Teacher: Consider Thyself (I)
Jimmy Tuten, Jr.
"My brethren, be not many masters; knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation" (Jas. 3:1). The lexicons tell us that the word (didaskalos) translated "master" should have been translated "teachers." It is rendered "teachers" in the American Standard Version. The obvious meaning therefore is that Jewish Christians were attempting to teach what they did not clearly comprehend. Wise teachers were needed, not foolish ones (Jas. 3:13). God did not intend that we all be teachers. This is illustrated in the exercising of spiritual gifts at Corinth (1 Cor. 12:28-31). Teachers have always occupied an honourable position among Christians (Acts 13:1). Teachers are necessary. However, incompetent and unworthy teachers do much harm.1
Can one possibly give attention to James 3:1 without seeing the need of personal consideration of oneself as a teacher? Like all teachers, each teaches a little by what they say; but they teach more by what they do. The Bible class teacher teaches more by what they are. Deeds are most important. A fountain cannot rise higher than its source. Even so the teacher's instruction cannot be better than the teacher himself. Teacher, consider thyself. Too many are like those described by Hambone, the comic strip character: "most folks doan git nowhar because dey doan start nowhar in de fust place." Don't let this be descriptive of you. Unless we start somewhere, we are not going to get anywhere. The teacher must be seriously concerned with himself: what he is, where he is going, his conduct, his attitude, and the need for improvement. Until these and other matters relating to teaching are clear, there will be no effective teaching.
Consider Your Goal
There is an interesting passage in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Alice meets a cat and asks, "would you tell me, please, which way I ought to walk from here?" To this the cat replied, "that depends a good deal on where you want to get to!" And so it is with Bible school teaching. Unless we are teaching with a definite goal, we are not likely to get anywhere.2 The goal of the Bible teacher is threefold:
(1) To seek out and find the truth on whatever subject demands his attention. The word of the Lord is truth and men can only be sanctified with it (Jno. 17:17). Only by obeying truth can souls be purified (1 Pet. 1:22). One should not wrest the Scriptures (2 Pet. 3:16), nor corrupt its contents (2 Cor. 2:17). Personal opinion should never be bound upon students. "If one advocates a different doctrine, and does not agree with sound words, those of our Lord Jesus Christ, and with the doctrine conforming to godliness, he is conceited and understands nothing; but he has a morbid interest in controversial questions and disputes about words, out of which arise envy, strife, abusive language, evil suspicions and constant friction between men of depraved mind . . ." (I Tim. 6:3-5, Nash).
(2) To fill ones personal spiritual needs. "Buy the truth, and sell it not; also wisdom, and instruction, and understanding" (Prov. 23:23), is a fitting admonition for Bible class teachers. In this respect one should consider very carefully Romans 2:21, "thou therefore which teachest another, teachest thou not thyself?" The teacher should not only know what he must teach, but be ready to apply it to himself as well. Those who thoroughly know their subject matter and have personally drunk from the well of knowledge will be fired with enthusiasm. These are they who will unconsciously inspire students with his own interest. "This earnest feeling of truths clearly conceived is the secret of the enthusiasm so much admired and praised in teacher and preacher. Common truths become transformed for such a teacher. History becomes a living panorama; geography swells out into great continental stretches of peopled nations; astronomy becomes the march of worlds and world-systems. How can the teacher's manner fail to be earnest and inspiring when his subject-matter is so rich in radiant reality?" 3
(3) Aim to supply the spiritual needs to others. Those who have learned well and know thoroughly have paid the price of mental toil and effort so needed in teaching. But then comes the problem of communicating to the pupil that information. This cannot be done by merely assigning tasks and driving pupils to accomplish those tasks. Most often this develops in the mind of the pupil an attitude of dislike for what they have tried to learn. You cannot pass knowledge from one mind to another like some material substance. Ideas can only be communicated. Bible teachers must induce students to think. This requires study and effort on the part of the teacher. We cannot supply spiritual needs to others without it. This brings us to the next point.
Consider Your Preparation
"Study to show thyself approved unto God." This should be of special interest to those who are children of God and are seeking to teach others. This involves more than mere reading over the lesson Saturday night, or filling in the blanks of a workbook. A teacher will need some special study because in order to be qualified, he must know and understand all ramifications of information pertaining to the lesson to be taught. The teacher is a salesman for Christ and must know his product well. Then, and only then, can he develop confidence in himself and his lesson. Study is the basis for making the teacher proud of his position.
There is absolutely no substitute for a knowledge of that which one would teach. The teacher should be a constant student of the Bible, seeking to deepen his understanding of the book which contains all the principles and ideals one needs to teach. With every preparation the teacher makes, there will be growth toward becoming a better teacher. Generally and simply stated, preparation should include the following:
(1) General preparation-This should include all the academic and professional training that can be secured by the teacher. Make this as complete as study and experience can make it. This should include the following: (a) A study of the Master Teacher. Study the instances in the New Testament where Jesus taught. Identify the different methods He used and try to employ them in your own teaching. Jesus is the model teacher; our model. He knew and used the best methods. By following His examples we will be stimulated to grow. (b) Attend teacher training classes-If the teacher really wants to improve himself he will avail himself of every opportunity to share his thinking with others. Special classes for training teachers, whether at home or elsewhere, will be used to stimulate greater effort. Any qualified person can teach these and there is no reason why they should not be conducted. They are especially helpful for teachers of young children because the class will help them to come into contact with adult minds. This will require extra time of course. They are conducted at times other than the regular classes. Special training classes require special effort, but they pay big dividends to the teacher who wants to improve. (c) Make use of the church library-Every church should have a library for the use of its members in general and for teachers in particular. The library should not only contain good books dealing with the Bible, commentaries, lexicons, etc., it should contain some works that would help the teacher understand methods of teaching at various levels. A must for any library is enough reference works to help the teacher prepare for any lesson he may have to teach. (d) Each teacher should evaluate himself-This calls for a critical analysis of each lesson taught. Also a willingness to critically analyze one's own procedures. These efforts will go a long way in helping to bring about rapid improvement. Ask yourself such questions as: "did I have my objectives in mind when I taught?," "were the activities during the class related to my goals for the class?," and "what evidence do I have that my pupils learned something worth while?" Always look for ways to improve your approach and methods of teaching.
(2) Specific preparation-The following have been suggested as guidelines for specific preparation for each lesson: First, study and plan your study as a whole. Second, make a general observation and study of your class. Learn something about the students themselves, their needs, their abilities and interest. Thirdly, select material and methods of study which are adaptable to both the student and the lesson. Fourth, make special preparation for each lesson, remembering that you will be teaching things that will be remembered throughout eternity. Take plenty of time and think through each part of the lesson, making sure that you understand it yourself. With the use of commentaries, dictionaries, and source books read as widely as possible on the lesson material. Consult others for their help regarding specific problems. Fifth, make this preparation well in advance of your class. Do not wait until the last minute. Arrive early at the classroom and make last minute preparations. Always open your class with a prayer.
(To Be Continued)
1. A.T. Robertson, Word Studies of the New Testament (Nashville: 1933), Vol. 6, p. 39.
2. Ray Rozell, Talks on Sunday School Teaching (Grand Rapids: 1956), p. 51.
3. John Gregory, The Seven Laws of Teaching (Grand Rapids: 195), p. 17, 18.
Truth Magazine, XVIII:2, p. 5-6