Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.
– James 3:1
“All else being equal it is desirable that Christians, especially ministers of the gospel, should be widely read. It is a disagreeable experience to present oneself before a teacher for religious instruction and discover in less than three minutes that the said teacher should have changed places with the listeners and learned from them rather than they from him. If he is a humble man and sticks close to the small plot of ground with which he is familiar, he may, if he loves God and men, succeed in ministering to the spiritual needs of the flock. If, however, his ignorance is exceeded by his arrogance, then God help his hearers. If he boasts of his ignorance and scorns learning, show me the nearest exit! I can learn more from a child laughing on the lawn or a cloud passing overhead.”
– Rev. A. W. Tozer, The Size of the Soul
For over twenty years, I was the Training Manager for an engineering company. Since we were the experts called in, at a nice price, to solve the customer’s problem, I was never to utter the words, “I don’t know.” The dodge was always, “That’s a very good question. I was planning on covering that topic later in the presentation. Let me write your question on the board, so I won’t forget to thoroughly cover it at the proper time.” This gives praise to the person who asked the question. It elevates the question to a more important topic to be covered later. And it buys you time during a break to hide somewhere, call the office, and ask them the question. At times, the question became a meeting of several minds back in the office. They either figured it out, or they crafted a pile of balderdash that would confuse everyone. The problem was that after a few years, and surviving a few lay-offs, I was the experienced guy that others would have called, if I weren’t the guy in the classroom being asked the question. Of course, the commissioning engineers had their own answer to all questions, “Hold that question until the Training Manager gets here. He has the answer to everything.”
The answer that I had to use on a few occasions was the typical engineer answer to every question, “The answer depends on a lot of factors.” To all engineers reading this, the working person on the shop floor, mill line, or processing plant HATES that answer. Sometimes, I used it in class for comic effect. But I quickly started asking the questions I needed answered to sift through the numerous possibilities of answers to get to the right one. I wasn’t a master troubleshooter for nothing. In my troubleshooting days, I often heard, “If you are the smart guy, why are you asking so many questions?” I knew better than to say, “The reason why you couldn’t figure out what went wrong or how to fix it was because you did NOT ask the right questions.” I just resolved the problem, got everything running again, and then decided whether to go home to bed or go to my office early that morning. Troubleshooting was always in the middle of the night.
When I have been teaching a Sunday school class, I had no problem saying, “I don’t know.” That is not the venue for balderdash or befuddling the audience. It also helps to have a couple of people in adult Sunday school classes that know their Scripture down to the chapter and verse. I am generally not that good, but I am great at Biblical search engines. It was a blessing having another member of the class who could offer an answer.
I went to an all-teacher conference at a church one time. The head of Christian education thought it would be good to take the seasoned Sunday school teachers and mix them with the new volunteers to help cross-train. I sat next to the new sixth grade teacher. She said that she knew nothing about the Bible. I was worried and started praying after finding out that she barely had an idea that there was once a flood, but she had no idea what book of the Bible it was in… She had no idea that Noah had built an ark. What’s an ark, anyway? She then said that there was a weekly syllabus, and what she couldn’t read beforehand, she would fake it. Those sixth graders are now young adults. I wonder if they are teaching Sunday school and cannot find the story of Noah and the flood in their Bibles.
Of course, Tozer is mostly referring to preachers. It is sad that some preachers can get a lot of education and yet know nothing. I once knew a preacher who admitted in a sermon that he never was ‘called’ to be a preacher. He had become one to have a job where he only had to work for one hour each week and the rest of the week fake it. He would often be found at a fast food joint, that had never-ending coffee, reading a novel when he was supposed to be ministering to the elderly. His sermons misled the lazy and uninformed. Yet, he was a Doctor of Divinity. There is a difference in head knowledge and heart knowledge. Like Tozer, once I figured his end game, I made a quick trip to the exit.
In reading this quote from A. W. Tozer, I had to pass it along. We have been given an important charge to pass along the word of God to others. What God boils up from our subconscious mind may be important information to pass along, but we need to do our homework.
God is watching over our shoulder. He knows what we write about, what we talk about with friends, and what we discuss in our Bible studies. Sometimes, we can be wrong, but we need to own those moments too. Yet, as a teacher, we have a tremendous responsibility to never ‘fake it.’
May we be always willing to learn.
May we always glorify God.