What Makes a Good Teacher? (Newsletter 3-9)

What Makes a Good Teacher?
By Lee Dean

Teachers who succeed have godly characters and the desire to transform students.
Deuteronomy 11:18–21

Adult education teachers are never self-appointed. There is always a selection and supervision process of some kind, regardless of the size and structure of a congregation. What do supervisors of Christian adult education look for in their teachers, both in and out of the classroom? Read on to find out what traits these leaders are on the lookout for.

Experience in the church and as a teacher. If someone is new to your church and expresses a strong desire to immediately begin teaching a class, the best course is to instead take time and let the person become integrated with the life and mission of the church.

“We want people to connect, find relationships, get involved in ministry, and be here for a little while,” said Fred McCormick, adults pastor at Wooddale Church in Eden Prairie, Minnesota. “Then let’s have a talk about where you can begin to serve, including teaching.”

Bill Layle, pastor of spiritual formation at Kentwood (Michigan) Community Church, said teaching is not a role best suited for newcomers. He likes to take a prospective teacher to breakfast a few times as a way of getting acquainted. “Teaching in the Scripture is really an elevated position, which will require me to get to know the person,” he said.

Many adult education pastors and staff prefer to use people who have experience in a church environment. However, they also look for people who have taught in other places, such as in K-12 education or as corporate trainers. These kinds of experiences usually transfer well to a church setting.

Godliness. Teachers with godly character traits—particularly humility, honesty, integrity, and authenticity—meet a requirement that is more important than classroom experience and knowledge of the subject. A teacher has to show observable evidence that he or she is living what they are teaching instead of just telling students how they should be living the Christian life.

“You are the message,” says Layle. “Who you are is going to speak louder than anything you say. I want to be sure that you are sending the right signals.”

Willingness to support the church’s mission and goals. One component of the screening process of prospective teachers is their willingness to teach in a way that corresponds to the direction of the church. If leadership is lax on this point, the result for your church could be similar to what happens when you let a fox into the henhouse. Leadership must have the willingness to say “no.”

“There are times someone wants to teach so badly that it throws up a red flag. Maybe they want to impose on the class and on the church their thoughts on certain topical areas or biblical studies. But that is something that may not necessarily coincide with the purposes and direction of the church,” said McCormick.

An understanding of how adults learn. One common error adult education teachers make is to take the same tactics that work with children and simply transfer them to the “big people.” The audiences are quite different. Adult education leaders look for teachers who understand that adults crave information they can use.

“You can’t ask adults to memorize lists of doctrine,” said McCormick. “They want to learn truth that is immediately applicable.”

Ability to engage the class. The best adult education teachers are those who make a strong connection with their class. If students are engaged, they’ll keep coming back. The best way to lose that connection is to think that telling is the same thing as teaching.

“You can’t become a talking head,” said Layle. “You will try to get too much information across. You won’t allow the group itself to discover things. Don’t tell them what the Bible says.

Ask them what they think it says. Let them get involved in the learning process.”

When McCormick observes teachers, he studies the level of engagement displayed by students when they communicate with each other and the teacher. He looks for teachers who ask questions that stimulate meaningful discussion in a particular direction.

“Teachers should recognize that discussion isn’t for the sake of discussion alone. Where does it lead? What is the purpose of the lesson and the teaching experience? We want our discussion to fulfill that purpose and function,” he said.

Have the desire to see lives changed. Adult education pastors are interested in the motivation of teachers. They want teachers who define their success by the degree that the lives of their students are transformed. This is an intangible quality and difficult to measure, yet teachers are asked to pay attention to what they see and hear from their students.

“The measure is often relational,” said Layle. “Is someone more in love with Jesus now than they were six months ago because of your teaching? Are relationships with spouses deeper and richer? With children? With co-workers? Are your friendships deeper?”

Teachers stand as examples of the Christian life; they also serve as encouragers, motivators, and mentors. When all is said and done, they should be people who can humbly tell their students,

“Follow me, as I follow Christ.”

LEE A. DEAN is a freelance writer living in Plainwell, Michigan.
2008 Christianity Today International/BuildingChurchLeaders.com

The material is copyrighted and should not be reprinted under any other name or author. However, this material may be freely used for personal study or research purposes.

This article may not be written by an Apostolic author, but it contains many excellent principles and concepts that can be adapted to most churches. As the old saying goes, “Eat the meat. Throw away the bones.”