Teacher - A Position to Take Seriously

Posted by Worldview Warriors On Thursday, August 22, 2013 0 comments

What makes a teacher great? This is something I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about in my life because I’ve had so many great teachers, and a few that weren’t so great. I’ve studied at two colleges and one seminary, as well as classroom training sessions for several different jobs. I’ve been fortunate to have many men in my life who were the “rabbi” type of teacher that Katie and I wrote about a couple months ago. They were men who allowed me to see how they live their lives and how they face difficult circumstances rather than just talking about how I should be living. So, to answer the question I posed at the beginning, the greatest teachers are the ones whose lives and experiences are consistent with what they teach.

In order for students to know that their teachers’ lives mirror their words, they have to be able to know a little bit about their teachers’ experiences outside of the classroom. That may sound like an obvious statement, but the reality of what happens in many “higher education” settings nowadays is that some teachers are only speaking based on what they have learned IN the classroom themselves!

I’ve been telling people for years that I received a better education at the local two-year community college in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania than I did at the four-year state university to which I transferred to finish my degree. I understand that it may not always be the case depending on the major, but it certainly was the case for me as a criminal justice student. The reason was because my professors at the community college were part-timers who were either recently retired from or still currently working in the field they were teaching. My teachers there included retired officers, a current police chief, a lawyer, a forensic scientist, and a former officer who was also a polygraph expert. At the state school, my teachers were people who had never actually worked in the field but had “studied” the field long enough to earn some high-level degree. The experiences of those in the field made all the difference in their teaching.

Back in the time of the New Testament, the position of teacher was generally one of honor. It was seen as such in the Jewish culture mainly because of how intelligent and learned the person was. Many Jewish teachers had incredible knowledge of the Law and of tradition, but lacked the humility and repentance that Christ desired in his followers. When some of the Jews converted to Christianity and made up the early church, they struggled to allow their minds to be renewed, like most of us do.

In the early church, many wanted to be teachers because they still viewed the position as highly praised. That is when James, the brother of Jesus and writer of the earliest New Testament book, issued a warning and challenge. “Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly” (James 3:1). He goes on to explain through the rest of the chapter how the hardest thing for man to do is keep a tight rein on his tongue. James includes himself in saying that “we all stumble in many ways” (v. 2). His point is that we ought to count the cost before desiring to be teachers rather than just going after the position for all of its accolades. James is warning would-be teachers that the position comes with greater accountability and stricter judgment, and challenging current teachers to understand the magnitude of responsibility they have. Not only must the teacher’s words be consistent with the life and teaching of Jesus, but the teacher’s deeds must also match what he teaches. Anything else would suggest a lack of integrity.

Those of us who regularly teach in the church, as well as anyone else who occasionally teaches or aspires to do so, need to take seriously the position Christ has given us as members of his body. If you are someone who teaches based on your head knowledge and not the life you experience as a follower of Jesus, beware that you will only become stressed to the point of being overwhelmed in trying to live a double standard. Dr. George Fry said it best at Winebrenner Theological Seminary’s graduation ceremony just a few weeks ago: “How can you expect to introduce people to Jesus if he is a complete stranger to you?” Education in the classroom can be very useful, but it is pointless if not accompanied by experience outside of it. I’ll close with the Apostle Paul’s charge to young Timothy, one who would take over as a leader and teacher in the church. “Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Timothy 4:16).