THE MINISTRY OF TEACHING
By: Dr. Gilbert A. Peterson
Sam was startled but pleased one Sunday morning as he taught his class of teenage boys. “I see it! I see it!” shouted Bill in an outburst of enthusiasm.
The class was in study groups and Bill had just grasped a truth he’d been wrestling with. His joy was matched by that of his teacher, who smiled with satisfaction at how far he and the class had come that year.
Sam had started teaching teens because he liked the boys, thought it would be fun to “teach them the Bible,” and-he was asked. Little had he realized how much he had to learn about boys, about the Bible, about himself, and mostly–about teaching.
The class had been fun for awhile. Sam would joke with the boys, look at a few Scriptures with them, and tell them a story or two. But soon he ran out of jokes and exhausted his supply of stories. The class wasn’t
as much fun as it had been. It became a chore, He began to wonder how he had been roped into the job in the first place. No one had told him that sometimes teenagers laugh with you and sometimes they ignore you.
After some soul–searching, Sam decided that he should be able to handle teaching as well as he’d handled other church jobs. After all, he was a successful salesman! So he talked with other teachers, read a few
articles, went to a Sunday School convention, and listened to some cassette tapes from the church library–looking for ideas to help him succeed with his class.
But only when he talked with his friend John Haskins did he discover that he was involved in more than a job-he was involved in a “ministry.” John showed him that a ministry involves helping, serving, and caring
This idea wasn’t entirely new to Sam. The pastor was a minister and as such he was to help, serve, and care for people. But somehow Sam had never realized that, as a Sunday School teacher, he too was a minister–
to those boys God had entrusted to him.
As this new and exciting concept dawned on Sam, he began to search out answers to what this “teaching ministry” was all about. What he found may be of help to you too.
Sam discovered that teaching demands involvement in our students’ lives and a personal commitment to them that is love in action. The successful “ministering” teacher prepares, learns, lives, leads, cares, and shares.
People approach the task of teaching from different perspectives, diverse backgrounds, and various ways of preparing and teaching. The day a teacher prepares has no special value in and of itself. What is vitally important is that when a teacher has finished preparing and begins teaching, he knows what to teach, whom he is teaching, and has confidence and competence in how best to guide the discovery learning
Teaching in the Sunday School is a spiritual ministry. The teacher must work in close partnership with the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 3:9) both in preparing and presenting the lesson. Personal prayer and systematic study of the Scriptures are not options, but necessities.
Teachers need to pray especially for wisdom and understanding (James 1:5). Intercessory prayer for each student is also important. As we pray for our students, we are reminded of their individual needs; and the
Holy Spirit causes each of them to become more precious to us.
Personal study of the Word of God for our own growth and development is a second major part of our preparation. The Scriptures are food for our spiritual lives, and we must first be partakers of what God has given us before we can share it with others. There is no substitute for personal, systematic Bible study. Too often, teachers substitute the lesson quarterly, a devotional book, or even the pastor’s messages on Sunday
for their own personal study of God’s Word. These are fine supplements, but they must not be substitutes.
A third important phase of the preparation process is studying the passage to be taught and constructing a lesson plan to be followed during the class session. Teachers’ quarterlies suggest aims, methods, and approaches for each lesson. Additional helps are often recommended.
There is also the matter of physical preparation. A teacher who comes to class tired will not be able to cope adequately with the multiple forces that go into every teaching situation. Preparation of heart, mind and
body for the ministry of teaching is vitally important.
Sam also discovered that if he was going to be ready to teach his class on Sunday morning he had to be a student all week long. Studying for a class each week is a valuable learning experience. In fact, many
teachers say that one of the benefits of teaching Sunday School is the Scripture they learn as they prepare each lesson.
Beyond this, however, there needs to be an ever-growing learning spirit and experience. If a person is not learning and growing mentally and spiritually, he tends to stagnate. When that happens, life often seems
dull to him. As a teacher he finds it difficult to draw fresh spiritual food for his class from his own spiritually dry experience.
Spiritual refreshment comes from many different experiences. Systematic, personal Bible study is one. Sharing your faith with someone who needs to be introduced to Jesus Christ is another. Witnessing as a normal part of everyday experience was anticipated in the departure of Jesus as recorded in Matthew 28:19-20.
When a believer speaks to others about his faith as a natural expression of life’s total experience, he has the inner joy and satisfaction that comes from knowing he is giving them the most important truth they could
ever hear–and pleasing the Lord at the same time.
Exercising love toward other believers, especially those who have particular needs, is still another source of spiritual strengthening. The dynamic of a Christian’s faith is most clearly seen by others as he demonstrates that faith with acts of love (1 John 3:17-18).
Positive, practical expressions of your love for others bring the reward of spiritual refreshment and growth because you have been obedient to God’s desire and purpose. “Inasmuch as you have done it unto the least
of these My brethren, you have done it unto Me” (Matt. 25:40).
Loving, helping, and caring for the members of the body of Christ is a spiritual blending of attitude and action which demonstrates the Christian life and promotes spiritual growth. Each Sunday School teacher
should be a learner in this area of the Christian life.
Learning, for the Christian teacher, should take place in the realm of God’s world as well as God’s Word. As you expand your mind and experience to encompass more of the exciting world around you, you enjoy
more of what God intends for you to have in life. You also become a more interesting person, both in and out of the classroom.
Too often a teacher teaches out of past, rather than current, knowledge and experience. This is more often true in teaching God’s Word than almost any other subject. One reason often given is that God’s truth is
eternal and absolute and therefore does not need updating.
What people who hold this mistaken view miss is that Scripture is also dynamic and living and that the Christian life is a process, not a package. The Holy Spirit delights to grant deeper insights into His Word
to those who seek. As a teacher, grow, learn, and become all that God intends you to be. And remember that normal growth is a slow, continuous process.
Sam, in his study of the ministry of teaching, got new insights into preparing. He developed and practiced his own approach. Soon he was discovering new things in God’s Word and world as he began to teach out
of present experience and fresh truth. One of his most important discoveries was in the realm of daily living.
Like many of us, Sam’s life consisted of three major areas–home, job, and church. His home life was satisfying, his job challenging, but church activities were pretty much routine. He desired to grow and find
satisfaction in all three areas.
An error that many people make at this point is to try to get joy, challenge, and satisfaction on an equal basis from all areas of their lives. This often leads to greater frustration. To live effectively, a Christian must learn to have the major aspects of his life complement one another.
One of the best things you as a Sunday School teacher can do for your pupils is to demonstrate to them a healthy, balanced Christian life. This means not necessarily an equal, but an appropriate distribution of
time, interest, and energy to these important phases of life.
A second part of proper Christian living is blending the various aspects of life into one complete whole. Most people, including Christians, live neat, compartmental lives. Each segment is in an isolation booth all its own.
The Christian life is not the way you view a certain area of life–it is a certain way of viewing all of life. When a believer begins to live out his Christian experience in all realms, he is living a truly integrated
Christian life. Being Christian in public and pagan in private (or vice versa) is not being Christian at all.
In order to minister, a Sunday School teacher must be a Christian.He must have a loving personal relationship with Jesus Christ, a knowledge of sins forgiven, and a wholehearted trust in what Christ has
done –and continues to do–for him. Only at this starting place can a person begin to properly relate all of life into a meaningful whole.
A third aspect of effective living for a Christian, and especially one who is a teacher, is the setting of measurable and controllable objectives in all areas of life. Generally, we can set objectives more easily in the realm of our work than in the realms of family and spiritual life. But we need goals in all three areas.
In its simplest terms, an objective is the intended result of an activity or process. Our most common mistake in evaluating our work, or even personal relationships, is to focus on our activities rather than
on the results.
This also happens in teaching. We often concentrate on how we are teaching more than on what is happening in each student’s life as a result of our teaching.
When we don’t clearly examine our objectives we often expect one thing and get the opposite. Consider the family that looked forward to their vacation when they could rest, relax, and enjoy each other’s company.
During their vacation they took a two week car trip, sightseeing over 4,500 miles, and wondered why they arrived home tired and a bit tense with each other. They set one objective and then chose activities that
were not designed to accomplish that objective. The result was disappointment rather than joy and satisfaction.
In our teaching we often do the same thing. We say we want to see lives and behavior changed so our students will be more like Christ. But we choose learning activities that affect only the thought processes of our students. We need to design our teaching to reach and cause appropriate changes in the total person, mind, emotions, will, and behavior.
One thing a Sunday School teacher usually does understand about teaching is that he is supposed to be the leader of his group. Much confusion arises, however, over what is meant by “leadership.”
The word is often taken to mean an energetic, flamboyant, aggressive individual who has personal charisma –an individual who easily persuades people to do his or her bidding by sheer weight of presence
and position. This, however, is not the picture Scripture gives us.
The Bible pictures a Christian leader as both a shepherd of the flock and a servant of the Lord. The Apostle Paul described himself and his associates as “your servants for Jesus’ sake” (2 Cor, 4:5). This is quite different from what we would normally expect. And yet these two models, given in both the Old and New Testaments, clearly show what real leadership is all about.
Leadership involves influencing others toward a specific objective. The major factors are: the leader, the follower or followers, the communication process, and the objective toward which the influence is directed.
A leader is an influencer. The manner in which we exercise that influence differs greatly from person to person. People sometimes try to mimic a person they admire. When the model is a good one and the
personalities are similar enough so that the style is easily adopted and not forced, the copy process works well. When these factors are not present, however, this procedure does not work well.
A much better approach is to study the biblical models of the shepherd and servant and pattern your relationships with your class around these leadership types. Both the shepherd and the servant are tremendous influences on all who come into their sphere of living.
Sam had been successful as a salesman and in the church positions he had held. But this business of being a Sunday School teacher was indeed different. Sam began to compare his previous methods with his new
insights into what it means to be a teacher who ministers to the students. He realized that much of what he had been doing earlier was manipulating rather than teaching. He decided that he wanted to become the shepherd servant type of leader.
Looking at what was involved, Sam first decided to study himself and the type of influence he would be using. He recognized that people differ and one person’s style of shepherding might be different from another’s. He could not merely copy another teacher’s actions. He would let the Lord guide him in becoming the kind of shepherd–servant Christ wanted him to be.
Second, he decided to get to know the boys in his class better. Jesus said that a good shepherd @nows his sheep and they know him (John 10:14). It’s not just knowing about your class members, but really getting to know them–their likes, dislikes, hurts, and hopes.
Next, he reviewed his reasons for teaching. Setting meaningful measurable objectives for his class would help him know how his influence and leadership were working. He recalled the familiar words, “A teacher has not taught until the learner has learned.”
Finally, Sam considered the matter of how to communicate effectively. He knew he was communicating by what he said. But he was surprised to find that he often communicated more by what he did not say. His actions, facial expressions, even the way he dressed spoke volumes to his class.
In each of these vital areas we need to examine the kind of influence we are and measure that against what God intends us to be. The ministry of teaching has eternal results. We each need to be at our best when we are working together with the Lord.
A successful ministering teacher also cares about each member of the class. He has a God-given concern for others in the body of Christ–and for those in his class in particular.
Jesus’ ministry was always marked by His compassion. Over and over again the Scriptures record that He had compassion for individuals, for groups, and even for multitudes. Of all the outstanding characteristics
of our Lord, none is more precious than His tender care and compassion for mankind.
Care, as normally defined, means a disquieted state caused by a burdensome sense of responsibility. Compassion is a sympathetic, tender responsiveness. When we combine the two concepts, we can see what a teacher ought to feel for those God has entrusted to him or her. He has a sense of responsibility for class members that is demonstrated by a sympathetic, tender. responsiveness.
That is the type of teacher I want teaching my own boys, and that is the kind of teacher I want to be.
Children, youth, and adults have a great many needs–needs that seem deeper today than they have for years. Many people are restless, starved for affection and attention. They talk more than they listen. They are seeking approval and reassurance in a world that has attempted to quench its thirst at the fountain of relativity and uncertainty. As one teacher wrote:
I have sometimes thought how enlightening it would be if each child in my class could empty himself of all his needs and place them on the carpet in the center of our class circle. If this were possible, could I bear to look upon them? Could I change my teachings enough to meet these real problems!
Many students face the frustrations of a shattered family experience, whether or not the parents have actually separated. The tensions and insecurities of such a home leave deep imprints on a child or young
person’s heart and mind. Fragmented families often produce fragmented people. We ll must care and be the kind of teachers who can meet these deep needs.
Not all have such serious needs, but all do have needs. We must open ourselves to our students, let them into our hearts, and become sensitive to their various needs. Too often we open only our minds to them and let them share that small part of our experience.
What was unique and very special in the caring-reaching ministry of Jesus was His teaching through human relationships. He mixed into a rainbow blend the living language of relationships and the spoken
language of words. The remembered teacher is the one who lives, loves and demonstrates care. When most of the words are forgotten, the memory of one or two teachers who really cared for us still lingers.
Be a teacher who is remembered!
Sam reflected on this and committed himself to a teaching ministry that would be marked by caring. Simple things like remembering birthdays, praying for individual students, and being aware of what was happening in the lives outside the classroom were immediate objectives.
The last thing Sam learned was that preparing, learning, living, leading, and caring set the stage for him to be the kind of sharing person he longed to be. As he experienced the blessing of God in his own heart and life, he was able to share that joy and life with his class–and with, everyone he came in contact with, even on the job.
He didn’t have any kind of “mechanical” system or even a special method, just a simple, straightforward telling it like it had now become for him. He opened up to his class and let them see him as a real person who loved the Lord, struggled with problems, had victories, and even had some defeats.
In the past he had been satisfied with displaying how “brilliant” he had been during the previous week, studying to discover all those “nuggets of truth” he presented in class. He had even gone above and beyond the call of duty and added his own humor and stories to “spice up” the lessons and make them more interesting.
Now he is more interested in having his class go through the same process he went through, discovering for themselves what the Word of God says, what it means, and most important of all, what it means to them
individually. Many of the methods he uses are the same as he used in the past, but there is something different. It’s an attitude, an attitude that says, “Come with me and together let’s discover what God has to
He still tells stories, uses filmstrips, injects humor, lectures, has discussion groups, and uses a number of other tested learning tools. But now he knows what he wants to accomplish in the lives of his students;
he knows how to achieve it; and most of all, he is giving of himself, not just a small portion of predigested information.
Guiding people to discover and experience the exciting truths God has for them in His Word is the essence of the ministry of teaching. That happens through yielded, prepared servant-shepherds, who are willing to
give of themselves and grow daily, learning all that God has for them to learn. The end of this process is really only the beginning, for each day brings new beginnings; and each contact with an individual is a
fresh opportunity to live, lead, care, and share. It happened to Sam and Bill. It can happen to you and your class too if you will give yourself to a ministry of teaching.
(The above material was published by the Scripture Press Ministries in Glen Ellyn, IL.)
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