The last time I saw my grandfather alive he made fun of me for being a pastor. You’ve probably heard the jokes or even made them yourself. “What does a pastor do all week anyway? You only work like one hour.” I wanted to tell my grandpa we have two worship services on Sunday morning, and they go for three hours by themselves....
I discovered teaching by accident.
When I was invited to teach an economics course through the bank where I worked, I found I loved it, and I’ve been hooked ever since. So when the opportunity came to leave financial services and become a full-time professor, I grabbed it.
I’ve been a university professor now for many years, and a Bible study teacher even longer. As much as I enjoy academia, I recognize that what I teach at the university has its limits. The impact of the formulas and theories is fleeting; students barely remember concepts from one semester to the next.
But the impact of Bible study is eternal as God’s Word has the power to transform lives, restore relationships, and heal broken hearts. Like all small-group leaders and Bible teachers, I face a tremendous responsibility to handle God’s Word with care, in and out of class.
Four Ways Bible Teachers Can Reflect Christ
Many of us have inspiring Bible teachers in our local pastors and church leaders. While each may have a different style, one thing effective teachers have in common is how they follow Christ’s example of great teaching.
1. Know your students.
Not all lessons are appropriate for all ages. Some lessons are too complex, while others are overly simplistic. At the university, we reserve upper level courses for the more advanced students. In ministry, some lessons are “milk” meant for newer believers, and other lessons are “meat” designed for seasoned, mature believers (see 1 Corinthians 3:2)
Jesus knew his disciples, and he taught them lessons that were appropriate to their stage of Christian maturity: “With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it” (Mark 4:33). But the disciples did not always grasp Jesus’ teaching, which leads to our second point.
2. Connect to your students.
Jesus taught his disciples using everyday illustrations called parables. Knowing they needed help connecting the illustrations to their lives, he clarified what the parables meant:
He did not speak to them without a parable, but privately to his own disciples he explained everything. (Mark 4:34)
In my university classes, I can’t assume the students know what I know. They haven’t had the same exposure to the content, and they may become discouraged if the lessons are always out of reach. In Bible study, teachers can’t know what their small group participants know or don’t know. We don’t know everything they have experienced, nor can we predict how they may interpret what’s being said.
Though an effective teacher brings the lesson to the student as Christ did the parables, the real teaching is accomplished by the Holy Spirit who knows just what each member needs to hear. Christ-like teachers connect lessons to students’ experience, but the real learning happens when we trust the Holy Spirit to apply the lesson in the right way and explain everything.
3. Challenge your students.
A popular myth in the halls of academia is that easy teachers are popular teachers. While there’s some truth to the attraction of the “easy A,” we find that teachers who challenge their students are often among the most loved. This principle is counterintuitive: Teachers who maintain high standards, refuse to compromise, and expect great things from students are often rewarded by enduring student loyalty long after grade point averages have been forgotten.
Christ knew how to challenge his followers to prepare them for further ministry:
He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.” (John 21:17)
In Bible study, we know when we’ve been challenged. Though the lesson may be hard to hear, in his mercy, Christ draws us closer to himself so we don’t have to face the challenge alone. His standards are high. He does not compromise. He expects great things. In the end, we can be transformed like Peter because of the One who challenges us and then strengthens us through his own life.
4. Love your students.
A teacher who knows students better than they know themselves; explains every connection with clarity; and issues challenges that motivate students to achieve astounding heights is nothing if he or she does not love students.
The single greatest quality of an effective, Christ-like teacher is love.
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:1-3)
I’m convinced that many of the young men and women who step into my life have no one else in the world praying for them. I can’t tell what is going on in their hearts and minds, but God knows. We demonstrate great love for our students and small group members when we pray for them, even if they never know they’ve been prayed for.
Teach Because Christ Loved You First
Just as Christ loved us, we love those in our care. The love of Christ motivates us to seek excellence in our preparation and teaching, watch for opportunities to minister to people, share God’s Word in good times and in hardship, rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.
Let us strive to be Christ-like teachers, trusting Jesus to accomplish the ultimate, true teaching in the lives of those we have the privilege of knowing.