Friday, October 17, 2014

Teachers Anonymous--Four Tests for Good Teaching

I had a sudden impulse the other week to change my writing name to Anonymous. No one would ever know who I was. Male, female, young, old, denominational affiliation—no one would know.

Admittedly, this would get a tad difficult when I went out on speaking gigs. Right away, I'm thinking that female thing would be out of the bag. Plus, I doubt Facebook allows anonymous to have an author page.

But why would I want this? Because I worry about the cult of Christian celebrity. Yes, I'm using the term “cult” not in its usual Christian definition but in Google's first and third sense: 

“A misplaced or excessive admiration for a particular person or thing; veneration and devotion directed toward a particular figure or object.”

I also realize I am highly unlikely to ever achieve the heights of Christian celebrity. Nevertheless, it bothers me to see so much of this veneration going on among a people whose first commandment is, “You shall have no other gods before me.”

We do, people. We do.

While we preach against idolatry and imagine it to be over-adoration of money, sports, work, or Benedict Cumberbatch, sometimes our idolatry is a lot closer to our piety than we think [tweet this].

If you doubt me, ask people around you what teachers they follow. You'll hear immediate answers. Everyone has a favorite. Some will defend their favorites vigorously. Some will deny any and all arguments against said favorite, regardless of reality. “I follow so and so.” “I believe in the teaching of so and so.” “I feel so good listening to . . .”

It often sounds a bit too much like the church in Corinth for comfort.

My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. What I mean is this: One of you says, 'I follow Paul'; another, 'I follow Apollos'; another, 'I follow Cephas'; still another, 'I follow Christ.' Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you?” (1 Corinthians 1.11-13)

Particularly as we endure another round of leaders falling from grace, Christians need to look long and hard at our own tendency to worship at the altar of power and celebrity. We need to take responsibility for our own discipleship.

God gives us gifts of good teachers of His word. I am grateful for that and pray that, in whatever way he grants, I am one of those. But he also tells of to be careful. God makes it clear—we are to test what we hear.

But how do we do that?

If you see this? Run. Bad teaching. Also, bad fashion sense.

Examine motives. 

Does this person appear to be making disciples for Jesus or followers for himself?

I guess the anonymous thing isn't really new for me. Several years ago I had a discussion with our then senior pastor in which he asked how I wanted my name on the church sign, as associate pastor. I said, “I don't.” I was terribly uncomfortable with the idea of claiming any right to the church as “mine.” I know I can be prideful, and that door just does not need to be cracked open.

If a teacher insists he or she has all you need? If the end goal seems to be to sell books and create an email list? If there are far more mentions of the teacher's name than there are of God's? Look out. It may be there is more interest there in generating a personal following than creating disciples for Christ.

As a writer and speaker, this sounds odd, because branding “me” is exactly what I'm supposed to do. But a teacher can never lose sight of the fact that he or she is not the point. Look for someone who pursues humility like a dog pursues a squirrel. You're likely to find some good teaching there.

Study for yourself. 

Talking about Bible reading a while ago, people in a group I lead mentioned their methods for studying Scripture. One read a devotional. One read inspirational books. One checked the verse a day from a well known teacher. Only one actually sat with her Bible and read it, in context, in sections larger than a verse or two.

We're willing to settle for sound bytes of Scripture rather than dig in to the banquet that's there for us to consume.  [tweet this].

In Acts, the Bereans were commended for going home after listening to teaching and studying for themselves to see if the things they heard were true. I'm afraid most Christians prefer to outsource that job and allow someone else to tell them what they believe. We find it easier to listen to someone else tell us what the Bible says than find out for ourselves.

The best way to make sure you're following Jesus and not a human is to do what God said all along—study His word. Not a verse a day but in depth, in context, in big pieces at a time. This doesn't take a seminary degree—it takes discipline. Read a couple chapters every day and ask yourself; What is God saying through this? How does it work with what is around it? How does it fit with the rest of Scripture? What does God want me to learn?

A teacher who is making disciples for Christ will encourage you to question him and seek answers in the Bible. A person trying to make followers for self demands loyalty and considers questions a sign of weakness and disharmony. Run from that teacher.

Do a percentage test.

When you hear a teaching, ask the fist obvious question--Is this is Scripture? Not, "Is this in this person's individual proof texts?", but is this in the whole of Scripture, in context with the rest of God's word?

Then if the answer is yes, ask the next question. How much do I see it in the Bible? Teachers who want to make disciples for Christ teach what God made most important. They teach what God spent most of His time on. If what you're hearing from someone is in 5% of Scripture but makes up 95% of his or her teaching, beware. He's majoring on minors. (And likely making a lot of stuff up.) He's focusing on a detail and not on God's focus. That's a person trying to make followers for self, not for Christ.

Seek other ideas. 

Always relying on one or two people, people we know we agree with, for opinions and scholarly information can get us stuck in untruth without realizing it. Look to see what others have to say on the topic. Seek opinions you know are different than what you're used to. Check other Bible translations. (Yes, some do get things wrong. All of them do, at some point. And yes, some are deliberately translated toward the bias of the editors. Sad, but true.) You'll get a broader range of thought from which to look at the Scripture and think about what it really says.

So many times, I've heard people cry, “But he's such a good teacher!” in reference to a fallen leader. Let's clarify. No, he's a good speaker. Persuasive. Compelling. But that does not make him a good teacher. Only two things make a person a good teacher: Good theology, and a good heart. Look for both.


  1. I share in the thought and points raised in the post - very good. Reminds me that I used to pray Psalm 139:23-24, something I really need to get back into.