Are You a Teacher?
I had a wonderful conversation the other day with a friend who serves as a deacon in his local church. He and I both know that the title is misleading: he is an “elder,” even if that term is not used officially. He asked me if I aspire to be an elder as well. Some of you may be surprised at my answer. It was no.
I think, perhaps, I would qualify. At least I’m a presbuteros – an “older man”! But the truth is that I possess little desire for leadership – “overseership,” the New Testament calls it (1 Tim. 3:1). For one, I’m not a natural leader, though I think I’m an excellent follower. What is leadership? It is that invisible something that when Peter said, “I’m going fishing,” caused his friends to say, “We’ll go with you” instead of walking away yawning. Now I admire gifted leaders. I’ve known a good many of them. But I don’t belong in their company.
What am I then? I think I’m a teacher. The New Testament often emphasizes the importance of teaching. “In the church at Antioch there were … teachers,” writes Luke (Acts 13:1). Paul exhorted the Romans, “Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them … he who teaches, in teaching…” (Rom. 12:6-7). To the Corinthians he wrote, “God has appointed in the church … teachers” (1 Cor. 12:28), and in Galatians he refers, ever so briefly, to the “one who teaches” (Gal. 6:6).
Of course, all of us are to be teachers in one sense; we are to “teach … one another” (Col. 3:16). And in Hebrews we read, “By this time you ought to be teachers” (Heb. 5:11). We all have something to teach others – or should. I can’t tell you how much I delight in hearing my wife or some other member of our Sunday School class utter encouraging words of instruction during our lesson time, or in reading the Bible studies that Nathan has written, or in visiting websites written by “laypeople” that are chock full of good, practical Bible teaching. In fact, sometimes informal conversations around the Word can be more effective, more persuasive, more powerful, more life-changing than formal instruction. But this does not mean that all should be teachers in another sense. As James writes, “Let not many of you become teachers” (James 3:1).
So what part of the Body am I? Probably a teacher. I love teaching in an academic setting. But I also love teaching in less formal venues, including Ethiopian huts and small groups in Romania or China. And I especially enjoy teaching in the local church, where I imagine it all began in the first place and where teaching is more closely tied to real life than in the ivory tower setting of the formal classroom.
Are you a teacher? Do you have something to contribute to the Body by way of “upbuilding, encouragement, or consolation” (1 Cor. 14:3)? I’m quite positive that you are, and that you do. Fear not then to express your spontaneous zeal in teaching others what the Lord Jesus has taught you. It matters not what level of formal academic training you may have had or not had. If we are members of the Body of Christ, we have the privilege and, yes, the responsibility of teaching one another. I emphasize this great truth everywhere I go. You do not need special training in a theological college to be a God-trained and God-taught teacher in the church. Just look at Paul’s use of theodidaktoi in 1 Thess. 4:9: “You yourselves have been God-taught.” Or read John’s instruction in 1 John 2:20, 27 about the chrisma (anointing) you have from God. Or see the promise in Jer. 31:33-34 that God would write His law on the hearts of His people and teach them directly as part of Jesus’ New Covenant ministry.
On the other hand, some of you are specially gifted in the area of teaching. Here is my advice to you: Do not think you need to be an elder or a pastor to teach! As Paul puts it in Eph. 4:11, all pastors are teachers, but not all teachers are pastors. I believe a healthy church will have both shepherd-teachers and sheep-teachers, working together in harmony for the building up of the entire Body of Christ. In other words, a New Testament church will have a host of teachers, not only ready to impart knowledge, but to receive it.
Are you a teacher? Then teach!
November 5, 2008
David Alan Black is the editor of www.daveblackonline.com.