I’ve been re-reading some classic books on Christian education. I came across “an oldie but a goodie” in the form of the book Why The Church Must Teach by Lucien Coleman, Jr. I am increasingly thankful for the men and women who pioneered Christian education in the church several decades ago. I love reading their books and comparing their ideas to our education philosophy today. Almost every principle they developed is transferable to us.
Lucien Coleman, Jr., wrote that Christian teachers have several responsibilities. Here in a short list are his top requirements for Bible study leaders:
- Teachers are motivators. Catalysts cause things to happen – that’s what catalysts do. Teachers who are catalysts realize that people show up to their group’s Bible study without any particular sense of purpose. Teachers realize that group members are not always prepared to learn something new, so it’s the role of the teacher to act as a catalyst. “…A sure way to get learners ‘turned on’ is to introduce learning tasks that speak to personal needs” (p.107). As Coleman points out, being a motivator also includes freeing people from feelings of inadequacy, self-doubt, naivete, and incompetence.
- Teachers are guides. The story of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch vividly portrays the way teachers can serve as guides. The eunuch was highly self-motivated and was on a quest for knowledge. Philip served as his guide, helping him to understand the Scripture he was reading in his chariot. “The task of the teacher is to point the way, identify areas for productive study, and help learners avoid dead ends.” If you employed a fishing guide to take you onto a lake, he would surely let you do your own fishing – he simply knows the lake and where to find the fish, but you do the fishing, not him. Teachers who are guides let their group members “do the fishing” while they tell them where to drop their lines.
- Teachers are resource providers. A well-equipped teacher knows resources. He or she should be able to explain the difference between Bible translations, point to the best commentaries, know what Bible dictionary or atlas to recommend, and should be familiar with websites that can be trusted for their sound biblical content.
- Teachers are evaluators. Teachers must offer evaluative feedback to group members from time to time. “Skilled teachers know how and when to offer evaluation. Too little evaluation leaves learners wondering whether or not they are doing OK. Too much evaluation stifles learning activity and lowers morale. Evaluative teaching was very much a part of the teaching practice of Jesus. At Caesarea Philippi he posed the question, ‘Who do you say I am?’ (Matthew 16:15)…Jesus responded, ‘Blessed are you.'” (p.117).
- Teachers are exemplars. Although Jesus was known as the Master Teacher, His disciples learned best by watching His example. Jesus could have said to them, “Do as I do.” Jesus didn’t merely lecture about the attributes of God, He demonstrated the nature of God in a personal way they could understand as they observed His life. Ezra did something similar in his day. Ezra 7:10 records that he sought to understand the Word of God, obey it, and then he taught it to the people. His example of obedience gave him the ability to stand before the people and challenge them to live as he lived, in obedience to God’s Word.
Which of the 5 functions of teachers do you need to work on the most? Which one, if you focused on it for a period of time, would make the biggest difference in your teaching ministry?