts 12The body of Christ has many different parts, just as any other body does. 13Some of us are Jews, and others are Gentiles. Some of us are slaves, and others are free. But God's Spirit baptized each of us and made us part of the body of Christ. Now we each drink from that same Spirit. 14Our bodies don't have just one part. They have many parts. 15Suppose a foot says, I'm not a hand, and so I'm not part of the body. Wouldn't the foot still belong to the body? 16Or suppose an ear says, I'm not an eye, and so I'm not part of the body. Wouldn't the ear still belong to the body? 17If our bodies were only an eye, we couldn't hear a thing. And if they were only an ear, we couldn't smell a thing. 18But God has put all parts of our body together in the way that he decided is best. 19A body isn't really a body, unless there is more than one part. 20It takes many parts to make a single body. 21That's why the eyes cannot say they don't need the hands. That's also why the head cannot say it doesn't need the feet. 22In fact, we cannot get along without the parts of the body that seem to be the weakest. 23We take special care to dress up some parts of our bodies. We are modest about our personal parts, 24but we don't have to be modest about other parts. God put our bodies together in such a way that even the parts that seem the least important are valuable. 25He did this to make all parts of the body work together smoothly, with each part caring about the others. 26If one part of our body hurts, we hurt all over. If one part of our body is honoured, the whole body will be happy. 27Together you are the body of Christ. Each one of you is part of his body. 28First, God chose some people to be apostles and prophets and teachers for the church. But he also chose some to perform miracles or heal the sick or help others or be leaders or speak different kinds of languages. 29Not everyone is an apostle. Not everyone is a prophet. Not everyone is a teacher. Not everyone can perform miracles. 30Not everyone can heal the sick. Not everyone can speak different kinds of languages. Not everyone can tell what these languages mean. 31I want you to desire the best gifts. So I will show you a much better way. Love
1From Paul, chosen by God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus. To God's people who live in Ephesus and are faithful followers of Christ Jesus. 2I pray that God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ will be kind to you and will bless you with peace! 3Praise the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ for the spiritual blessings that Christ has brought us from heaven! 4Before the world was created, God had Christ choose us to live with him and to be his holy and innocent and loving people. 5God was kind and decided that Christ would choose us to be God's own adopted children. 6God was very kind to us because of the Son he dearly loves, and so we should praise God. 7Christ sacrificed his life's blood to set us free, which means that our sins are now forgiven. Christ did this because God was so kind to us. God has great wisdom and understanding, 9and by what Christ has done, God has shown us his own mysterious ways. 10Then when the time is right, God will do all that he has planned, and Christ will bring together everything in heaven and on earth. 11God always does what he plans, and that's why he appointed Christ to choose us. 12He did this so that we Jews would bring honour to him and be the first ones to have hope because of him. 13Christ also brought you the truth, which is the good news about how you can be saved. You put your faith in Christ and were given the promised Holy Spirit to show that you belong to God. 14The Spirit also makes us sure that we will be given what God has stored up for his people. Then we will be set free, and God will be honoured and praised. Paul's prayer 15I have heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all God's people. 16So I never stop being grateful for you, as I mention you in my prayers. 17I ask the glorious Father and God of our Lord Jesus Christ to give you his Spirit. The Spirit will make you wise and let you understand what it means to know God. 18My prayer is that light will flood your hearts and that you will understand the hope that was given to you when God chose you. Then you will discover the glorious blessings that will be yours together with all God's people. 19I want you to know about the great and mighty power that God has for us followers. It is the same wonderful power he used 20when he raised Christ from death and let him sit at his right side in heaven. 21There Christ rules over all forces, authorities, powers, and rulers. He rules over all beings in this world and will rule in the future world as well. 22God has put all things under the power of Christ, and for the good of the church he has made him the head of everything. 23The church is Christ's body and is filled with Christ who completely fills everything. From death to life
1As a prisoner of the Lord, I beg you to live in a way that is worthy of the people God has chosen to be his own. 2Always be humble and gentle. Patiently put up with each other and love each other. 3Try your best to let God's Spirit keep your hearts united. Do this by living at peace. 4All of you are part of the same body. There is only one Spirit of God, just as you were given one hope when you were chosen to be God's people. 5We have only one Lord, one faith, and one baptism. 6There is one God who is the Father of all people. Not only is God above all others, but he works by using all of us, and he lives in all of us. 7Christ has generously divided out his gifts to us. 8As the Scriptures say, When he went up to the highest place, he led away many prisoners and gave gifts to people. 9When it says, he went up, it means that Christ had been deep in the earth. 10This also means that the one who went deep into the earth is the same one who went into the highest heaven, so that he would fill the whole universe. 11Christ chose some of us to be apostles, prophets, missionaries, pastors, and teachers, 12so that his people would learn to serve and his body would grow strong. 13This will continue until we are united by our faith and by our understanding of the Son of God. Then we will be mature, just as Christ is, and we will be completely like him. 14We must stop acting like children. We must not let deceitful people trick us by their false teachings, which are like winds that toss us around from place to place. 15Love should always make us tell the truth. Then we will grow in every way and be more like Christ, the head 16of the body. Christ holds it together and makes all its parts work perfectly, as it grows and becomes strong because of love. The old life and the new life 17As a follower of the Lord, I order you to stop living like stupid, godless people. 18Their minds are in the dark, and they are stubborn and ignorant and have missed out on the life that comes from God. They no longer have any feelings about what is right, 19and they are so greedy that they do all kinds of indecent things. 20But that isn't what you were taught about Jesus Christ. He is the truth, and you heard about him and learnt about him. 22You were told that your foolish desires will destroy you and that you must give up your old way of life with all its bad habits. 23Let the Spirit change your way of thinking 24and make you into a new person. You were created to be like God, and so you must please him and be truly holy. Rules for the new life 25We are part of the same body. Stop lying and start telling each other the truth. 26Don't get so angry that you sin. Don't go to bed angry 27and don't give the devil a chance. 28If you are a thief, stop stealing. Be honest and work hard, so you will have something to give to people in need. 29Stop all your dirty talk. Say the right thing at the right time and help others by what you say. 30Don't make God's Spirit sad. The Spirit makes you sure that some day you will be free from your sins. 31Stop being bitter and angry with others. Don't yell at one another or curse each other or ever be rude. 32Instead, be kind and merciful, and forgive others, just as God forgave you because of Christ.