Teaching is ministry

Teaching is Ministry

Jesus is not the best model for theological educators today. Of course, he is the peerless example of holiness, prayer, humility and many other vital issues for theological educators. He also called the disciples whom he taught, his “friends” and that close, involved, yet hierarchical, relationship needs to be explored for our role with students. But he asked them to become his disciples and we need to ask our students to become disciples not of ourselves but another. He adopted, with modifications, the current model of education, that of the rabbi, so he may well be a good example of critical contextualisation into our contemporary educational system but we do not need to wander the land in sandals with twelve students. Above all, although he was a human being, he was not a sinful fallible human being like us and it is this very factor which is vital for the way we do theological education, think of ourselves and relate to our students.

So where do we get a biblical model? I suggest it is the gift of “teacher” to the church. Paul lists this gift as third after apostles and prophets. James advises that not many should enter this role since those who do will be judged with greater strictness. Above all, we see in the life of Paul, a good example of how the teaching ministry of Jesus can be interpreted into the situation of a fallible sinful human seeking to bless the church by the exercise of his ministry.

Once we see that theological education is fundamentally a form of ministry to God’s church and Paul is a good example of that ministry, whole new vistas open up to us. Immediately we see that Paul was deeply emotionally involved with those he ministered to. He speaks of tears and groans and joy – and occasional anger. He used his experiences of the Christian life, both positive and negative, in his teaching. He followed his Lord in giving not just truths but his “very self” to those he taught. He had a strong pastoral care for them and felt responsible for presenting them to Christ as formed believers. He warned against falsehood as damaging to their souls. If then, like Jesus, we choose to work within the contextual model of education of our day where we can, it must be on the understanding that the concept of Christian ministry has to remain at the heart of our work and challenge that secular model where necessary.

In case all this sounds too heavy, let us remember that Paul does not supply the only model. There is also the biblical picture of the “teacher” in Ecclesiastes who reminds us that we should not get too carried away with the meaningfulness of our work, but relax and enjoy it – and all the humanness of our life which the Lord has given us to live under the sun.

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2 Comments on “Teaching is ministry”

  1. Perry Shaw Says:

    A wise person once described Christian teaching as “truth through personality,” a theme also in tune with Parker Palmer’s emphasis on the importance of the person of the teacher. Graham’s short article certainly points to the huge diversity of approaches in the Scriptures, and in each case the personaility of the teacher shines through. Good teaching begins with a clear understanding of the truth being communicated and a clear understanding of what the teacher brings. Many vistas indeed!

  2. Campbell Hamilton Says:

    Ah, Ecclesiastes, probably my favourite book in all the scriptures, and Paul, one of my favourite characters. The challenge of Qoheleth, against the transitoriness and incomprehensibility of a difficult life cling on to the Lord, a great message to teach the Church today; and the challenge of the Apostle who desired nothing more than to proclaim Christ where He was not known, an inspiring alternative to the materialistic desires of life in the early 21st century.

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