This post is part of a series looking at Fivefold Ministry. This post focuses on the office of the Teacher in the Bible and considers the role they should play in the church. You can find links to the rest of the series at the end of this post.
For many of us, ‘teacher’ is one of the easiest of the fivefold ministries to define. Every church has consistent preachers who teach scripture on a weekly basis, so it is understandable that this shapes our understanding. But is ‘preacher’ and the scriptural term ‘teacher’ one and the same? Firstly, we need to consider the fact that preaching as we understand it probably didn’t follow the same format in the early church as we experience ourselves in our services. Secondly, teaching would have been mostly small group based and so more discussion and dialogue-led, in line with common Jewish teaching styles. With these things in mind, what is a teacher in the New Testament?
What is a teacher?
The word ‘teacher’ (Greek didaskalos) carries the sense of being an instructor. In that sense, a teacher is also a trainer and creates an environment where others learn. So a bible teacher, scripturally, is one with a preaching and teaching ministry focusing on ‘communicating biblical truth through teaching and training to see transformation’. This covers the role of teaching and preaching, both in larger corporate settings and additional classes, courses, and workshops, as well as training that seeks to equip people with practical tools and skills. It is focused on creating a culture that ensures people grow in their knowledge, understanding, application and passion for the scriptures, but also the application, implementation and activation so they are able to “do the stuff”. This means that the goal of teaching is not education or information, but illumination, revelation and transformation.
How does the office of teacher serve a church?
The teacher will serve a church broadly in a number of ways:
- Resourcing the church downwards towards scripture
- Cultivating training environment
- Developing articulate illuminators
- Integrating belief and practice
- Shifting worldviews & paradigms
- Facilitating theological dialogue
- Creating learning resources
- Sharing wisdom & insight
Developing articulate illuminators
The first role of the teacher, in line with the mandate of the Ephesians 4 fivefold ministries, is in identifying, developing, and deploying teaching gifts in others. They will disciple others and help them grow in their ability to understand and communicate scriptural truth to those within the church.
Integrating belief and practice
God’s written revelation as found in the Bible is important to teachers. They are concerned about right theology and doctrine, not just academically or intellectually, but also in practice. They don’t just want people to know the scriptures; they want to see people shaped by them. Christianity is not just doxa, it is praxis too. It must be lived out day by day to be authentic.
Shifting worldviews & paradigms
Christianity has an essential framework and view of the world that must be embraced by disciples. Almost every area of ethics and beliefs could potentially be challenged as people learn more and more about the ways of God. The teacher helps people see the world how God sees it, walking with them as they process and deconstruct prior beliefs.
Facilitating theological dialogue
Being a friend of God means, by nature, interacting with the Infinite One. He also speaks, which means He reveals things. Things we may not have known, and things we may not have fully understood. Some of these truths may shape or change our understanding. There is also a difference between what the Bible says, and what we think it says. A safe environment of dialogue, disagreement, questioning and discourse helps people wrestle with deep things of God, which ironically, fuels growth.
Creating learning resources
Teachers will create resources that connect, inspire, educate, inform and illuminate the people. They will use the best tools, symbols, stories, illustrations and examples to help truth ‘land’ in the hearts and minds of the listeners. Fueling a curiosity and passion for the scriptures is key in this journey of life-long learning.
Sharing wisdom & insight
As we’ve seen, teachers are instructors. They seek to share ideas, wisdom and insight that brings right interpretation and explanation. The goal is to create understanding that leads to right application of the scriptures. This helps the church spiritually mature.
The Office of Teacher amongst the Fivefold
We’ve seen how teachers work within a local church, but how do they impact other fivefold cultures?
- A teacher partners with an apostle by conveying the scriptural endorsement of the mission of God, articulating the weight of the apostolic focus.
- A teacher partners with prophets by bringing scriptural anchoring and unpacking revelation by showing complementary and reinforcing scriptural principles.
- A teacher partners with evangelists by explaining the gospel – its height, weight, depth and substance.
- A teacher partners with pastors by equipping them with truths they need in their role as shepherds.
Without a healthy teaching influence that brings scriptural understanding and insight to help people grow and mature in God, a church will fail to equip people and become a teaching and preaching centre, pulpit-focused and doctrine-centred. There may indeed be a strength in theology but a weakness in practice, which can foster theological pride and legalism. Alternatively, a teaching culture that neglects consistent doctrine and preaching the ‘whole counsel of God’ revealed through all of scripture will result in a church that becomes a place of experientialism, or one potentially vulnerable to faddish or deceptive ideas.
The Office of the Teacher: Summary
The office of the teacher exists to ensure the church is spiritually mature, equipped with knowledge and understanding. Without that mentality, the church will be full of people who are not familiar with the scriptures, and who lack wisdom and insight into the things of God.
Jesus was recognised as a teacher by his disciples. He came and brought understanding and revelation to those who followed him by explaining the things of the Kingdom, so people could experience God. He instructed, guided and mentored all around Him. He reframed and represented the scriptures, revealing what was always there yet had been obscured, misunderstood or overlooked. His deep and profound teachings were clothed in simplicity and illustration, so accessible for all. These traits are embodied by the ministry of an authentic Bible teacher.
You can read fuller descriptions about each fivefold ministry definition, and resulting cultures they create, in the following posts:
- Fivefold ministry: what it is and why it matters
- What are the signs that help us recognise a fivefold minister?
- What about apostles?
- What about prophets?
- What about evangelists?
- What about pastors?
- What about teachers?
- Fivefold ministry and church government
- Cultivating APEST Leadership
Each fivefold ministry is essential for any healthy, mature church. Do you know how strong your church in each of them? Are you strong in some, and weak in others? Do you know why? How did you test to see? To help churches like yours answer these questions and discover their fivefold health, I designed a FREE Fivefold ministry test for churches.
To find out more, and take the Fivefold Ministry test, click HERE.