I plunged into Bible teaching right after my baptism. The next afternoon, I went to the mall to share my faith…with no instruction apart from the example of Henry, my future (and present) husband. Together, we went almost daily to Toronto’s Eaton Centre, huddling in prayer before splitting up to talk to strangers. I roamed the mall and initiated spiritual conversations, quickly landing myself in I-don’t-know-the-answer-to-that-question-yet territory. After each session, I’d run back to Henry for the verses and answers I lacked, hoping I’d be better prepared for next time. And, little by little, I learned and grew.
But I knew that understanding the Bible as a whole was crucial to my spiritual growth, so two months later I enrolled in a tiny, free Bible school held in Niagara Falls. We met in one room of a humble church building, with nothing but our Bibles, notebooks, and pens. The school had an outstanding teacher/student ratio: three instructors over eight students, three of us women. Classes were already underway when I joined, but I was up for the challenge. I moved in with my female classmates, choosing to sleep alone in an unfinished, dungeon-like basement because they set the upstairs thermostat so high it gave me headaches.
All three teachers were actually preachers —one retired, two active—and each taught their own course. One was leading us through the Major and Minor Prophets; he was more prophet than teacher, imbued with the spirit of Jeremiah, and very fond of certain passages in Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Amos, which he preached daily. I still hear his voice and see his tears when I read some of these passages. He wept for Israel and God’s people and the confused world of modern-day Christendom, making a deep, lasting impression on me. If we were taught anything in his class, it was how to recognize a prophet’s heart.
The second teacher tackled something in the New Testament; I can’t remember what we covered in his class. The third teacher, the one who’d retired, carried his retirement into the classroom. His course was “Old Testament History”, and his teaching method was to simply to sit at his desk as we muddled our own way through the OT, taking notes as we read and marked our Bibles. When I joined, the class was midway through 2 Kings, a book I’d never read. Nor had I read 1 Kings, or even the Samuels or Judges or Joshua. I had no idea what came before the sorry state of affairs recorded in 2 Kings, and it took me a while to figure out that “Israel” and “Judah” were separate kingdoms, led by a series of mostly terrible kings. Once that twigged, I had to go back to the beginning of 2 Kings, reading Israel’s troubled history with new understanding. Still, it was a daunting way to learn, like going on a treasure hunt, blindfolded, with only cryptic clues to guide my way.
I stayed at the school for one semester, enough to get deeply immersed in the Word—after all, we spent five or six hours a day reading nothing but the Bible, preparing for quizzes and tests. When I returned to Toronto, I got married and helped Henry lead the growing house church that met in our home. I was still a “new” Christian when Henry asked me to teach our women’s Bible class. For reasons I can’t remember, I chose to teach Galatians. It was new to me, like much of the Bible still was, but Henry owned several sets of Bible commentaries, and I figured with them I could teach myself, and then the women. I poured hours of time into preparing each 60 minute lesson.
One of the women in my class was in her late forties and had been a Christian most of her life. She hit every class and seemed to enjoy them. She asked questions I was actually able to answer.
An obvious question—obvious now, as I think back—is Why wasn’t SHE the one teaching the class? She was an educated professional, nearly twice my age, with more years of Christian living and exposure than I’d been alive. And yet I was teaching her.
It’s like the Hebrew writer says,
Though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to explain the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! (Heb.5:12)
Most Bible translations use exclamation points with restraint, so whenever we see one, we ought to be alarmed (or amazed), too. Why weren’t they teaching yet? Why were they still acting like spiritual infants, living on milk, unacquainted with the teaching about righteousness? (verse 13). Why indeed? They certainly had great instructors back then, folks with eyewitness accounts of Jesus’ life and ministry, largely unpolluted by the heresies to come.
As I see it, being spiritually immature, as measured by their reluctance/inability/refusal to become teachers, was distressing and harmful on many levels.
They were cheating themselves out of spiritual growth and maturity.
They were making themselves difficult to be taught weightier topics.
They were putting more responsibility on others by not sharing the task to teach.
They were setting a poor example for younger believers.
They were failing to train themselves to distinguish good from evil (verse14); in other words, their immaturity in the Word reflected a moral failing, not an intellectual one.
We don’t need “Bible School” in order to teach. I had four months of informal training, invaluable to me, yet hardly impressive by academic standards. Most of what I learned was self-taught, or garnered by asking lots of questions and remembering the scriptures I was directed to. I learned a LOT by reading through the New Testament on my own, underlining passages by topic with a self-devised color code. And I learned a lot by getting out and talking to seekers and unbelievers, hearing their questions and knowing the Bible could answer them, if I only knew where.
Where are you in your willingness to teach? If you’ve been a Christian for even a few years, have you stepped up to the plate and volunteered to teach—on whatever level?
For many, starting with children’s classes can be a great start (or destination!), laying a good foundation to later instruct teens or adults. Teaching one-on-one or in a small group setting is another great starting point. Perhaps a small group could take turns teaching one another, instead of relying on the same person to take the lead.
Every teacher starts as a neophyte; we learn as we go, both in lesson preparation and in the act of teaching. Yes, not everyone has the ‘gift’ of teaching, but almost everyone can edify others on some level, even if it’s simply making thoughtful comments in a group discussion. James tells us “not everyone should presume to be teachers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly” (James 3:1). The Hebrew writer has a different perspective. He wasn’t telling every member that they needed to teach; rather, they were capable of far more than they were doing. Spiritual laziness was the issue here.
Personally, I love it when ‘new’ teachers step up to speak, whether it’s delivering a Sunday testimony or embarking on teaching their own ongoing class. Fresh teachers—and fresh ideas—keep all of us from getting stale. After all, even the best Bible teachers can get repetitive over time. A church full of teachers, wise and experienced, new and fresh, is richly blessed.
So if God is urging you to teach—in any capacity— say yes and surprise us all!