A church leader is a teacher. No question about it. Teaching is an integral part of the job description. It’s right there in the Great Commission.
. . . and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.
Fine. But teaching what? And to whom?
The content is clear. It’s “everything I have commanded you.” It’s the gospel, the teachings of Jesus, the beliefs and practices that lead to Christ-like godliness. The “whom” part, however, isn’t always quite as clear.
Every Sunday, church leaders get up and teach. Or preach.* They faithfully expound the word of God to the congregation and fulfil their calling. And this is fine, but I wonder if it’s enough. Today, I’d like to offer up an area of ministry which is both fruitful and essential for all church leaders.
It’s called . . .
SEE ONE, DO ONE, TEACH ONE
I believe that church leaders should be aiming to do themselves out of a job. By this, I mean that by equipping and releasing people for works of service (Eph. 4.12a) we train people in all areas of ministry. In turn, the church becomes less and less reliant on the leader, and more and more led by God’s Spirit speaking through trained and equipped people in the community. Trained speakers, teachers, preachers, carers and servers of all kinds begin to fill the church.
That’s how it should be.
So how does this process happen?
I think a clue to this can be found in the Apostle Paul’s second letter to Timothy. As you probably know, he wrote the letter when he knew he was close to death. It was his last piece of advice to his mentee, the young Timothy. Here’s the relevant section.
You therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful people who will be able to teach others also. Suffer hardship with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus.
2 Tim 2. 1-3
First, he exhorts Timothy to guard his spiritual life. Be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. Second, he calls attention to the teaching he himself has given over many years. This is the teaching that Timothy will be passing on. Third, he tells his mentee to find “faithful people” to whom he will pass on this teaching.
Faithful people. Not just anyone. They must be faithful. They must be people of good character. But they must be even more than this. They must be “able to teach others also.”
Is the work of passing on this teaching easy or difficult? It’s difficult, because back then, followers of Jesus and especially leaders, were subject to persecution. “Faithful people” would show their faithfulness by “suffering hardship.”
FIND FAITHFUL PEOPLE
Church leaders should pass on their skills to others. Especially the skill of teaching. May I encourage you, then, to consider who it is in your community who is both faithful and able to teach. They must have both these requisites. Character and skill.
Once you have found one, two or three people suited to the work, then you will notice the order in which the work is performed.
The things you have heard from me.
Model the work. Be a good teacher. Display your skills and discuss them with your trainees. Explain your preparation. Don’t be secretive, as some are, fearful that they will lose their position of authority. Instead, be open and generous with all you know. Show them how your sermons and classes are prepared and delivered.
Entrust these to faithful people who will be able to teach others also.
Give opportunities to your trainees to use their skills. Explain to your congregation what you’re doing, so they understand why you won’t be seen quite as often as before. Provide feedback to your trainees. Be supportive.
It sounds so straightforward, doesn’t it?
WHY DOESN’T IT HAPPEN MORE OFTEN?
Often, it’s simply that leaders hold false beliefs about position and authority.
What will people think if they don’t see me speaking every Sunday? They’ll think I’m lazy. They won’t see me as the leader. Maybe they’ll fire me.
Or they offer excuses.
I don’t have the time. It’s too much effort. I don’t have the skills to do it.
Every one of these objections and excuses is wrong-headed. The objections are underpinned by insecurity, and that is a quality that causes great harm in a leader. If you serve in fear, you will never be free, and you will never experience joy. If you are fiercely protective of your visibility in church, and see others as a threat, then you will reap the rewards of such an approach. But worst of all, ensuring you are the only one who teaches in church is NOT the model of the New Testament. The Apostle Paul clearly took delight in passing on his knowledge and skills to young Timothy. He brought along young men and passed on his knowledge and skills to them. Silas, Luke and others all benefited from his calling.
It’s time each church leader did the same.
The one sure sign that you are doing the right thing is when your trainee manages to train others. That will bring you joy upon joy. Perhaps not all are able to do this, but when it happens, it is the means of producing exponential growth. Spiritual growth and often numerical growth too.
Teachers teaching others to teach. This is a sign of the growth of God’s Kingdom.
Teachers growing in the grace and knowledge of God who in turn model Christ-like character as they teach. If that happens in your church, then you are a healthy community, growing in character, grace, and love.
Don’t believe the objections. Don’t offer excuses. You can do this. God has equipped you to do this. Go and find some faithful people who are able to teach. Pass on your skills to them. Equip and release teachers in your community.
The Lord bless you as you go out in his name to teach others. Embrace the concept of “passing on.” For what you have received, you must pass on. As the Apostle Paul wrote,
For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.
1 Cor. 15.3-4
*Teaching is not the same as preaching, but that’s a post for another day.