The Heart of Teaching
The Heart of Teaching
In our last lesson we examined two reasons for the ministry of teaching. We noted that New Testament teaching fulfilled a scriptural command and was primarily directed toward bringing believers to maturity. Now we consider a clear New Testament command for a comprehensive teaching ministry in Acts 20:28– 30, which I call the teaching imperative. We will examine means for implementing this teaching ministry in order to achieve our scriptural goals.
One person has compared our Bible to the operations manual used by the mechanics who maintain and repair our huge airliners. Their manual helps them to detect problems, provide remedies for repair, and avoid needless breakdowns and impaired use. Our Bible gives directions for living that pleases God, warns of dangers that can break down our relationship with Him, and recommends procedures that can help us develop and mature so that our lives are spiritually productive. Therefore, we must build our teaching and preaching ministries on the Word of God.
As we consider a few of the gems in the storehouse of God’s Word, I pray that you will be challenged to approach your teaching ministry with eagerness, anticipation, and wonder. For you could expend many lifetimes and never exhaust the boundless lesson resources that await your discovery, development, and application.
The Teaching Imperative
As one who teaches, you need to realize the vast resources in your Bible that are available for development. Some years ago I recall listening to a young person who felt he must move to another place of service. He believed that he had taught and preached everything in the Bible to his people in just three years. I have known other people who have ministered for more than twenty years in one place, whose ministries are challenging, dynamic, and obviously successful in reaching people. What is the difference between these two types who have responded to God’s call to minister?
One person does not dig deeply and explore widely for his teaching ministry; the other is immersed in study, prayer, serving others, and growing with his service. The former soon runs out of material that is familiar, and not having the discipline or necessary motivation to study and prepare, he soon moves on to another place to repeat what he knows for another three years. His teaching ministry is three years long and one inch deep. The latter is so deeply involved in the growth and development of his people that he can scarcely wait from service to service to feed his people on the rich provisions of God’s Word. He realizes that his ministry must provide direction for their spiritual growth and develop in his hearers a keen sense of spiritual discrimination. They must be able to distinguish truth from error. He resolves, therefore, to prepare diligently so that his ministry will meet
people’s spiritual needs.
Paul’s challenge to the Ephesian elders (Acts 20:18–35) suggests three vital and basic elements that our teaching and expository preaching ministries should include. In verses 28–30 is a special charge to the leaders to protect the flock from doctrinal error as a shepherd protects his sheep. To do so, their ministry would need to involve leading, feeding, and protecting the flock of God’s people. These three functions suggest an inexhaustible supply of lesson material.
Leading the Flock
Paul challenged the elders at Ephesus to guard themselves and the flock, which God had given them to oversee. Much is involved in spiritual leadership. The teacher must be spiritually sensitive, able to make correct decisions and motivate people to follow, have clear-cut goals and the ability to recognize his part in God’s program. Let us examine some of the qualities of leadership Paul specifies in his letters to Timothy and Titus.
Secondly, as a leader of the people, the teacher must take decisive action. When some in the body of Christ resist teaching from the Word and resort to unscriptural teachings, the teacher must act decisively for the good of the flock (2 Timothy 4:5; Titus 1:9; 2:15). When correction or rebuke is needed, the leader must move in love to correct abuses; at other times he must act when the need arises to encourage (2 Timothy 4:2).
A third responsibility of the one who teaches is to realize God’s purpose for himself and the people to whom he ministers. To realize God’s purpose, a person must establish goals that will help him to achieve this end. If God’s purpose is that the members of the body of Christ serve as effective witnesses, then the task is to train believers so that they in turn become witnesses (2 Timothy 2:2). Without an overall goal for this work and good intermediate goals, he runs the risk of having a ministry that does not meet spiritual needs and that is unproductive. Paul reminds Timothy of his goal and purpose in life, which have been made clear in the Holy Scriptures (2 Timothy 3:14–17).
One way to lead people toward spiritual development and maturity is through the use of topical lessons. Bible characters, important places, and things can be used for Bible study to teach principles of Christian truth and guidelines for daily living that lead to spiritual growth, and ultimately, to the realization of God’s purpose. Let us see how each aspect of the topical lesson can be used effectively in leading God’s flock.
Bible Characters. You can use many different Bible characters as topics for lessons that will interest, inform, and inspire your people.
One approach is to compare and contrast the lives of two characters. Jacob and Esau are an example (Genesis 25:19–49:33). You might compare and contrast 1) their early lives, 2) their developing years, and 3) the lessons they learned. Through careful analysis of these characters, we can see where they either succeeded or failed, what were the governing principles of their lives, and how these life principles led toward spiritual success or failure. Where possible you should include the New Testament evaluation of Old Testament characters. Some other sets of characters you might wish to study are: Isaac and Ishmael, David and Saul, Mary and Martha, to name but a few. Whomever you select for character studies, do not leave your teaching in the distant past of the Old or New Testament. Be sure to make present day application and give principles for twenty-first century living. Your job is more than to teach the Bible; you must teach people how to live for God today using the Bible as your ultimate guide.
Lessons of this type that are presented in love do not just list the do’s and don’ts of Christian living. They establish a pattern for living that pleases God, serves others, builds up one’s faith, and sets a course for Christian maturity.
Places. Cities, villages, battle sites, and geographical features make interesting studies. Using material from both Testaments, develop an extended series of lessons on the journeys of Israel, the significance of the names of places where the people camped, the insights gained into the nature and purpose of God and His method of leadership, and the significance of where Israel came from, journeyed through, and was headed for. You might also consider the places where Paul founded churches on his missionary journeys, the place these occupied in his missionary strategy, and the tremendous success he enjoyed as a result of following a simple plan to reach a spiritual goal. Such a study should be followed by the study of a letter he wrote to one of the churches he founded. Again, do more than give a geography lesson; teach the living Word of our Lord!
Things. As you lead your people to know and experience the truth of God, many things of the Bible can help you to communicate effectively. For example, you can teach the significance of each piece of furniture in the tabernacle, showing how it anticipated something better and more permanent in the New Testament period. Or, using the book of Hebrews as a study guide, you can consider the superiority of Christ’s eternal priesthood to that of the Old Testament Levitical priesthood. Bible prayers, miracles, marriage, family, parables, and feasts are some of the other things you can study that will help you to lead your people toward a richer spiritual life.
Finally, your leading should motivate others to follow you in serving your Master. Peter says of Jesus, the master teacher, that He left us an example that we should follow in His steps (1 Peter 2:21). And the desire of Paul’s heart was to become like Him (Philippians 3:10). As you teach, make it your goal to be so full of the love of Jesus that others will want to commit their lives to the Master you serve (1 Timothy 4:15–16).
Feeding the Flock
Our goal in Christian teaching is to provide our hearers with the opportunities to learn about and respond to the truth of God’s Word so that they will grow spiritually and progressively mature in the faith. As leaders, we employ certain teaching and preaching activities based on the authoritative Word of God in order to bring our hearers to maturity. It is essential that we communicate the Word of God in its entirety. However, our aim is not simply to bring people to a knowledge of the Word of God, but rather through Bible-based teaching and preaching to bring them to an experience with Jesus Christ, an experience which results in good works and godly living that demonstrate spiritual growth and maturity.
Feeding the flock, in terms of the teaching ministry you have been entrusted with, refers to the presentation of the great themes of life (practical and spiritual, relationships, behavior, etc.) to your people as a regular part of their spiritual diet. Some of these are: the nature and origin of the Bible, beliefs concerning God, Christ, the Holy Spirit, man, sin, the spirit world, the function of the church, judgment, and last things. Personal experiences in Christian living should also be included (for example, worship and service), as well as the idea of the Christian family and how to establish and maintain harmony in the home. You should also teach on the Christian response to social problems and the Christian’s responsibility to his community and the world. Thus, the message of teaching covers a vast area and touches virtually every aspect of life.
One effective means you may employ to meet the needs of your people for a complete spiritual diet is to use the Bible survey method. This is a comprehensive study of a portion of Scripture. A Bible survey may include a thorough examination of a book of the Bible or an extended passage, a chapter or several chapters. Notice how each of these studies is carried out.
Survey of a Bible chapter. Chapter divisions of the Bible usually gather verses together on a single topic. Some chapters contain a complete subject: John 17, Our Lord’s Prayer; 1 Corinthians 13, Love; 1 Corinthians 15, The Resurrection of the Body. Each of these chapters furnishes excellent material for Bible survey. A list of other chapters suitable for series of lessons includes: Genesis 3 and 22, Exodus 12 and 20, Deuteronomy 32, Joshua 1, 2 Kings 5, Psalms 51 and 90, and Isaiah 53 from the Old Testament; and from the New Testament: Luke 15, John 11 and 15, Ephesians 2, 2 Timothy 2, 1 John 1, and Revelation 22.
Some chapters can be grouped and studied together. Psalms 22, 23, and 24 form a trilogy that might be entitled: Psalm 22, The Savior; Psalm 23, The Shepherd; and Psalm 24, The King. Matthew 5, 6, and 7 could be used as a series of lessons on “The Sermon on the Mount.” And Revelation 2 and 3 contain the messages of Jesus to the seven churches of Asia.
Here are some materials and suggestions to help you prepare and teach 1 Corinthians 13, the love chapter. This chapter has a fairly simple organization and falls easily into three parts. An outline of the chapter might look like this:
1 Corinthians 13–The Love Chapter
I. The Greatness of Love (vv. 1–3)
II. The Character of Love (vv. 4–7)
III. The Permanence of Love (vv. 8–13)
Include in your study other passages of Scripture that relate to love, as well as Bible examples to illustrate its truths. Place this study in its proper setting by considering its immediate context. You can teach the chapter as one lesson or extend it to three or more, if materials and time are available.
Surround the central theme, love, with questions that arise out of its content For example: What is love? What are its characteristics? How does it manifest itself? What is its relation to other spiritual gifts? How long is it effective? What does it produce? If you treat the lesson like this, you will not wander from your subject.
You can see how the parts of a chapter can be further divided for study and teaching. To teach this passage, and others, plan far enough ahead to know how many sessions you require for the presentation. Your experience in preparing and teaching Bible chapters will help you when you plan a series of lessons to survey a book of the Bible.
Let me emphasize the need to make our teaching purposeful and practical. In your teaching, do more than give an outline or a structure. Give your people something from God’s word that will feed them.
We have seen that there are three clearly defined sections in John 17, each of which allows for considerable development and expansion. And there is abundant material for sub-points under each of these main sections. Throughout this chapter we infer the major part prayer played in the life of our Lord. We can draw strength and inspiration from knowing that our High Priest is ever praying for us (Hebrews 7:25).
Survey of a book of the Bible. A systematic study of a book of the Bible will benefit and bless your people. It may take a number of months or as much as a year for such a series, depending on the length of the book and how detailed your study is. You should do your preliminary planning well in advance of the first session of study. There are several things to consider in early planning.
Your choice of a book of the Bible for comprehensive study should take into account the needs of the class. Materials available for study is another consideration. A commentary and a concordance will be a great help in planning and preparing the lessons.
Gather as much of the material you will use in the series as possible before you begin the lessons. Determine the major goal of your survey. As you evaluate the materials you have discovered from your study, decide how many sessions you will need to cover the material. You can then set the date for the series. Announce the beginning of the lessons about three to four weeks before the first session. In anticipation of the lessons, urge your people to read the book to be studied in the survey (several times, if possible). Stay far enough ahead in your preparation of each lesson so that you can gather and arrange material, prepare visual aids, and give assignments as needed.
One of the Gospels is a good selection for a first Bible survey. As you practice using the outlining procedure, you will be able to arrange other books of the Bible for teaching (and preaching). It is a major task to prepare and teach a survey of a book of the Bible; however, the benefits of the study to you and your people make it worth the effort.
You will find a wealth of lesson material (spiritual food) for Christian growth and development in the Pastoral Epistles. In the following exercises, we consider the apostle Paul’s direction to his fellow workers on the matter of their comprehensive teaching responsibilities. His detailed instructions concerning the content of this teaching indicate the importance of this task.
Protecting the Flock
Just as the shepherd faces perils as he keeps his flock in a hostile environment, so does the spiritual shepherd face serious dangers that can destroy the unity of his flock. The hazards are many that can divide a group, destroy the faith of some, and cause others to be led away after smooth-talking false teachers. That is why you, as an under-shepherd, are charged with the responsibility of protecting your sheep.
You have the means to prepare your flock for total Christian living and the hazards they will face: the systematic teaching of sound doctrine. The aim of teaching doctrinal lessons is to instruct people methodically in the truths of the gospel. The goal of theological teaching is to answer the most basic questions people are capable of asking. The doctrine of God, for example, answers the question of whether or not the universe is friendly, and whether life has meaning and purpose. The doctrine of man tells us whether or not humans can grasp the meaning of life and be joined to God in fellowship and service. The doctrine of salvation answers people’s questions concerning how life can be redeemed from frustration and defeat and raised to its highest levels.
The primary emphasis within the doctrinal lesson is on truths revealed in God’s Word, but along with this is the need for application of the truth to the Christian life. As you approachthe task of teaching doctrinal lessons, you might concentrate on the study of a doctrine within a group of Bible books, within one Bible book, or within a portion of a Bible book. For example, you might study the doctrine of the Lord’s return in 1 and 2 Thessalonians, or the doctrine of Christ in Colossians, or the doctrine of the Holy Spirit in Romans 8. In these passages doctrines are presented directly.
When you begin to study a Bible doctrine, collect all the references to that doctrine. You may want to trace a doctrinal word directly in the Scriptures, or by using a concordance, if you have one. But as you locate Bible references, carefully define and compare all of them. You should also use other books, such as Bible dictionaries or Bible encyclopedias, if they are available. The doctrinal references should be related to the context of the Scriptures where they are located and to the total pattern of Bible truth.
One of your most important tasks, is to teach sound doctrine. This has the positive benefit of informing people concerning God’s plan for their lives and of building up their faith. Secondly, it prepares them for the spiritual hazards they face within the church and in the outside world. Our emphasis is not simply on defending ourselves against enemy attacks as we await the Lord’s return. Rather, as we respond to Christ’s command to share our faith and carry out the Great Commission, we will be strengthened to resist attacks of the enemy.
We will experience attacks; tests and trials are certain to come our way; and we are subject to persecution and hardship as we fight the good fight of faith (2 Timothy 2:3; 3:10–12; 1 Peter 2:20–25). These experiences are the privilege of those who follow the Lord, but He has said in triumph: “‘Take heart! I have overcome the world’” (John 16:33).
Here Jesus notes some contrasting things: In the world the disciples will have tribulation, but in Him they will have peace. Being forewarned of these hazards, we are better prepared to withstand external attacks and to recognize and combat internal rebellion, false doctrine, and self-seeking that threaten the life of the people to whom we minister.
In all of our teaching, let us keep in mind what our goals are. We must inform, inspire, encourage, correct, and restore our spiritual charges so that they may be thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:17). Biblical teaching always has as its ultimate goal real change in the lives of people.