What is the Character of a Gospel-Driven Leader? Part Four

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

4. A Church Leader Should be Competent in Teaching Other People

“entrust what you heard me say…
to faithful men who will be
competent to teach others as well”
(2 Tim. 2:2)

Competency comes through persistent practice. To be competent at anything requires hundreds of hours of hard work, labor, toil, sweat, and tears. In a recent educational conference in Orlando, Florida (Elliot Masie’s Learning 2009, held on November 9, 2009), an interview was conducted with the famous writer, Malcolm Gladwell, author of the book Outliers: The Story of Success.


Elliott Masie: What do you think about duration and experience, and hours spent, because we spend a lot of time here talking about speed to competency and shortcuts to competency. What’s your take on that?

Malcolm Gladwell: Well, we know from the psychological literature - and this is something I talk about in Outliers - we know this thing called the 10,000 hour rule, which is that, in a wide number of different cognitively complex disciplines, word-class expertise cannot be attained without at least 10,000 hours of deliberate practice. So chess playing, writing a great piece of classical music, being a surgeon…I can list them all. And that’s ten years roughly; four hours a day for ten years.

What’s interesting about that is just how consistent it is from field to field. So where some kind of real mastery is necessary for greatness in a field, it seems to be [that] we get that number again and again. And that’s a really interesting number. One [reason it’s interesting] is because it’s longer: we all would have said it takes some degree of training to be good. I think intuitively we would have thought the number was lower than 10,000 hours. But it also simultaneously opens the door to all kinds of really, really interesting interventions by the likes of all you in this room, which is to say, “Oh, okay, when someone is ramping up that curve and hasn’t gotten to 10,000 hours yet, they need help,” right? “Okay, what are the interesting ways in which we can give them tools, which make them the equivalent of an expert, even before they reach expertise?” That, to me, is trick number one.


Gladwell demonstrates in his book that this 10,000 hour rule pretty much relates to anything a person wants to master. The missing component, however, is a spiritual one. For when it comes to the work of the Holy Spirit, when He fills a person, when HE enables a person, when HE emboldens a person, they end up looking like masters to everyone else. This was the case with Peter and John in Acts 5 when they were standing before the Jewish priests, after having been arrested for preaching the gospel.

“The next day the council of all the rulers and elders and teachers of religious law met in Jerusalem. Annas the high priest was there, along with Caiaphas, John, Alexander, and other relatives of the high priest. They brought in the two disciples and demanded, "By what power, or in whose name, have you done this?’ Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, [preached] to them…”

The members of the council were amazed when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, for they could see that they were ordinary men with no special training in the Scriptures. They also recognized them as men who had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:5-8, 13, NLT).

These are no doubt incredible experiences of supernatural power when Jesus does just what He promised the Holy Spirit would do for us as His disciples, when we find ourselves in the midst of trouble for the gospel.

"And when you are brought to trial in the synagogues and before rulers and authorities, don't worry about how to defend yourself or what to say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what needs to be said” (Luke 12:11).

However, while we seek the filling of the Spirit always, and while we long for this type of power in our teaching all the time, the bottom line is that learning the Word of God and preparing to communicate it takes hard work, much time, and persevering dedication. If the filling of the Spirit were all it took to be a sudden, instantaneous, successful teacher of the Word of God, then Paul would not have written the following commands to Timothy.

“Work hard so you can present yourself to God and receive his approval. Be a good worker, one who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly explains the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15, NLT).

“Do not waste time arguing over godless ideas and old wives' tales. Instead, train yourself to be godly. ‘Physical training is good, but training for godliness is much better, promising benefits in this life and in the life to come.’ This is a trustworthy saying, and everyone should accept it. This is why we work hard and continue to struggle, for our hope is in the living God, who is the Savior of all people and particularly of all believers” (1 Timothy 4:7-11, NLT).

Both of these commands to young Timothy show that hard work is required not only to persevere in teaching, but also in learning what to teach.

In Western societies, teaching is more of a formal situation with the teacher standing in front of the students, lecturing for an hour or more, dispensing information. Our Sunday morning messages are very much patterned after this model, and that’s quite alright, since the method we’re using adapts to our culture. We call that contextualization. Jesus sat when He taught, used parables and stories when teaching, and seemed to teach in snippets of perhaps 10-20 minutes or more. Also, Eastern cultures engage in dialogue when teaching, the teacher asking questions, the student answering, and then repeating throughout the “teaching.”

Regardless of which culture you may find yourself in, whether today or some time in the future, one must possess competency about the subject matter before teaching. Just because it’s different in the Eastern cultures doesn’t mean we should carry the misconception that they never learned in any formal manner. To be sure, all learning in all cultures is part formal and part informal. Jewish children learned and memorized the entire Torah up until they were approximately twelve years old. Undoubtedly many were taught to read and write, along with other subjects as well.

Where the disconnect occurs, I believe, is in the communication. We work hard to become competent in what we know. But we work hardly at all in becoming competent in teaching it. I remember in Bible College there was this one particular professor I had who was an incredible man of God. He had great knowledge, and had studied for some 40 years in various biblical studies. But he was absolute horrid teacher. I hated listening because he just plain couldn’t communicate in a way that made me want to listen and learn. I recall appealing to the Dean and the President of the institution about the problem, and he justifiably implemented a teacher education class of sorts, where he attempted to instill in this professor, along with several others, the absolute necessity of working as hard if not harder at communicating as they had done with acquiring the knowledge they had.

Competency in teaching, then, has to do with what you know and how well you communicate it. It’s one thing to know something really well. It’s another thing altogether to be able to teach it well. And I think we’re hitting somewhat on the connection here between faithfulness and competency in teaching. A faithful man is one who is so concerned with the truth he’s learning that he’ll master it along with an appropriate method or two for teaching it. He cares so much about the gospel entrusted to him that he engrains it in his DNA, and engrains the ability to teach it well also. The faithful man desires to be such the faithful steward of the message of God that he stewards how he passes it on in addition to what he is passing on. This is the definition of a faithful man who is competent in teaching others.

Now, I need to make two very crucial connections for us here, and each of them has to do with verse 1. First, The faithful and competent teacher of the local church must be a strong man, as Paul told Timothy to be. This means he will endure in his faithfulness to teach the gospel and make disciples. He’ll do it no matter what. He’s the man in 2 Timothy 4, whom Paul instructed to,

“Preach the word of God. Be prepared, whether the time is favorable or not. Patiently correct, rebuke, and encourage your people with good teaching. For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear. They will reject the truth and chase after myths. But you should keep a clear mind in every situation. Don't be afraid of suffering for the Lord. Work at telling others the Good News, and fully carry out the ministry God has given you” (4:2-5, NLT).

The faithful man is strong so that he doesn’t quit when the going gets rough. He sticks it out, and continues to do the right thing no matter what happens to him, what people say about him, or what others conspire against him. He’s a faithful steward because he keeps his head clear about what the real issues are. He doesn’t miss the forest for the trees when it comes to key issues at stake. And he doesn’t allow foolish argumentation to detract him from the mission. He keeps his eye on the ball. And in all his suffering for doing what’s right, he doesn’t grow slack or angry when it comes to continuing to communicate the truth in a helpful, patient way. Here’s how Paul explained it to Timothy.

“Again I say, don't get involved in foolish, ignorant arguments that only start fights. A servant of the Lord must not quarrel but must be kind to everyone, be able to teach, and be patient with difficult people. Gently instruct those who oppose the truth. Perhaps God will change those people's hearts, and they will learn the truth. Then they will come to their senses and escape from the devil's trap. For they have been held captive by him to do whatever he wants” (2: 23-26, NLT).

The second crucial connection to make to faithfulness and competent teaching is that this can only be established and maintained as long as the faithful man’s strength is rooted in grace, as I explained earlier. The only way on earth that a man can remain faithful is if he maintains an intimate connection t the Vine (John 15:1 ff.). Grace is the sap that flows between the Vine and the branches. As long as the church leader stays connected, he maintains supernatural spiritual strength. That strength allows him to withstand a hurricane of conflict over the truth of the gospel, and still continue loving one another and communicating the truth patiently and clearly. As one commentator wrote,

“The person’s competency…relates to the ability and giftedness to teach. With the emphasis throughout the epistle on the source of Timothy’s strength and ability lying outside himself (cf. 2:1), this competency must be viewed likewise (cf. 2 Cor. 3:5)” (Mounce, Word Biblical Commentary, Volume 46, Pastoral Epistles, p. 507).

I have been through more conflict and suffering and persecution than the average American pastor, and I clearly recall seasons where I did not stay connected to the Vine. So I began to wither at times, and I found my strength withering also. This in turn created an inner sense of necessity to rustle up my own strength to accomplish my tasks, including preaching and teaching. The end result was that much of what I said fell flat and did not penetrate or hit the bulls eye. I attempted to meet the demands without the strength that comes from the grace of Jesus Christ. And some of the time I grew angry, impatient, and hateful towards those who were opposing the truth. That is not being faithful, at least in those moments which appear as a snapshot. Overall, however, I thank God that the big picture was of faithfulness, because HE is faithful and did not leave me or forsake me…just as He promised when He put me on the mission.

If you want to lead in this local church, you must be a faithful man which will reflect itself in your attempts and efforts to become more and more competent with the message and the mission. Labor hard to be competent with the message, because it’s THE most important one you’ll ever get. Labor as hard to be competent with the mission, in how you tell the message. And labor harder to maintain your strength in the grace of Jesus Christ. Otherwise you’re not being faithful with the whole thing.

This is about faithfulness with the whole and not just with the parts. Again, you can be incredibly talented and skilled in your ability to learn theology, doctrine, church history, doctrinal errors, heresy, church government, and all things biblical. But if you’re not equally competent in teaching it, then there’s not a true sense of faithfulness in the mix. Pursuit the strength, the grace, and the faithfulness. Then you’ll be on your way to becoming truly competent.

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