Bredfeldt, Gary J. Great Leader, Great Teacher: Recovering the biblical vision for leadership. Chicago: Moody Press, 2006.
If a person was looking to avoid following God’s call to be a teacher, they might be quick to quote James 3:1 “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness” (ESV). The idea of teaching from our own knowledge and capability is far too overwhelming a task for anyone to consider. Teaching is a high calling and one that should not be entered into without much prayer and wise counsel. For those that recognize that all education must be founded upon the truth of God’s word, there is a major piece of encouragement. Teaching should never be about pointing students to what you know, but it should always be about pointing them to the one who knew all things before He even created the world. “Great are the works of the Lord, studied by all who delight in them” Psalm 111:2 (ESV).
Great Leader, Great Teacher by Dr. Gary Bredfelt is an excellent read geared to help leaders recover the biblical vision for leadership. As we evaluate teaching based on the truth of God’s word, we realize that all teaching can be boiled down to the act of pointing people to God’s truth. Anything taught apart from the truth of God’s word is simply not worth knowing. “At the most basic core of biblical leadership is one indispensable, unchanging function of the Christian leader—the task of teaching God’s Word with clarity, in its original context, and in a way that is relevant to those whose hearts are open to hear. This is leadership in its simplest, most distilled form. The biblical leader is first and foremost a Bible teacher, and the people of God are a distinctive teaching-learning community where the principles of business leadership may not always apply” (15). What a relief! If leaders will stick to teaching God’s truth, there is no chance that they can fail!
In my role as a high school principal at a Christian school, I strive to constantly remind my teachers that we must teach and serve out of the overflow of what God is doing in our lives. On those days when teaching is particularly stressful or frustrating, it should be obvious to us that we have missed the mark. Those days are the ones that we try to do things in our own strength rather than by pointing our students straight to the person of Jesus Christ and his finished work on the cross. If we start with the gospel, we have a solid foundation through which to consider any other academic content area. A solid biblical worldview swings open the door for our students to ask hard questions and develop the incredible minds that the Lord has blessed them with. Teaching from a secular worldview is very limited because it is predicated entirely on what man knows.
One of the main struggles we have faced in our Christian school is the lack of support from pastors in our area. Many seem more concerned with upsetting the political applecart than with the fact that their own children are being educated from a secular humanistic worldview. I am so grateful for the pastors in our community who are willing to risk a little political fallout or questioning in favor of a commitment to Christian education for their own children. We are very blessed to live in an area where there are multiple excellent Christian schools that seek to be authentic in their quest to educate children from a Christian worldview.
Recalibrate the Priority of Teaching
In order to best help Christian families see the need for Christian education, we have to be a part of the solution by helping our local churches recapture the priority of teaching. Bredfelt reminds us that this has to be an intentional decision that will likely require the “recalibration of our ministry priorities” (38). If you were to survey the people in your church, would they rank the teaching of God’s word as a high priority for your congregation? That might be a scary place to start, but if it seems scary, you really don’t need to survey the congregation, you already have your answer. 1 Timothy 4:13 exhorts us to “devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching” (ESV). Those who struggle in the area of teaching God’s word are likely neglecting their own personal study of His truth. By making teaching a priority, that drives a person deeper into their study of Scripture so that they might present themselves as one who has truly encountered the Lord that they are teaching about. All other foundations for teaching will find themselves hollow and without merit.
Formal v. Informal
We regularly encourage our teachers to consider that there are two distinct curricula that their students will follow. The first is the formal curriculum that states the learning objectives and offers correlations to state standards, ACT or SAT standards, and other marks of the academic world. Those are typically good things and worth learning provided they are based on the truth of God’s word. The second curriculum is a bit more daunting as we refer to the informal curriculum. These are all the moments where your students actually see you living your life and they join you as a neighbor in your classroom, on the field when you are coaching, in the orchestra hall as you direct your ensemble, and even more importantly as you empty the trash from your classroom or interact with your colleagues.
The informal curriculum is far less scripted and infinitely more accurate at demonstrating the true state of your relationship with Christ. Do your talk and your walk line up? We are reminded by author and teacher Parker Palmer that “Teaching is always done at the dangerous intersection of personal and public life” (47). To accept the call to teach is to fling open the window to your own spiritual maturity and development. Teaching is a high calling and one to be treasured!
Jesus himself was called “Rabbi” or teacher. When we think of what it means to lead others, we need look no farther than the example of our Lord himself. Jesus lived his life with people from a variety of backgrounds. He invited them to join him in what he was doing with the realization that he was showing them the glory of God here on the earth. As we consider Jesus’ relationship with his disciples, we see three distinct teaching strategies: the power of personal relationship, the act of sacrificial care, and feeding his followers (54). Any great teacher should be defined by these three characteristics.
Teachers that take the time to develop a personal relationship with their students will be able to see results of that investment of time and energy in the way that their students are willing to go farther than the bare minimum that is required. It would be rare for a chemistry student to study chemical reactions just for the sake of learning how those inanimate objects interact. It is much more likely that a student will put extra effort into their chemistry studies because they have a relationship with their teacher that has challenged their mind or captivated their heart in some way. They may be motivated to please their teacher or receive their affirmation. As long as that teacher’s greatest desire is to help a student grow in their relationship with Jesus Christ, that personal relationship between teacher and pupil can be very effective.
The act of sacrificial care plays out differently for different types of students. Some students thrive when their teacher makes time to meet with them for extra help sessions or additional tutoring. Other students may be more motivated by a teacher taking time to offer specific feedback when returning the draft of a paper that clearly demonstrates appreciation for the student’s effort while pointing out something the student could do to make their paper even better. For other students it might take donating a kidney on their behalf, but fortunately those students are few and far between. Going the extra mile follows the example of Christ that we find in Mark 6:34, “When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things” (56).
Finally, a teacher must serve their students by feeding them. Everyone can remember that teacher that truly challenged them to think and to grow at some point in their educational career. Most people that grow up to be teachers do so because of the way the Lord used a teacher to feed their knowledge and curiosity. Feeding your students means pointing them to the truth of God’s word as the source of all knowledge and truth. Anything that is worth knowing must come directly from God. Everything else is simply information that may or may not add value.
Teachers who are the most effective are those that recognize their calling to serve others. “Each day I ask God to renew in me a genuine concern for those I am called to serve, to teach, and to lead, as well as for those who must serve me” (125). The only way to truly see victory in teaching is to begin by praying for those that you will be teaching and then discerning the Lord’s direction as you prepare the material that you will teach. Joe White of Kanakuk, a Christian sports camp in Branson, Missouri, explains it well with his “I’m Third” philosophy. “God first, others second, and I’m third” is a great way to approach ministry because it puts first things first and has everything else flow out of placing God first in all things.
“There have been many great leaders throughout history. They have inspired, guided, challenged, protected, and provoked us to achievements and victories we would not have accomplished without their vision and drive. But the greatest of these leaders have been the ones who have led by teaching. They were not the greatest because they were the most prominent or the most powerful. They were the greatest of leaders because their efforts produced changed lives and served to shape the future” (200).
We are called to love God and love people. Teaching gives us an opportunity to do both of those items in a way that serves others and equips them for ministry and leadership in a world that is so desperately craving something to follow.