“The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, these entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also.” (II Timothy 2:2)
Every teacher who is truly effective became a teacher because of the influence of a highly effective teacher.
You can’t say that about preachers. Preachers are called by God. (Teachers can be also, but it’s not a requirement as it is with preaching.)
In seminary, we debated an entire class period the difference in preaching and teaching. Nothing was ever settled, but doing so forever burned the question in the minds and hearts of the lot of us. This morning I went online to pursue the issue. The internet has many powerful voices, each with the definitive answer.
Here’s mine. To preach is to announce the truth of God’s revelation in all its dimensions. To teach is to individualize truth and assist people in their development. Preachers are messengers; teachers are mentors.
It’s not that clear cut, I can hear someone say. Fine. Give us yours. But this one suffices for me at the moment.
Brad Meltzer is a highly successful novelist. In “Parade” magazine for Sunday, September 30, 2012, he paid tribute to the “World’s Greatest Teacher.” (Nowhere in the article does Meltzer make that grandiose a claim about Sheila Spicer, his ninth grade teacher. Perhaps this is a series the magazine is running.)
Meltzer writes, “The teacher who changed my life didn’t do it by encouraging her students to stand on their desks, like John Keating in Dead Poets Society. Or by toting a baseball bat through the halls, like Principal Clark in Lean on Me. She did it in a much simpler way: by telling me I was good at something.”
One day, Ms. Spicer said to Brad, “You can write.” She wanted to move him into an honors class for budding writers, but because of scheduling problems, it wasn’t an option. Instead, she “told me to ignore everything she wrote on the blackboard for the rest of the year. ‘Ignore the discussions. You’re going to sit here and do the honors work.’”
A decade later, when Meltzer’s first book was published, he returned to her classroom and literally had to re-introduce himself to her. He said, “My name is Brad Meltzer and I wrote this for you.”
She began to cry. Ms. Spicer had been considering early retirement, feeling she wasn’t having enough influence on the students.
Brad writes, “I didn’t know how to make (her) understand what she’d done for me. Thanks to her, I fell in love with Shakespeare… I learned how to compose an essay. It was her belief in me that gave me the confidence to become a writer. I owed her.”
Some years later, when Ms. Spicer was retiring, Brad Meltzer attended the party held in her honor. He stood in the back of the room trying to blend in. A teacher stood, called everyone to order, and presented Sheila Spicer with the usual parting gift–a crystal vase. Then, she called on the honoree for a few words.
“She delivered a stem-winding speech that began like this:
‘For those of you complaining that kids have changed, and that it’s harder to teach these days, you’re getting old. You’re getting lazy. These kids haven’t changed. You have! Do. Not. Give. Up. On. These. Kids!’”
When she finished, the room burst into applause. Meltzer was ready to apply for a teaching certificate.
Now, that’s what a good teacher can do: affect everyone in the room with the joy and excitement of growing and learning and becoming and helping others to do so.
Growing up, I always loved and admired my preachers. But I did not become one because of them. God called me.
Most of my teachers, I respected, some I truly loved, and a few I took as best friends for life. Nothing made me want to become a teacher more than sitting in a freshman classroom under Mae Parrish, professor of history at Berry College. She was as good as they come. No one made me want to saturate my preaching with teaching more than George Harrison, professor of Old Testament and Hebrew at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. He combined a great love for scholarship in the ancient studies with a devotion to Jesus and a thorough knowledge of the New Testament alongside–and this is what surprised me–an awareness of what the city council was doing that day in our city.
In college, I took the courses required of teachers and was certified. We were on the quarter system, and as I finished one Friday in March, the next day received a phone call inviting me to teach in a high school 45 minutes up the highway. “You start Monday,” the superintendent of education said. Since I had majored in history and minored in English and speech, naturally I would be teaching biology and English literature.
I taught the rest of that semester, and never again. That is, not officially. We married, I got a job in a cast iron pipe plant for two years and pastored a small church on the side. After two years, we headed to seminary.
But I’ve always been a teacher, have always had a deep love for the teaching profession, and stand in awe to this day at the impact a teacher can have.
We can all be teachers. We should all be teachers.
R. C. Sproul says the difference in preaching and teaching is the difference in the indicative and the imperative. The indicative speaks of “what is” and the imperative of “what should be.” Preachers, he says, deal with “what should be,” the imperative, while teachers spend their lives explaining “what is,” the indicative.
And yet, as he acknowledges, it’s not that simple. In his classrooms, Sproul does both. Jesus did both and so do the rest of us who call ourselves teachers or preachers or both. (I’m both.)
This is from Luke chapter 4…
“And He began teaching in their synagogues and was praised by all.” (vs. 15)
“And they were amazed at His teaching, for His message was with authority.” (vs. 32)
“But He said to them, ‘I must preach the kingdom of God to the other cities also, for I was sent for this purpose.’” (vs. 43)
I can’t find any separation in the two activities in Jesus’ life. When He was teaching, He was preaching, and vice versa.
Perhaps it was always meant to be a blended thing: Revealing the truth and then helping people attain it in their own specific ways. The messenger becomes the mentor.
Two final things on the subject of teaching….
Anyone who loves science and would enjoy reading about the best teacher of that subject ever should get to know Richard Feynman. (Find his bio in wikipedia and go from there.) I recommend as a starter the book, “Surely you jest, Mr. Feynman.” At the moment, I’m reading a compilation of some of his talks and lessons under the title “The Pleasure of Finding Things Out.” He was brilliant (a Nobel Prize winner) and hilarious. An unbeatable combination.
The Teaching Company brings lectures from the finest college classroom teachers to your automobile’s CD player for only a few bucks. I love to pop one of these into the player while making long drives. Google them and be amazed at what you discover. (I’ve enjoyed their lectures on Lincoln, on building great sentences, on public speaking, on the year 1066, and several others.)