I had the privilege of teaching an evening course in a major seminary recently, on the ministry of the laity. The class started with 26 students. Midway through the class we were down to about half that number. We had about 11 students on the last evening. I was disappointed. Was it the content? Was it my teaching style? I have been in ministry long enough to discipline myself not to jump to conclusions. I think we will know the true worth of what we seek to do for the Lord only on the last day. In the meantime, we are called to be faithful to the tasks that he has given us. And so I will continue to teach. For at least two reasons.
I teach because I want to be a faithful steward of the gift that God has entrusted to me.
For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; (Romans 12:3–7 NIV)
There was a time when I thought that my primary gifting was leadership. Experience and numerous tests agree that my primary gifting is actually teaching. When I was younger I had more energy and tried to do many things. As I journey into middle age and beyond, I no longer have the same levels of energy. I must be more intentional in what I do. As long as the Lord gives me health and strength, I will teach.
The second reason I am committed to teaching is because I want to pass forward what I received from my teachers. We are who we are because there were people in our lives who chose to invest in us. Many of those were probably teachers. As I think back on what I had been preaching and teaching these past few weeks, I note the impact of my teachers. In some lectures on Sabbath, I was channelling Paul Stevens, Bruce Waltke and Klaus Bockmuehl. And there was John Nolland in my exposition from Luke. Indeed, that I speak and write at all comes from the good work of Michael Quah when I was in Form 1 (Grade 7). (I can continue in similar vein all night long.) I like to think that my own thinking has added to and modified what I first learnt from my teachers. But there is no denying that a large part of who I am, the good part, has been the result of the hard work of some of my teachers.
Something interesting happened last Wednesday. I had the privilege of speaking at the Biblical Graduate School of Theology chapel. I was to teach on something from the book of Galatians. I saw that Dr Quek Swee Hua was in the audience. He was the visiting lecturer when I first went to Regent College in 1981. He taught us exegesis and he used, as his basic text, the book of Galatians. Here we are, more than 30 years later, and he was listening to me speak from a book that he had taught me. I hope I did him proud. I hope my sermon blessed him a little. I had learnt so much from him.
I hear that today is Teacher’s Day in Malaysia. I am glad for every opportunity to acknowledge the debt we owe our teachers. But I think we honour them best by, with the help of God, living the best lives we can.
This morning I received a summary of the students’ feedback on my course on the laity. I was expecting the worse. I had comments like:
“Useful and applicable to my daily life. Gave me another view of how laity can serve God . . . it instilled in me the desire to bring Kingdom values to whatever and whenever.”
“More wide ranging than I expected. Greater depth would have been appreciated.”
“This course has helped me a great deal in my understanding of God and my daily work. I am charged with positive energy for my work and my role as a layperson . . .”
Every teacher will know how I felt when I read these comments. Thank you Lord.