3 essentials? Really? Why not 4, 5, 7, or 10 essentials? I suppose you could create as many “essentials” as you wanted, but a verse from the book of Ezra gives us insight into a man who wanted to use his life to influence people spiritually. Does that sound like you? If you are a Bible study teacher/group leader/whatever your church calls you today, I bet you invest your time in this because you really do want to make a difference in people’s lives. So what 3 essentials do we find in an excerpt from the life of Ezra?
The Word of God says, “Now Ezra had determined in his heart to study the law of the Lord, obey it, and teach its statutes and ordinances in Israel” (HCSB).
The 3 essentials for being a teacher/leader that I find in this verse are:
1) Teachers pursue the Word of God – Ezra determined in his heart (a great insight into his passion and commitment to knowing God’s Word) to study. An examination of the original language reveals that the word “study” literally means “to tread frequently over” and “to pursue.” What a great word picture of what studying God’s Word can be for the teacher/leader of Bible study groups! We are to read and re-read and walk back over that which we think we know in pursuit of the truth, mining the deep things of God until we have captured them with our minds and hearts. Effective teachers know they cannot and should not give their group members “Saturday night specials” – those Bible studies carelessly created at the closing minutes of a Saturday. Good Bible teachers know they must wrestle with God’s Word beginning early in the week as they prepare to lead the next session…maybe even starting to prepare Sunday afternoon to teach the following Sunday. No rest for the weary. Effective teachers pursue the Word of God.
2) Teachers have a lifestyle that supports their message – The second essential has to do with the word “obey.” Once Ezra had familiarized himself with God’s Word, he obeyed it. End of story. Knowledge for the sake of knowledge isn’t the goal in a Bible study group. Knowledge so that we can obey the Word is. Jesus told his followers to “teach them to obey all I have commanded” (Matthew 28:18ff). Obedience to God’s Word gives the Bible study leader credibility to speak the truth in love, to say “thus saith the Lord,” and to live as an example to the people he leads. Knowledge without obedience is useless, and Ezra knew this. Knowledge of God’s Word accompanied by obedience gave him the credibility to speak and teach God’s Word to others.
3) Teachers communicate the Word of God – The final phrase in Ezra 7:10 tells us that Ezra studied and obeyed God’s Word so that he could teach it in Israel. It is one thing to know God’s Word and to live it; it is something else to be able to teach it. The goal of our teaching should be to see hearts and lives transformed by the gospel. Unfortunately so many teachers I encounter in my travels seem to believe that the transmission of knowledge (referred to as “transmissive approach” by Wilhoit in his book Christian Education and the Search for Meaning, p.88) is the right way to teach. They have fallen into the trap of an education system that “puts a high value on the retention of information” according to Wilhoit. If an “information dump” produces mature disciples of Christ, wouldn’t most of us already have arrived at that final destination?? Haven’t we heard thousands of sermons and sat under lecturers in our Sunday Schools?! Teachers who want to rise above the crowd and be known for having group members who are spiritually transformed by God’s Word believe that teaching the Word of God is one of the most important things they do, but they don’t believe that lecturing is necessarily the best way to go to accomplish the goal of communicating. Like any other teaching method, lecturing can be overused and abused.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic. Is it really as simple as having these three traits as a teacher: Pursuit of God’s Word in my personal study, a lifestyle of obedience that gives me credibility, and the communication of the principles and precepts found in God’s Word. Maybe we’ve made teaching and leading a little too complicated. Maybe Ezra had it right when he reduced his leadership essentials down to these three.