What Should We Teach?
It’s been several years since I wrote the first two parts of this series. In the first part I discussed the dearth of leaders in the church and why we cannot depend on the Bible Colleges and Seminaries to train the people we need. In the second of these essays I discussed different teaching methodologies and explored alternatives to the Bible College model. In this third installment I will suggest what should be taught to prospective leaders. I waited to write it until I had some actual experience in putting my ideas into practice.
In Part 2 I wrote that the kind of training we need would revolve around mentoring rather than formal lectures. In the years since, I have mentored and am mentoring several emerging leaders. It has been a rewarding experience. Though I have not been able to implement what I envisioned as completely as I would like, my experience has convinced me that the basic ideas are sound.
Before presenting the things I think we need to teach, let me issue a caveat. Though the goal is to raise up and develop new leaders for the church, it is easy to lose the proper focus. We can become so bound up in the transfer of knowledge that we lose sight of the main purpose for doing so. The teaching can easily become an end in itself. May I suggest that our teaching and our attempts to raise up new leadership will be effective only to the extent that our focus is Jesus Christ. Our teaching must be done for Him, to Him and because of Him. “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith…” (Hebrews 12:2 NIV) Anything less becomes an exercise in human wisdom rather than obedience to the divine will.
With that firmly in mind, I suggest that our mentoring should be in two broad areas: Attitude and Knowledge. Of the two, attitude is far more important. If someone has the proper attitude, he will naturally and organically acquire the knowledge he needs to be an effective leader in the church. If he doesn’t develop the proper attitude he will never become the kind of leader the Lord desires regardless of how much knowledge he may obtain. Character will always trump academics.
What Attitudes Should We Teach?
What sort of attitude or character traits should we encourage in those we mentor? The following five traits will raise a person far above many who consider themselves leaders.
1) An attitude of humility
All too often church leaders tend to view their role in terms of self. They speak of “my” church and what “I” am doing. They take pride in and measure their success by such things as the number of people who attend the church services and the size of the offerings. They take pride in their speaking ability, their management of building projects and the number of ministries they have started.
In contrast, a true leader retains a sense of brokenness. He realizes that it is not he, but Christ working through him who builds the church. He realizes that his gifting comes from the Holy Spirit. Following the Apostle Paul’s example, he will not try to win people by means of wise and persuasive words, rather through demonstration of the Spirit’s power (1 Corinthians 2:4-5). He will crucify self so that God’s power will be manifested in his weakness (2 Corinthians 12:10). In short, he will constantly direct people’s attention away from himself to Christ.
2) An attitude of service
Many leaders expect deference because of the position they hold. They think that their role entitles them. Someone who was interviewing candidates for a position of leadership in the church once told me that the very first question most of them asked was, “What is the salary and benefit package?” They were viewing the position as a rung on the ladder of their career rather than as a vocation. They were seeking their own benefit rather than the good of the Kingdom.
Jesus taught that greatness in leadership is not measured by service received, but by service given. Leadership in the church is not a career choice. It is the sacrificial giving of oneself to help others become like Christ.
This was a hard lesson for the Apostles to learn. They constantly squabbled over who was the greatest. “Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave – just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”” (Matthew 20:25-28 NIV)
3) An attitude of setting an example
A true leader will never ask people to do something he himself is unwilling to do. Instead, he will become a model of the behavior and attitude he wishes to instill in others. He is worth following, not because of his position but, because he is following the example of Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1).
The Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy, “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity.” (1 Timothy 4:12 NIV) As we mentor potential leaders we would do well to emphasize the five areas Paul mentions that Timothy was to exemplify.
4) An attitude of nurturing
Many church leaders are insecure in their position. They tend to regard anyone in the congregation with similar gifts as a potential rival. Instead of helping others to develop and use their gifts for the common good, they stifle them. More than once people have expressed their frustration to me that they had no opportunity reach their full potential or use the gifts God gave them. To minister as they felt God wanted them to, they would have to leave their current congregation and go elsewhere. I myself encountered resistance from church leaders when I asked for mentoring with the goal of becoming an Elder.
This reluctance to nurture potential leaders is one reason for the leader shortage we face. I have often heard preachers excuse the absence of Elders in the congregations they lead by saying that there is no one who is qualified for the position. If, after serving in the same place for ten or twenty years there is still no one who is qualified, could the reason be that the preacher never attempted to prepare anyone for the position? Could it be that those who had the potential, left and went elsewhere because they realized they would never be called on to serve?
The truth is that preparing people for service in the Kingdom is one of the primary responsibilities of leaders. Paul writes in Ephesians 4:11-16 that God gave leaders to the church for this very purpose.
Not only are leaders supposed to nurture and help others develop their gifts, it is to be a self-replicating process. Paul told Timothy, “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others.” (2 Timothy 2:2 NIV) In that one sentence we see four generations of church leaders passing on the teaching and traditions. We too should pass on what we have learned to others who will be able to pass it along to still more people.
“But if I train others to do my work, what will happen to me?” Nothing, except to increase your influence. But even if training and equipping other leaders would result in your losing your position, your attitude should be the same as that of John the Baptist when his disciples complained about the growing popularity of Jesus, “He must become greater; I must become less.” (John 3:30 NIV) It is high time we left jealousy and rivalry behind and realize that our Master is Jesus Christ. It is Christ who calls us to serve. It is Christ who gives us our reward. When we scramble to hold on to our position and perks by holding others back, we are in danger of losing our eternal reward.
5) An attitude of life-long learning
I have encountered more than one church leader who had the attitude he didn’t need to know any more. Others think that their position of leadership gives them infallibility – whatever they say, goes. Once they have stated a position it cannot be questioned. I know of a man, prominent in his day, who would study an issue, write a pamphlet or booklet on the subject and considered it a closed topic. It could never be revisited. His pronouncement was ex-cathedra. Anyone who cast doubt on the premise or even sought nuance, was usually regarded as anathema. Needless to say, this caused division and strife rather than unity and harmony within the church.
In contrast, a true leader will gently instruct (2 Timothy 2:25, Hebrews 5:2). He will recognize that he, himself, does not know all things. He will realize that though the Gospel is simple enough a child can understand it, it is also so deep and broad that even after a lifetime of study and practical application we will not be able to plumb its depths or measure its breadth. There is always more to learn. There is always another area to surrender to the complete control of Christ. Even the Apostles Paul and John didn’t know everything. In one of the last letters he wrote, Paul cried out, “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.” (Philippians 3:10-11 NIV) John says, “Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” (1 John 3:2 NIV) If even Paul and John didn’t yet know as they wanted to know, then it behooves us to be humble about the extent of our knowledge. As Paul wrote, “The man who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know.” (1 Corinthians 8:2 NIV)
Not only do we not yet know as we should, we are to continually grow. “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen.” (1 Peter 3:18 NIV) If we are not growing and making progress in our knowledge of Christ, we are slipping and are in danger of losing our secure position in Christ (2 Peter 1:3-11). A true leader will continue to learn and grow throughout his life.
What Knowledge Should We Teach?
Though attitude and character are far more important than knowledge, a leader must still have a good understanding of the faith. For example, Paul writes concerning an Elder, “He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.” (Titus 1:9 NIV) In light of this, what should we teach prospective leaders? Here are a few suggestions:
1) How to study the Bible
Since it is the Scriptures which testify about Jesus (John 5:39), encourage us and give us hope (Romans 15:4), make us wise unto salvation (2 Timothy 3:15) and disclose the thoughts and attitudes of the heart (Hebrews 4:12-13), it follows that a leader in the church must have a good understanding of how to read, interpret, explain and apply them. All too often, leaders are guilty of taking passages out of context, misinterpreting or misapplying them. It is bad enough when someone does this on a personal level. It is tragic when he compounds his errors by teaching them to others. James writes, “Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.” (James 3:1 NIV) Leaders must have a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures. If they don’t know what the Bible says about something, they need to be able to research the Scriptures to find out.
2) Survey of the Bible
The Bible is not a random collection of various kinds of literature. Instead, in it we find the unfolding of God’s eternal plan to reconcile mankind to Himself. Another way to say it is the Bible is a record of covenant history – the story of God’s covenant people. Leaders should have a good grasp of how God created the universe, how sin entered the world, the consequences of man’s fall, the history of God’s chosen people, the message of the prophets, the ministry of Christ and the spread of the Gospel. Without a coherent view of what God has been doing throughout history, it will be difficult to have a deep understanding of the Gospel.
3) Basic doctrine
Not every fact is of equal value. A leader should have a good grasp of what God requires, those things which are important but not essential to salvation and those things in which we have liberty. A leader must also have a good grasp of the essential differences between the law of commandments, and the law of love. Otherwise, he will become legalistic and formulaic in his leadership. He will govern by rote and rule rather than by principle.
4) The church
Since we are trying to raise up leaders in and for the church, it follows that we must teach them about the church. What is the church? What is its purpose? What are its functions? How is it organized? What are the duties of its leaders? To what did the early church devote itself (Acts 2:42)? How is the church financed? And so on.
5) How to teach
As stated above, one of the primary responsibilities of any leader in the church is to teach. It follows that he must know how to do so. Though each person must develop his own style and methods of teaching in order to be effective, there are some basic fundamentals which are common to all teaching. These are, Presentation, Explanation and Application. Since leaders are to instruct and train others to lead, a fourth element in teaching potential leaders is Replication.
6) Message preparation
Closely related to how to teach is how to prepare class material and messages. A leader should know the differences between topical, textual and expository messages. He should know how to tailor his classes and messages to a particular audience. A message for new believers will be different than one for mature Christians. One for children will be different than one for adults. Unbelievers cannot be approached in the same way as those who are in Christ.
A leader should be able to prepare a Communion talk which fits the theme of a church service. He should know how to use the elements of pathos, ethos and logos in his speaking and teaching. He needs to learn how to be transparent and share of himself when he speaks. He should be able to choose appropriate illustrations to illuminate what he says.
It’s About Relationships
The above suggestions can be daunting. How can we possibly encourage those attitudes? How can we convey all the knowledge a prospective leader needs? The key is to spend time with and develop relationships with those we are trying to teach. That’s really what mentoring is all about – getting to know someone intimately enough that we can have input into their lives as well as their intellect. It takes time. It takes commitment. It takes dedication, persistence and patience. However, the end result is worth the effort. I am convinced that if we will make the time to mentor (even though it seems an impossibility in our busy schedules) God will bless the results. We will receive the help we need in shepherding and leading God’s people only to the extent we mentor the next generation of leaders.