An article on mentoring that I read recently (David L. Bartlett, “Mentoring in the New Testament,” in Mentoring, Dean K. Thompson & D. Cameron Murchison eds. [Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2018], 23–36) helped me to name what I am trying to do in my teaching ministry.
Bartlett looked at the following passage in 2 Timothy:
You, however, know all about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, persecutions, sufferings—what kinds of things happened to me in Antioch, Iconium and Lystra, the persecutions I endured. Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them. In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evildoers and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:10–16 NIV)
He saw Paul doing three things in his mentoring that I think are also applicable to teaching, if not more so.
First, instruct. Paul asks Timothy to remember his teaching. The Christian faith is based on revelation and God’s special revelation is the Bible, the God-breathed Scriptures. All Christian teaching then is to be undergirded by the Bible. Whether we are teaching the Bible itself or any other topic, we must show how that teaching is built on biblical content and a biblical worldview, and allow that teaching to transform us. That is why we need to interpret the Bible correctly (2 Timothy 2:15). In a post-modern mood that rejects notions of ultimate truth or reduces truth to individual perspectives, a Christian teacher will hold to the fact that the Bible properly interpreted is their final authority for belief and behaviour.
Next, model. Paul also asks Timothy to remember his way of life. His teaching was modelled on how he lived his life. So, even as he reminds Timothy that all who want to follow Christ will be persecuted, Paul demonstrated his own fidelity to Christ by how he himself had endured persecution in Antioch, Iconium and Lystra. Later, Paul reminds Timothy that he had been convicted of the veracity of the Bible because of who he had learned it from, the people who had modelled the Word for him; presumably Paul and Timothy’s mother and grandmother (2 Timothy 1:5). As a teacher then, I don’t just teach the truth. However imperfectly, I must model what I teach. In a world increasingingly enamoured with e-learning, the teacher understands the need for his/her student to see how truth taught is lived out.
Third, exhort. Paul exhorts Timothy to continue in what he had learned. Paul exhorts Timothy to remain faithful to the Word. In 2 Timothy 4:1–5, Paul writes:
In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. (NIV)
As a teacher I do not want to force my views on my students. I realise that within the body of Christ, believers hold different views on various matters. My job is to help my students learn to think through things for themselves. Yet, Paul, through Bartlett, reminds me that I must also exhort my students to continue to follow Christ. Biblical truth is not just about transferring content. We exhort people to be both hearers and doers of the Word (James 1:22).
These then are three verbs that help define the work of the Christian teacher: instruct, model, exhort.
Teaching is my primary calling. This weekend I am in Petaling Jaya teaching a seminar on discipleship. Next week, back in Singapore, is my first class of a course on discerning one’s calling. After all these years I am still nervous as I anticipate these teaching assignments, something my friends find hard to believe. But if teaching is not just instruction, if teaching includes modelling and exhorting—then who is competent enough for this work? Like Paul we discover again and again that our competence comes from God (2 Corinthians 3:5).