The American Heritage Dictionary 4th Edition defines the word ‘teach’ as to “impart knowledge or skill; to instruct in; to cause to learn by example or experience.” It further defines ‘teacher’ as one who teaches, especially one hired to teach. Biblically, of course, this definition misses the mark. While a Bible teacher certainly is interested in these definitions in their common understanding–that of ‘one who imparts knowledge’–the motives for this are quite different. In the Biblical context, the Bible teacher is interested in communicating the truth and relevance of the Word of God out of conviction and it not usually hired to do so. This requires something much deeper than the attitude of the common hireling.
Knowing the Author & Fulfilling the Role
Teaching the Bible is a ministry, not a job. An effective Bible teacher must have the proper motivation and understanding of their responsibility. Teaching the Word of God is not simply the opportunity for a teacher to have access to a captive audience that has to listen to what is taught. While Bible teaching can be the opportunity to pass on to others information, experiences, and lessons learned from the scriptures, it is also showing why those things have meaning to the audience. As a spokesman for God, and a teacher of His children, the Bible teacher must make sure that lessons furthers God’s design.
Fulfilling this role requires that I have more than simply a willingness to teach. It requires me to have a willingness to also know my students, so their spiritual needs might be better met. It requires me to have a willingness to know the Word of God, so that I might understand the mind of God. Most importantly though, it requires that I, as a teacher of the Bible, know personally the author of the Bible, Almighty God, so that I can know from experience the importance of a relationship with Him. Without these requirements forming the foundation for my teaching, success in my endeavor will be understandably limited, if not altogether ineffective. Building this foundation requires me to spend time with all three: God, the Bible, and the student, in that order of priority. This is imperative for my development as a Bible teacher.
Know the Students
To ensure this is done, I set aside daily time for prayer and the study of God’s Word. Additionally, I must make sure I am in contact with my students. This will be guaranteed by being the first to arrive in the classroom, have regular contact with my students via e-mails and other correspondence, and scheduling regular activities with my students–as a group and as individuals–so that we may get to better know each other. The result will be lessons that are more personal and relevant to my students’ individual lives and a more personal investment in my students’ success.
Recognizing and understanding the individuality of my students should directly affect my lesson planning–not all of my students will learn the same way or for the same reasons. Some of my students, the intrinsic learners, will stay focused on my lessons simply because it is something new and they love to learn. The only motivation they need is the learning itself. I have had the privilege of teaching many of these learners. It is not enough that I prepare and teach a lesson every Sunday and assign homework during the week to supplement their Sunday school class. These people want extra work. They ask well thought out and difficult questions. While they do not need any motivation from me, they certainly motivate me…to prepare a good lesson that I must be thoroughly familiar with, if I am to meet their desire to learn.
On the other hand, I have some in my class who do not seem to have any desire to learn anything. Sitting in my class serves only to meet some invisible church requirement they believe they have. Sure, they are polite and attentive, even filling out the worksheets I give them. But they often do not look to see the relevance of what I am teaching them; they are content with just recording information. Consequently, I need to motivate them by showing them the relevance of the lesson.
Motivation for them must come from without, extrinsic, for these students. While there are several ways to accomplish this, the first step begins with my relationship with them. If it is not personal, they will see that I do not really care about them. Naturally, they will not care about my lesson, either. However, if I have a personal relationship with them, and my lessons reflect their individual needs because of that relationship, they will take a more active interest in the subject being taught and become intrinsic motivated learners. It’s what Jesus did. It’s what we should do.