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Fall 1989 · Vol. 18 No. 2 · pp. 80–85 

Education as a Renewing Activity: Nurturing the Mind, Minding the Heart, Mending the World

Gordon H. Matties

The story is told of one of the desert fathers, Abba Felix, whose students came to him to be taught. Being a wise teacher, Abba Felix had no words for them because they were no longer practicing the truth that they knew. His only response to them was silence. And most appropriately, the students’ response was, “Abba, pray for us.” We teachers and students all too easily become fooled by thinking that we are practicing the truth that we know, when in fact we may be trapped by our own quest for mastery of information and by the demand for techniques that will assure our own survival.

Scripture study engages us in both the formative and transformative work of God.

Our churches affirm our educational institutions for nurturing faith and for providing tools needed to become servants in God’s kingdom. On the other hand, our schools also take the brunt of criticism. That tension between affirmation and critique keeps teachers and administrators on their toes. We are always aware that our schools need to be renewed continually.

I would like to offer a way of understanding the educational task of our schools that would foster continuing {81} options for renewal and revitalization. Although my own teaching is done in a Christian College setting, my suggestions ought to apply in any context—from a family discussion around the dinner table to a seminary classroom.

Education is part of our vocation as followers of Jesus. We are disciples, people on a journey, people in process. We are called to be participants in God’s re-creative saving and healing process. Specifically, as teachers, we disciples are called to view our task in terms of two points of orientation. I call these two points construction and critique. They are related to two metaphors in Ecclesiastes 12:11, where we read that the teachings of the wise are goads and firmly fixed nails.


First, our teaching is a constructive activity in which God’s people work together to answer the questions “Who are we?”, “What ought we to be doing?” and “Where are we going?” By turning to the Bible, and to our heritage of faith, we discover our identity, our calling and our mission in the world. This is the formative task of education in which we offer our students the firmly embedded nails of assured truth. And we invite students to a life of faithful discipleship in the context of the disciple community.

Second, our teaching is a critical activity in which we become aware of our tendency to make idols of our identity, calling and mission. Authentic education will challenge the status quo, which so easily blinds us to the possibility of self-deception and hinders us from experiencing the fullness of God’s gracious vision for the future. This is the transformative task of education that opens the way for each generation to ask its own questions, and to hear its own answers. In this task we sometimes use goads that push us beyond our comfortable limits. In that way we expose our tendencies to want to control our own destinies rather than risk new things by God’s grace.

Since I teach Bible courses, I am continually reminded that the Scriptures provide a model for that dual orientation in education. I believe the study of Scripture engages us in both the formative and the transformative work of God. The Bible roots us in a community of memory that struggled to know its identity, to discover its story, to envision its mission, and to practice its calling in the world. If we want to read the Bible for {82} renewal, our reading will have to be grounded in a holistic understanding of education. If our study of the Bible is to be both a formative and a transformative activity, it will be rooted in a practice of education that seeks to nurture the mind, to mind the heart, and to mend the world. I should add, however, that in any discipline of study or activity of examining God’s world we may find ourselves to be discoverers and explorers of the mysteries of God’s grace.


“Nurturing the Mind” represents the life of study, which is an activity of observing things and separating them. Study, therefore, should foster our analytical, critical and discerning faculties. This activity seeks the truth at the heart of all things. But it can tend toward seeking to control and master our own destinies. Technique and technology may become the master that we serve. In study we are sometimes tempted to seek truth not in order to serve God so that truth might set us free, but in order to maintain our own status as knowers and managers of truth. Rather, study ought to make us aware of the freeing power of truth as we diligently seek the mind of Christ. That kind of study should help us to think constructively and critically about our identity, our calling, and our mission as God’s people. True study opens us to the liberating power of the gospel in fresh and often unexpected ways. But the enthusiastic young analyst must also learn to accompany the critical and discerning mind with the caress of a gentle heart.


“Minding the Heart” represents a unifying activity that seeks to bring all divided and analyzed things to the heart of truth, the reality of God. Here we recognize our own loss of control and submit to the mystery at the center of the universe. This activity centers us in God, the ruler of history and the measure of all things. He is the One who unifies all our disparate attempts to make sense of ourselves and our world. Prayer subdues all our attempts to use knowledge to grasp, manipulate, and control. Our desire to rule is transformed by prayer and worship into a passion for commitment and service. Study that minds the heart will therefore engage us in the {83} formation of people in process with God, and in the formation of a community of commitment within the just and loving care of God.


Since we are committed to a life of following Jesus in community, and in the world, education and study of the Bible should not be ends in themselves but should propel us into a life of service. We know that reading the Bible is always done in specific situations, and for specific reasons. Those reasons must be fueled by a passion for transformation expressed in a life of service. Unless that is so, study, no matter how much it seeks to integrate the mind and the heart, will lack vitality. It will collapse upon itself.

“Mending the world” represents the activity that we discover at the convergence of the mind and the heart. Where mind and heart meet, we discover the meaning of mission, and of living toward a vision. The life of action is fueled by study and prayer. If education does that for us, then it will be about transformation, not simply information. The following diagram illustrates what I mean.

We can begin at any point in the circle, but we can never remain there. Always there must be movement. Any one of those three activities will eventually lose vitality if left unattended by the other two. Study ought therefore to propel us into the world to pray and to act so that “thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.” {84}

That passion for a life of service in word and deed will then bear itself out in a life that seeks to mend the world. We will speak and live so as to reconcile all people and all creation to God. We will seek to bring all human beings into true humanity under the just and loving care of God.


But this threefold task is not the property of our schools. It is ultimately the mandate of the educational task of local congregations. In the congregation teachers serve as mentors and guides as people grow toward faithful discipleship. A teacher’s pastoral role is to nurture and enable conversion, growth and change throughout the cycle of life. First, the teacher enables children in their formative years, along with seeking adults, to build an identity and to shape a meaningful personal relationship with God. Second, in the growth toward a mature adult faith the teacher enables persons to appropriate their faith critically and to make it their own through thoughtful and prayerful reflection and evaluation. The teacher enables persons to move through the crises in which their confessions of faith and their experience of life are in tension, in which the tension between the assurances of the past and the uncertainties of the future clash in the present. And third, in enabling adults to find God in the paradox of confession and reality, in reflection and action, and in God’s active presence and mysterious silence, the teacher enables them to incarnate and embody the life of Christ in the world.

Congregations, therefore, foster the journey of faith through encouraging certainty of relationship with God, critical appropriation of our confessional heritage, and the paradox of incarnation through a cross/resurrection shaped life. Our schools represent an extension of that enablement process. In our schools we must seek to nurture a vibrant relationship with God, to foster a critical interaction with tradition, and to encourage living in the tension between experiencing the life of the Kingdom of God while longing for its arrival. We nurture a kind of faith that lives out the fruit of the Spirit while awaiting the time when the Spirit will enable us truly to be faithful so that the way of God will be manifest in our very lives.

And since faithfulness to Jesus Christ is the goal of {85} education in both congregation and school, we are freed from our compulsions to mold our students in our own image. We will experience renewal, therefore, when we recognize that all present arrangements of knowledge are tentative, and all perceptions are partial. As the Apostle Paul wrote, when the perfect comes, we shall understand fully, even as we have been fully understood. As we study to nurture the mind, to mind the heart, and to mend the world, we will be moved to worship our gracious God, who has endowed us with more than we can ever imagine.

Ultimately we do not secure ourselves or our world. Nor do we renew ourselves or our institutions. Yet we are secured in God and called to be God’s agents in a world that yearns for Healing and reconciliation, a world in which justice and peace will meet because God is in the renewal business.

Gordon Matties, Ph.D. (cand.), is Assistant Professor of Old Testament at Mennonite Brethren Bible College, Winnipeg, Manitoba.

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