Preparing Students to Learn


            According to Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “Christianity without discipleship is always Christianity without Christ.”[1] Discipleship is also a lifelong journey where spiritual formation allows the believer to be transformed into the image of Christ. Upon this premise, every leader and teacher should, as Mike Mitchell emphasizes, “Provide: interest, preparation, meaning, success, satisfaction, reinforcement, and identification [in the learning experience.]”[2] These motivators afford the educator the opportunity to influence and inspire positive change in his or her followers. This paper will identify the necessary components to prepare students for learning.


            Mitchell suggests, “In its reactive or corrective mode, discipline is a response to the struggle against sin. In its proactive or educative mode, discipline is a preemptive effort to prepare and train the disciple in order to foster and facilitate the acquisition of the prerequisite foundational capacities that enable wisdom and prevent foolishness.”[3] Ultimately, discipline prepares the individual to learn. Mitchell then uses the biblical terms for discipline to show:

  1. Discipline involves instruction.
  2. Discipline involves inspiration.
  3. Discipline involves intervention.[4]

Mitchell then uses these three components and aligns them with I Thessalonians 2:11-12 to demonstrate leaders must inform, instruct, and inspire the learners, with love, forgiveness, and consistency. Mitchell concludes by assigning three steps to providing biblical discipline:

  1. Providing thorough instruction (Communication).
  2. Requiring intentional response (Choice).
  3. Ensuring appropriate consequences (Consequence).[5]


            Ben Forrest and Mike Mitchell explain, “Teaching is the communication and sharing of knowledge, while training is the development of capacities, making discipline a prerequisite to learning.”[6] Colossians 1:28 illustrates, “We proclaim Him, warning and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone mature in Christ.” The word “everyone” in this passage is key indicating all the truth of God is available for all the people. F.F. Bruce explains, “This Christ, whose life flows in all his people, is the one whom the apostle and His associates proclaim. He is the sum and substance of their message, whether in the saving news which they announce in the world to bring men and women to faith, or in the teaching, which they impart to those who have believed. Once they have come to Christ; that is only the beginning.”[7] Bruce is explaining while Christ is indeed the embodiment of divine wisdom, the exploration of the wisdom that resides in Him is a lifelong endeavor. Margaret Lawson further illustrates how, “Jesus both taught and modeled for His disciples what He expected of them and He did it over a period of time,”[8] showing them the importance of loving one another and serving one another.

John Gregory provides extensive insight in the difference between teaching and training:

We find two branches of the art of education. The one is the art of training, the other the art of teaching. Training is the systematic development and cultivation of the powers of mind and body. Teaching is the systematic inculcation of knowledge. As the child is immature in all its powers, it is the first business to cultivate those powers, by giving to each power regular exercise in its own proper sphere, till, through exercise and growth, they come to their full strength and skill. This training may be physical, mental, or moral, according to the powers trained, or the field of their application. The first object of teaching is to communicate such knowledge as may be useful in gaining other knowledge, to stimulate in the pupil the love of learning, and to form in him the habits of independent study. These two, the cultivation of the powers and the communication of knowledge, together make up the teacher’s work.[9]

Gregory also provides the following seven laws for teaching with corresponding rules, rooted in the principle that good order is a condition precedent to good teaching:


  1. A teacher must be one who KNOWS the lesson or truth to be taught.
  2. A learner is one who ATTENDS with interest to the lesson given.
  3. The language used as a MEDIUM between teacher and learner must be COMMON to both.
  4. The lesson to be learned must be explicable in the terms of truth already known by the learner—the UNKNOWN must be explained by the KNOWN.
  5. Teaching is AROUSING and using the pupil’s mind to form in it a desired conception or thought.
  6. Learning is THINKING into one’s own UNDERSTANDING a new idea or truth.
  7. The test and proof of teaching done—the finishing and fastening process—must be a RE-VIEWING, RE-THINKING, RE-KNOWING, and RE-PRODUCING of the knowledge taught.[10]


  1. Know thoroughly and familiarly the lesson you wish to teach; or, in other words, teach from a full mind and a clear understanding.
  2. Gain and keep the attention and interest of the pupils upon the lesson. Refuse to teach without attention.
  3. Use words understood by both teacher and pupil in the same sense—language clear and vivid alike to both.
  4. Begin with what is already well known to the pupil in the lesson or upon the subject, and proceed to the unknown by single, easy, and natural steps, letting the known explain the unknown.
  5. Use the pupil’s own mind, exciting his self-activities. Keep his thoughts as much as possible ahead of your expression, making him a discoverer of truth.
  6. Require the pupil to reproduce in thought the lesson he is learning—thinking it out in its parts, proofs, connections, and applications till he can express it in his own language.
  7. Review, review, review – reproducing correctly the old, deepening its impression with new thought, correcting false views, and completing the true.[11]


            According to Mitchell, the law of apperception, “states that all learning is the association of new information with previously acquired knowledge or skill, [and] is essentially universal and unaffected by demographics or socio-economic status. Previous knowledge and experience [then] make ready the path upon which learning will occur.”[12] This ultimately provides the foundation for both learning and teaching. This principle also illustrates the relevance of Robert Slavin’s findings that, “Teachers need to ensure that students have mastered prerequisite skills and [possess the ability] to link information that is already in their minds to the information you are about to present.”


            Lawrence Richards and Gary Bredfeldt explain student motivation is, “An indispensable desire to take part [and] want to learn.”[13] The teacher’s effectiveness will largely be determined by how well he or she motivates the learner. To be successful, Richards and Bredfeldt establish, “Learning occurs in three domains – cognitive, affective, and behavioral, but for learning to occur in any of these, the individual must exercise his or her will to learn.”[14] This is where motivation is key. It is in the area of “specific motivation” that teachers have the greatest ability to affect change because this area is, “Less stable and refers to a person’s motivation at a given time toward a specific topic or class.”[15] Additional factors that motivate learning are: student-teacher relationships and group dynamics. Richards and Bredfeldt emphasize, “Motivating students to learn is largely a function of the teacher-student relationship in the class situation… [and] group life is not only important for motivation; it is required for maximum growth.”[16] Structural factors also help motivate learning because as Richards and Bredfeldt demonstrate: “People learn best when learning is patterned, when learning is sequenced, when learning is encouraged, when learning is stimulated, when learning is relevant, and when learning is applied.”[17] Robert DeVargas adds, “First, it is important to spend time with learners to build trusting relationships outside of the class. Second, we must strive to discover the needs of our students. Third, we must carefully and lovingly connect their (subjective) felt needs to their (objective) real needs.”[18] Jesus ministered to the immediate needs of the people before He spoke of things from above. To a starving individual, teaching on the bread of life will not have a great impact until the immediate need of hunger is first tended to.


            As Ruth Beechick illustrates, “Discipline leads to the moral, emotional, and spiritual commitment needed to learn anything.” Mitchell further explains, “Whether assisted by physical, intellectual, emotional, or even spiritual development, the intention of preparatory phase of the teaching-learning process, [where discipline is the prerequisite preparation stage of learning] is to generate ‘readiness’ in learners and to equip them for the adventure to come.”[19] Both training and discipline are fundamental to the notion of readiness. God can use anyone and anything to accomplish His plans, so as an educator and follower of Christ; one must always be ready to be used by God. Discipline leads to learning, and learning in turn leads back to more discipline.


            As in most instances, Jesus is the perfect model to imitate. In Luke 2:52, “Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.” This shows His capacity to grow cognitively, physically, spiritually, socially, and emotionally. Frank Gaebelein shows how “Jesus’ growth was normal [and] to say Jesus ‘grew in wisdom’ does not detract from His deity. Even if wisdom means innate knowledge, Philippians 2:7 suggests that as a servant, Jesus was willing to forgo the full use of his divine powers; so a normal development of knowledge is not ruled out. Stature (helikia) is ambiguous referring to physical growth or personal development.”[20] Ellery Pullman provides some fascinating internal conflicts that must be resolved during each stage of psychosocial development:

  • The prenatal stage does not involve a crisis, but the woman’s social roles and social status may influence how people treat her.
  • The Infancy stage (birth – two years) is trust versus mistrust, where trust is an emotion.
  • Toddlerhood (two – three years) is where children face the accomplishment of autonomy versus shame and doubt.
  • Early school age (four – six years) children experience the crisis of initiative versus guilt.
  • Middle childhood (six – twelve years) is industry versus inferiority, where the child learns to acquire necessary skills to be productive.
  • Early adolescence (twelve – eighteen years) forces one to resolve the conflict between group identities versus alienation.
  • Later adolescence (eighteen – twenty-four) is characterized by a growing sensitivity to the process of identity development, where the individual wrestles with questions like: “What is the meaning of life? Who am I? Where am I going in life?
  • During early adulthood, (twenty-four – thirty-five) one faces the task of intimacy versus isolation, in an attempt to develop close and meaningful relationships.
  • Middle adulthood (thirty-five – sixty years) is the conflict between generativity versus stagnation or self-absorption. Here, one is directing the course of action in one’s own life and in the life of others and generativity implies the desire to attain a sense of sharing, giving, or productivity.
  • In later adulthood (sixty – seventy-five years) the psychosocial crisis faced is integrity versus despair, where integrity is the culmination of a life of psychosocial growth.
  • Lastly, very old age (seventy-five – death) is a new addition to Erikson’s scheme because of the number of individuals who are living longer. This stage is represented by the crisis between immorality versus extinction, as the adult in is faced with a new challenge – the potential conflict between the acceptance of death and the hope and desire that one’s life has been spent in such a way as to leave a sense of legacy.[21]

This model serves to reinforce the conclusion of Fred Milacci and Jim Zabloski that, “Human beings’ growth and development is a lifelong pursuit and we never stop learning, [so] we should continually strive to grow physically, mentally, and spiritually in all we do.”[22]


            In preparing my students to receive the message to be presented in the next lesson, I will first ready myself for the task by praying, studying, and anticipating any areas of the “unknown” and be prepared to explain them with the “known.” In the planning stage, I will be sure to include: interest, meaning, success, satisfaction, reinforcement, and identification in the learning experience. I will then seek to understand the individual needs of the learners before moving forward with the lesson. I will also seek to employ the three-step model for formative discipline by providing: instruction, inspiration, and intervention, which will allow each learner to make his or her own choices. Additionally, I will strive to teach and train, since both are required in the learning process and during this step, I will attempt to discover if everyone has mastered the required prerequisite skills. Furthermore, I will endeavor to provide proper motivation in order to keep the learners engaged for maximum growth. I will also be consistent and fair in all interactions, while also making sure the learning process is patterned, sequenced, encouraged, stimulated, relevant, and applied. Lastly, I will begin to develop personal relationships outside of the classroom, which will help identify both subjective and objective needs.


Anthony, Michael J. ed. Introducing Christian Education: Foundations for the Twenty-first Century. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic Publishing Group, 2001.

Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. Life Together: A Discussion of Christian Fellowship. New York, NY: Harper Collins, 1954.

Bruce, F.F. The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Epistle to the Colossians, to Philemon, and to the Ephesians. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1984.

Forrest, Ben and Mike Mitchell. “Discipline as a Prerequisite for Learning.” Filmed [2014], Liberty University Website, HOMI 601, Course Content, Week Three Video Presentations, 11:09, (accessed April 7, 2017).

Gaebelein, Frank E., ed., The Expositor’s Bible Commentary – Volume 8: Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1984.

Gregory, John Milton. The Seven Laws of Teaching. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic Publishing Group, 1997. (accessed April 7, 2017).

Mitchell, Mike. “Formative Discipline: A Prerequisite for Learning.” HOMI 601: The Ministry of Teaching, Module #3, 2013.

Milacci, Fred and Jim Zabloski. “Human Development and Your Students.” Filmed [2014], Liberty University Website, HOMI 601, Course Content, Week Three Video Presentations, 12:14, (accessed April 7, 2017).

Morris, Leon. The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Gospel According to John. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1995.

Richards, Lawrence O. and Gary J. Bredfeldt. Creative Bible Teaching. Revised and Expanded. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 1998.

Stanley, Andy and Lane Jones. Communicating For a Change. Colorado Springs, CO: Multnomah Books, 2006.

Yount, William R., ed. The Teaching Ministry of the Church. 2nd Edition. Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2008.

[1] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together: A Discussion of Christian Fellowship (New York, NY: Harper Collins, 1954), 64.

[2] Mike Mitchell, “Formative Discipline: A Prerequisite for Learning.” HOMI 601: The Ministry of Teaching, Module #3, 2013, 9-10.

[3] Mitchell, “Formative Discipline,” 3.

[4] Ibid., 4.

[5] Mitchell, “Formative Discipline,” 5.

[6] Ben Forrest and Mike Mitchell, “Discipline as a Prerequisite for Learning,” Filmed [2014], Liberty University Website, HOMI 601, Course Content, Week Three Video Presentations, 11:09, (accessed April 7, 2017).

[7] F.F. Bruce, The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Epistle to the Colossians, to Philemon, and to the Ephesians (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1984), 86.

[8] Margaret Lawson, The Teaching Ministry of the Church. 2nd Edition, ed. William R. Yount (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2008), 114-115.

[9] John Milton Gregory, The Seven Laws of Teaching (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic Publishing Group, 1997), 13.

[10] Gregory, The Seven Laws of Teaching, 17.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Mitchell, “Formative Discipline,” 1-2.

[13] Lawrence O. Richards and Gary J. Bredfeldt. Creative Bible Teaching, Revised and Expanded (Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 1998), 229.

[14] Richards and Bredfeldt, Creative Bible Teaching, 231.

[15] Ibid., 230.

[16] Ibid., 232 & 234.

[17] Ibid., 235-240.

[18] Robert DeVargas, The Teaching Ministry of the Church. 2nd Edition, ed. William R. Yount (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2008), 114-115.

[19] Mitchell, “Formative Discipline,” 2-3.

[20] Frank E. Gaebelein, ed., The Expositor’s Bible Commentary – Volume 8: Matthew, Mark, and Luke (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1984), 852.

[21] Ellery Pullman, Introducing Christian Education: Foundations for the Twenty-first Century, ed. Michel J. Anthony (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic Publishing Group, 2001), 65-66.

[22] Fred Milacci and Jim Zabloski, “Human Development and Your Students,” Filmed [2014], Liberty University Website, HOMI 601, Course Content, Week Three Video Presentations, 12:14, (accessed April 7, 2017).


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