The Spiritual Gift of Teaching
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
In some way or another, teaching touches the heart and soul of essentially everything we do collectively as Christ-followers–evangelism, missions, discipleship, raising children, training workers, etc. Our faith is based on history, on events, on facts and information that need to be shared. Thus, we teach.
Teaching has always been a deeply rooted part of us. David said that from his youth, God the Father had been his teacher (Psalm 71:17). Nicodemus described our Master, God the Son, as “a teacher come from God” (John 3:2). Jesus said God the Holy Spirit “shall teach you all things” (John 14:26).
Every Pastor is to be “able to teach” (1 Tim. 3:2b). Hebrews 5:12 and the Great Commission (Matt. 28:19-20) say every believer, in some way, should be teaching others. You say, “I could never teach adults.” Teach teens. If this also is not for you, teach children, toddlers, or babies. Be discipling. Mentor someone.
Everyone is to teach. A believer is to receive nothing without sharing it. We must pass on to others everything given to us, including knowledge received.
We have no right to display information-selfishness. We all learn, thus we must all teach. Every believer has learned Bible truths they can share with others.
We each can do this. Since this is a gift God gives a person at conversion, education and training are not prerequisites to it. The best Sunday School teacher I had as a child could not read. His wife would teach him the lesson on Saturday. On Sunday morning, we boys would read from the quarterly a few sentences at a time, and then pause while he explained what we had read.
Having made the point that all, not some, are to teach, we now add that some, not all, are given the spiritual gift of teaching. How can we know if we are not only in the “all”, but also in the “some” who have the spiritual gift of teaching?
One, we must teach, and see if it clicks. We have to try teaching, and see how we do at it. Spiritual gifts are found by trial and error. Spiritual gifts tests may help, but these sometimes indicate what we wish we were, more than what we are.
We at Second offer lots of options you can try, including Student World Impact, ESL, WMU, Upward, Weekday Preschool, AWANA, Discipleship, Adult Bible Fellowships, Second Gen, Tiny Town, Equipped classes, in-home college groups, etc. You have to start trying somewhere. Find a place to experiment.
Two, we must radically love the Bible. A teacher knows it is hard to overstate the importance of teaching in the life of a church, because Bible ignorance is the mother of all error. The gift of teaching combats this problem.
In their book “Good Faith,” David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons shared blunt truth. “Reduced trust in the Bible has the same impact as removing the foundation from under a building. Everything starts to crumble. Many Christians worry about secularism taking over, but secularism shouldn’t be our greatest concern. In other words, secularism’s advance is downstream from anemic Bible engagement” (pp. 226-227).
Teachers keep us sensitive to accurately interpreting God’s Word. Proper Bible teaching saves heartaches by keeping people on the best, right tracks. It helps intellect and understanding by giving clear explanations of the Bible.
Three, we like to study. The spiritual gift of teaching usually includes liking to do research in order to make sure a lesson is neither sloppy nor slothful.
Luke is a great example of how important this trait is. To prepare for writing his Gospel, Luke “investigated everything carefully from the beginning” (Luke 1:3b NAS). He researched and organized, and then turned around and did the same thing with the book of Acts. Thus, at least 25% of our New Testament is due to the kind of hard work a person with the spiritual gift of teaching usually enjoys doing.
Let me illustrate this trait from my own experience. Administrivia is hard on me. After a while, I need to get to the books I use to research sermons. I am content when I study. Books energize me. I love books; they are not mean, never bite, fight, or whine, and are always in a good mood.
For teachers, extended preparation is no problem. We gladly cross land and sea to glean the answer to a question, or to understand a Bible verse better.
Four, we are not boring. We are always trying to find a good illustration or story, or a new angle to a concept. The reception of truth by our listeners is what matters most to us. In fact, we believe the best people in the audience are those taking notes. Pencils and paper give proof of spirituality.
Teachers are given, as part of their spiritual gift, the desire to pass on truth, to set up a lesson, in a way to make it interesting. We have the gift of teaching if people don’t fall asleep when we teach, and they keep coming back for more.
The critical importance to Christianity of communication which captivates is why I believe drama, writing, music, and the other arts are part of the teaching gift. These disciplines capture attention, and challenge in unique, varied ways people’s perspectives of God and life.
A picture, cartoon, movie, essay, book, song, and artwork can serve as attention-arresting props. They make a message more moving by bypassing worn-out circuits of the brain, creating new nerve pathways to penetrate a soul’s essence.
A generation ago, Francis Schaeffer said of Christianity, if we lose the arts, we lose the culture. The arts powerfully communicate truth. It’s not art for art’s sake, but for God’s sake, and art for truth’s sake, to drive Christ’s message home.
People with the spiritual gift of teaching must teach and see if it clicks, must radically love the Bible, like to study, and are not boring. These traits unite us.
As with all spiritual gifts, we need to know not only the traits, but also the dangers that can accompany the spiritual gift of teaching. One, people can start equating being smart with being spiritual. Many of the religious leaders in Jesus’ day faltered here. They became vain and smug due to their believing they had a corner on truth. The Orthodox are always tempted to harp on our knowledge.
We often do know more than others, and thus begin to see ourselves as guides, lights, instructors, and teachers—all self-praising terms. We are tempted to see the less Orthodox as blind, in darkness, foolish, babes—all defaming terms.
Be ever mindful, a person may be well trained in theology and yet be a stranger to the power of godliness. With regard to one’s everlasting destiny, the issue is not what we know or how much we know, but rather Who we know.
With regard to living a Godly life, knowledge about the Holy Spirit is not as important as how well we know Him. Our primary need is transformation, not information. Intimacy with Jesus is more important than a brain full of facts.
Two, pride is a danger. Being up front can intoxicate. We do not understand people who claim they fear public speaking more than dying. This means at a funeral they would rather be the corpse than have to give the eulogy. I have never met a camera or crowd I did not like. Humility must be our never-ending pursuit.
Three, being too scholarly, hard to understand. I grew up hearing erudite preachers. Their style was over the top; they used words hard to understand, in order to impress people with their learning. I’m glad that form of elocution is extinct. Our task is to keep the message simple, understandable, and practical.
Being full of facts, a trait we love, can make us cold or insensitive to our audience. Information conveyed can become more valued by the teacher than the person it is conveyed to. We must never forget; our task is not to amass knowledge for knowledge’s sake. We learn in order to help the listener.
A danger for teacher is being strong in information, but weak in application. We tend to give more info than needed, because we love the trivial as much as the practical. Teachers not only like to teach how the furniture in the temple helped us worship. We want to tell how big the furniture was, its weight and dimensions, how old it was, what it looked like, what may have happened to it when the temple was destroyed. All of this fascinates teachers. Background information is helpful, but most teachers must always be trimming their material to remain practical.
Four, not practicing what we preach. This is not a minor matter. Hypocrisy is multiplied when seen in a teacher. Never be flippant. Like it or not, ours is a higher accountability. I had an advantage here; I grew up in a Pastor’s home. Thus, I always knew about the glass bowl effect. Living under a double standard never bothered me. Not everyone can say this. Many do not want to be held to a higher standard. Be that as it may, a teacher must never forget; holiness matters most.