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Dale Earnhardt and Teachable Moments

Do we have your attention now???!!! Close your eyes and you can still picture it. The black Goodyear car, crisp number three emblazoned on the side, aviator shades, and a mustache that would put Tom Selleck to shame. The truest picture of Americana. I am a marginal NASCAR fan at best but tuned into the Daytona 500 last week to see who would win. The main takeaway was not Denny Hamlin capturing back to back titles, the expertise of the pit crews, or anything of the sort. The main takeaway from the race was the grizzly crash Ryan Newman was involved in. Suddenly comparisons were made the tragic crash which took the life of Dale Earnhardt at the same racetrack 19 years ago. In life there are these pillar moments where we can tell you exactly where and when we were when we heard tragic or exciting news. I could tell you exactly where I was when I heard the Twin Towers had been hit on 9/11. I could also tell you exactly where my wife was standing in the Mississippi College dorm when we met the summer of 2016 (which reminds me… Fuge: Truly Life-Changing Camps!). I could also tell you my exact coordinates when the news of Dale Earnhardt’s passing came across my ears.

Journey in the Way Way Back Machine to Upton, Kentucky. I was 7 years old at the Upton Community Center on a Sunday Night for RA’s. I was playing basketball when one of my friends came in red in the eyes and crying. We were trying to figure out what had happened when he shared the news, “Dale Earnhardt died.” The news hit like a sack of bricks. There was no way the Intimidator had passed away. He was a legend. This doesn’t happen. Our games of basketball came to a screeching halt as we sat in stunned disbelief. However, this is not why this moment stands out in my mind so vividly. It’s what happened after we received the news that made such a lasting impact on my young mind.

My RA leader took us all aside. The balls were put up, the games stopped, and we gathered on the bleachers. We spent the rest of the night talking about heaven. We spent the rest of the night talking about the Gospel. We spent the rest of the night talking about the love of a God who would send His Son to die for me. I had heard this message before at Vacation Bible School, from my parents, and Sunday School but this moment right here made things clear. I understood the weight of the Gospel all because someone capitalized on a teachable moment.

Teachable moments add so much to the teaching experience. We as student leaders are tasked to effectively teach the Gospel. Every facet of creation is screaming the love of God. Trees, horses, space, bacteria, the internet, a Big Mac, the color of the carpet in the senior adult Sunday School room all shout the existence and message of the God we profess. God has given us a world full of object lessons and cultural events to help us as teachers and professors of the Gospel as we seek to make His glory known on this earth. We simply have to be on the lookout for teachable moments.

One only need to look at the ministry of Jesus to see how He expertly used teachable moments. Look at Jesus when He renamed Simon, “Peter,” at Caesarea Philippi. This was a rocky terrain and one could picture Jesus pointing at all of the rocks that laid around and saying, “Peter, you’re going to be just like these rocks.” Look at Jesus and the woman at the well. Jesus saw something was out of the ordinary and capitalized on the opportunity to speak life into the situation. Even a majority of Jesus’ parables are told for the purpose to apply directly to the lives of those gathered. Jesus masterfully took advantage of the time and the place to help teach the Gospel.

Teachable moments take the Gospel take the Gospel out of the classroom and into the real world. They’re important to help students see that the Gospel permeates all throughout creation. Dr. David Odom with NOBTS says, “Students prefer snackable content.” They prefer effective, bitesize pieces. There is nothing wrong with that. It requires we be more intentional with our message but one drawback is that it created a consumer driver approach to Christianity. I can go here for Jesus and then here for whatever else I need. When we take the Gospel out of the classroom through teachable moments we can still provide effective, snackable content but instead of stocking the fridge we are scattering the Reese’s Pieces of the Gospel all around our students.

And the best part about connecting the Gospel to teachable moments: it works! There’s a reason 19 years later I remember hearing the Gospel that night. Because there was a Gospel tie in to something meaningful. This is not to say that the Church and her programs are not meaningful but experience is a great teacher. We experience the world around us every day. We see the good, the bad, and the ugly everywhere we look. We can easily tie the Gospel into those moments to add to our students understanding of the Gospel. We can also demonstrate and model for our students effective evangelism techniques through effectively sharing during teachable moments.

A few things to keep in mind for teachable moments:

  1. We have to be aware and observant.We have to be aware of our surroundings in order to speak life into those situations.We have to be well read on the world around us in order to effectively and capitalize on those opportunities.

  2. We have to be practiced and prepared.It makes no good to see situations to speak life into and be unable to do so.If we are going to take advantage of teachable moments then we have to know the Gospel.We have to know the Bible and what it says and how it speaks into situations.We have to know truth to speak truth.

  3. Teachable moments are there.A Barna study has shown that Gen Z students believe that real safety is a myth.And honestly, who can blame them?They have only ever grown up in a world of conflict.Their normal is a world in financial crisis, war, school shootings, division, etc.This blog is being written on February 24th, 2020.If a student were to look at the world around them what would they see?The fear of Coronavirus, the threat of war with foreign nations, political and demographic division, and probably a thousand Michael Bloomberg ads.This generation is stressed when they look at the world around them.There is not much room for optimism when they look at the world around them.They NEED hope.We have that message.We have the opportunities.We must take advantage of the teachable moments to speak truth of the Gospel into the hopeless situations in our students lives.

Breakups, getting cut from the team, parents getting a divorce, not making 1st chair in trombone in the band, a parent getting laid off, the death of a grandparents, something hateful said on Fortnite, local or national tragedy. All present opportunities to share the Gospel if we act on it. On the flipside: making varsity, the mended relationship, a high score on a video game, a rekindled friendship all present opportunities to share the Gospel if we act on it. We have been given the moments. Will we take advantage?

Hunter Smith serves as the Jr. High Student Minister at Mount Zion Baptist Church. He has an MDiv from NOBTS and lives in Huntsville, AL with his wife Sarah.

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