Teaching for Faith

Teaching for Faith

A man was out hiking when he fell off a cliff. He managed to grab a thin tree branch sticking out of the side of the rocky cliff wall saving him from plunging thousands of feet below. As his fingers began to slip he prayed fervently to God for deliverance. Suddenly, an angel appeared above, peering over the ledge.

“Who are you?” cried the man.

“I’m an angel. God heard your cry for help. What do you want?” replied the angel.

“Thank heaven!” cried the man.”I want to get off of here!”

“O.K., but I can’t do anything if you don’t have faith,” answered the angel.

“I have faith!” cried the man, “I believe!”

“Do you really believe that God can save you?” asked the angel.

“Yes, I believe!” said the man.

“O.K., then just let go of the branch,” replied the angel.

The man paused, then said, “Is there someone else up there I can talk to?”


As in the case of this desperate fellow, there are things we say we believe, and things we really believe–even in matters of faith. How can we know if we really believe something? In order for someone to really believe something, four components (or domains) must be operative to some degree. When all four of the following components are operative, then effectual faith exists:


1. AFFECTIVE (feeling, emotional);

2. COGNITIVE (knowledge, understanding);

3. BEHAVIORAL (action, conduct); and

4. VOLITIONAL (will, conviction, passion).


We can say that that person has an “effectual faith” to the degree that all four domains are operative in a person’s life. Having an effectual faith means that a person really believes something (whether a value, an idea, a dogma, a doctrine, or an opinion). To the degree that any one of these four key components are not operative in a person’s life, then that person does not really believe.


Some years ago I traveled with someone to a meeting in Washington, D.C. He had offered to pick me up at my office and drive into the city for the meeting. It soon became apparent that though he had offered to drive, he didn’t really know the way to our meeting place. Luckily, I was able to give directions to our destination.


While driving, he explained that, as a rule, when going anywhere he preferred to be the driver and take his own car. He recounted that while a colonel in the service, he became an expert on automobiles. His knowledge included an extensive understanding of automobile design and the results of crashes and accidents. As a result of his experience and knowledge, he announced that he would never ride in a car under a certain weight! Therefore, he would drive his car–apparently, even if he didn’t really know the way and would need to ask someone!


As I listened to him, I thought, “Now here’s a person with effectual faith in what he believes!” Not only did the colonel have a keen cognitive understanding of automobiles and their design, but he had strong feelings about it! His knowledge, plus his feelings, led to a volitional conviction that was evident in his behavior: he would never drive or ride in cars he knew would not withstand accidents.


When engaging in teaching experiences and relationships, experienced teachers know that they can lead learners through the first three domains relatively easily. For example, in the cognitive domain, one can guide a learner through the stages of recall (memorization), comprehension, application, analysis, and evaluation in one single lesson. Likewise, an inspiring teacher can lead his or her students through the stages of the affective domain with success, from receiving to responding to valuing to organization, to characterization.


As for changing behavior, any child psychologist (or dog trainer for that matter), will tell you that it’s not all that difficult. In fact, most behavioral psychologists treating a parent-child conflict are likely to tell you that the problem is not so much a matter of changing the child’s behavior as it is changing the parents’ behavior! Whenever you teach a learner a new skill, a new method, or a different way of doing something (like tying shoelaces or doing math in their head, or driving a car), you are causing change (learning) in the behavioral domain.


But changing behaviors, while relatively easy, can be deceptive. Just because there has been a change of behavior does not mean there has been a change in belief. Again, unless all four components of the affective, knowledge, behavioral, and volitional domains are operative, then there is no real belief, no real effectual faith. In part, this explains why techniques-based diets, seminars to quit smoking, or workshops on the spiritual life are ineffective–they tend to focus almost exclusively on the behavioral domain.


Of all the domains, the most difficult in which to do “teaching” is the volitional. More than any other, this is the domain of the Spirit. This is where the deeper relationships are operational. (For example, most people seem not to have learned that the marriage relationship is more a matter of volition than feeling!). Working in this domain, the effective teacher learns to respect the dynamics particular to this domain: relationship, trust, will, honesty, openness, and time. The effective teacher also knows to respect the boundaries over which he or she must not cross. No amount of manipulation or techniques can make a learner want or will to learn or to change. That is the prerogative of the individual learner.


Nevertheless, a shortcoming in much of our teaching in matters of faith is in not addressing matters of volition. Maybe this is because it is the one domain that cannot be taught in one lesson, or in the course of one quarter’s worth of Sunday School lessons. This is the domain that requires intentional relationship and commitment from the teacher if he or she is to have any meaningful impact in the life of the learner. It is the quality on one’s relationship with another that mediates volition.



  1. As you examine your aims, goals and style of teaching, how effective are you in each of the four domains?
  2. In which domain are you strongest in your teaching?
  3. In which are you weakest in your teaching?
  4. How will you change in your teaching to be a more effective teacher for effectual faith in the lives of your learners?


Adapted from The Craft of Christian Teachingby Israel Galindo

Israel Galindo is Associate Dean for Lifelong Learning at the Columbia Theological Seminary. He directs the Pastoral Excellence Program at Columbia seminary. He is the author of the bestseller, The Hidden Lives of Congregations (Alban), Perspectives on Congregational Leadership (Educational Consultants), and A Family Genogram Workbook (Educational Consultants), with Elaine Boomer & Don Reagan, and Leadership in Ministry: Bowen Theory in the Congregational Context.

His books on education include Mastering the Art of Instruction,The Craft of Christian Teaching (Judson), How to be the Best Christian Study Group Leader (Judson), and Planning for Christian Education Formation (Chalice Press).

Galindo contributes to the Wabash Center’s blog for theological school deans and to its teaching and learning blogs.


One thought on “Teaching for Faith”

  1. Les HIirst says:

    It reality, the only way to know if the volitional aspect has been triggered in a person is to wait util they have a chance to decide to do what is right or not and see what they do. George Patterson (Western Seminary) called this obedience oriented discipleship. And the key to his success was waiting to see if there would be obedience in one area before he “taught” another.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.