What makes for a good church teacher?
In the post entitled “The Role of Teachers in the Church,” we observed that teachers play a very important role within the church because they help others grow in their knowledge of and relationship with GOD.
I also noted that the Scripture warns that not many should become teachers (Jam. 3:1-2).
Here are the top 10 keys to being an effective church teacher.
Tip #1: Seek GOD’s approval rather than man’s.
While true for each of us, teachers have the utmost responsibility to ensure they are seeking to please GOD and not people because of they influence they have on those listening to them.
A tremendous contrast can be seen when we examine the first century Jewish religious leaders and the apostles.
The scribes, Pharisees, Sadducees, and teachers of the Law desired the praise of men.
42 Nevertheless even among the rulers many believed in [Jesus], but because of the Pharisees they did not confess Him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue; 43 for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.
(John 12:42-43 NIV)
The apostles sought only to please GOD.
18 Then [the Sanhedrin] called [the apostles] in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. 19 But Peter and John replied, “Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or to him? You be the judges! 20 As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.”
(Acts 4:18-20 NIV)
Biblical Christianity is never going to win the popularity contest.
Those who teach the things Jesus taught—the things we read in the New Testament—are not going to be very popular.
In fact, the more popular a person, belief, teaching, doctrine, or “gospel,” the more cautious and leery we should be as to its authenticity.
Teachers must continually self-assess their motives to ensure they’re genuinely seeking GOD’s approval and not man’s.
Tip #2: Listen effectively, firstly to GOD, and secondly to others.
Before anything can be taught, it must be learned.
Before anyone can be an example to others, they must first learn from The Example.
Have you ever met someone who seemed to love to hear themselves speak? Would you categorize that person as wise or foolish? Foolish? Yeah, me too.
27 The one who has knowledge uses words with restraint,
and whoever has understanding is even-tempered.
28 Even fools are thought wise if they keep silent,
and discerning if they hold their tongues.
(Prov. 17:27-28 NIV)
19 Sin is not ended by multiplying words,
but the prudent hold their tongues.
20 The tongue of the righteous is choice silver,
but the heart of the wicked is of little value.
(Prov. 10:19-20 NIV)
19 My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry,
(Jam. 1:19 NIV)
In order to learn anything, we must listen. Effective teachers never believe they have everything already figured out.
Tip #3: Study objectively.
Every person has a past, personal biases, prejudices and perspective. These things help make us who we are.
Unfortunately, our past can also impact our ability to look at things objectively, without being influenced.
Effective teachers must strive to set aside their personal opinions and feelings when they study.
Paul encouraged Timothy regarding this, saying:
15 Study and be eager and do your utmost to present yourself to God approved (tested by trial), a workman who has no cause to be ashamed, correctly analyzing and accurately dividing [rightly handling and skillfully teaching] the Word of Truth.
(2 Tim. 2:15 AMP)
Tip #4: Maintain awareness of the difference between tradition and Scripture and ability to separate the two.
There can be significant pressure in churches (i.e., organizational definition intended, not the biblical ekklesia) to teach a specific doctrine or point of view on a subject(s).
Teachers must willing to speak the truth as they understand it, regardless of pressure to conform to “the system.” This can become very uncomfortable for a teacher—and especially when the teacher is paid by this organization.
If there is one lesson we should each learn from Jesus’ conflicts with the Jewish religious leaders, it is how incredibly dangerous our religious traditions can be. Notice how many times Jesus healed or performed miracles on the Sabbath day. He did so intentionally because these things challenged the leaders’ traditions regarding what could and could not be done on the Sabbath day.
Religious traditions often begin from a desire to obey GOD. In an effort to avoid sin, we individually put up fences inside the boundary of what GOD has stated, just to be safe.
In an effort to please GOD, we begin regularly doing something such as fasting or celebrating religious holidays like Christmas or Easter. These individual decisions are not wrong.
What becomes sin, however, is when we begin to enforce our personal views or “the way we’ve always done it” on other people, teaching these things as though they were GOD’s commands (see Matt. 15:1-20).
When traditions are practiced long enough, practitioners often reach a point where they can no longer definitively recall why or when the tradition was started in the first place. (Churches meeting twice on Sundays might be an example.)
In my experience, people who are stuck in tradition often pretend they are open to other ideas or ways of doing things.
The moment you suggest changing something they view as sacred, however, the traditionalists’ claws come out and they instantly become easily-recognizable.
If you want to test this, offer a suggestion of how something could possibly done more effectively, such as modifying the congregation’s “name” on the sign out front, turning the pews so they face each other, eliminating the Sunday evening “worship service” (I hate that term), or changing the way the Lord’s Supper is administered.
Lastly, in regard to tradition, I have observed that tradition is blinding.
We can be absolutely steeped in tradition and think we have none at all.
We can be actively seeking to identify and challenge/change those places where we have created man-made traditions, yet completely overlook significant areas.
It takes prayer for GOD to show us those places where we’ve developed religious traditions and perhaps drawn lines where He hasn’t and change is needed.
Often it may be our most dear subjects—those very things we feel most strongly compelled to talk about—where we have the most changing to do. (The subject of Bible authority comes to mind as an example.)
Tip #5: Avoid predetermining a position and then twisting Scripture to support it.
I can’t tell you how many Bible studies I have participated in over the years where it was quite obvious to me that “we” (the assembly; the church [biblical definition intended]) already “knew” what the conclusion was, we were simply going through the process to reaffirm what we already believed.
This cannot be our mindset.
We must challenge ourselves to look at subjects and texts fresh, continuously seeking and asking for GOD to reveal His will for us. Bible study (and teaching) cannot be simply a formal intellectual exercise.
Tip #6: Avoid proof-texting.
Teachers must avoid snipping a small passage of Scripture from its context.
So often, the unintended consequence is that people are led to believe that the lifted Scripture is making a point that is not really intended.
We preach context, context, context. We need to live that message too.
It’s dangerous and we’ve all done it at some point (and may be currently guilty of it), but we need to try our best to avoid snipping a text from its surroundings.
A good general rule is to never copy a verse or series of verses without reading a significant portion of what came before and what comes after the verses you’re using.
Tip #7: Remain humble as knowledge and influence increases.
Biblical teachers remain humble and always point others toward Jesus.
We must remember that knowledge puffs up while love builds up (1 Cor. 8:1).
As we grow, we must always self-examine our ego and our purpose for our actions, remembering that we are all unprofitable servants, no matter how smart or knowledgeable we become.
Tip #8: Be willing to say, “I don’t know.”
We should never feel like we must always have the answer to every question.
Tip #9: Remain hungry to know GOD more closely.
This goes back to #2 above; the teacher must always be learning and listening, never thinking that they have arrived.
They, like Paul, must press on toward the prize (see Phil. 3:12-14) with as much time as GOD grants them here.
Tip #10: Reserve the right to change your mind.
Any person who is continuing to study and grow in their relationship with GOD is going to change their mind from time to time about their understanding of certain subjects or texts.
My cousin Bryan was fond of saying that a great way to determine how hard someone is studying or trying to grow spiritually is to ask them to list subjects or texts that they have changed their view or understanding on within the past year.
I think he’s exactly right.
If I never change my opinion on something spiritual in nature, then I’m obviously not learning much, which means I’m obviously not trying that hard.
So, if you’re a teacher within the church or aspire to be one, I highly encourage you (and remind myself at the same time) to remember these things and practice them regularly.
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