Just about every evangelical church has lay people positioned as elders and teachers, rarely with formal theological training. Obviously, formal training doesn’t necessarily make one a good teacher, but it gives warrant to the belief that the person has a certain degree of knowledge of what they are trying to teach. But as a teacher, how much more does he or she need to know beyond that of the students? Is it appropriate, as the adult in the room, to be learning along side the students? (This may be an overstatement.) That’s something of a rhetorical question, because my current position on this is that, while teachers don’t need to know everything to the degree of having seminary education, they must have basic familiarity with the concepts whereby they can refresh themselves in further study and can actually lead the students without hampering their learning with on-the-job training. I’m curious what kind of training your churches offer in order to equip each teacher for their particular context.
I recently brought this up to a friend who suggested leadership development whereby teachers can learn to relate with their students and learn about the role of character in their leadership, becoming better teachers as a result. But that escapes the nature of my concern because even if a teacher is equipped at the most basic level, I’m not sure we are doing enough to take them to them further. Has the church made so much out of leadership development that we have neglected the equipping our teachers with the content they need to be truly effective? Not every teacher is a leader, yet the church is inundated with leadership conferences, books, and other materials. Everyone wants to lead and learn how to lead. But who wants to study? With anti-intellectualism rampant in the church, I say few really care to study.
Currently, I have one of the best teaching pastors I have ever known, I am blessed. But I’m unconvinced that Sunday morning is sufficient for equipping teachers for their own work. Whether Sunday school or youth ministry or adult studies, the gambit of information runs from basic Bible knowledge to apologetics and theological understanding. Pastors can’t do it all, and they definitely can’t do it all on Sunday morning, but maybe they could do more in the church if more direct training is required for all engaged in teaching ministry. Unfortunately, so much of teaching has been reduced to nonteaching. What I mean is that women are often not teaching Bible studies, they are facilitating, plopping in a video and asking “how does that verse make you feel?” The same may be said of Sunday school teachers who use prepackaged curriculum and are simply guiding 3rd graders in self-study. Can’t we do better?
The picture I have drawn here may be overly pessimistic. I know many good lay teachers are out there. But I also know a lot of theological incompetence exists, but the training available for non-pastors is limited, especially when the teacher doesn’t quite know what he needs. This is a local church issue and we need to do more than hope lay teachers find iTunesU or read a few interesting blogposts.