v3 immature teacher

How to Spot an Immature Teacher and What To Do About It

“How to Spot an Immature Teacher” is the fifth in a series of five articles on recognizing immaturity in fivefold ministry and what to do about it. If you have no idea what fivefold ministry is, check out Alan Hirsch’s brief descriptions here, or JR Woodward’s video introduction here.
If you’ve ever planted a missional church, you know it isn’t exactly a walk in the park. You’ve got a vision for cultivating a certain kind of community, but because it doesn’t quite exist yet, you can’t point to anything concrete for people to experience.
Because of this, one of the major temptations in church planting is to try to “make things happen.” We grow impatient with the pace of the kingdom and begin to take shortcuts in development to get something off the ground.
One of the ways we do this is by releasing leaders into authority and responsibility too quickly. It feels like such a relief to find a competent, gifted, and willing person that it’s easy to overlook character issues and immaturity that may be present.
Putting people into positions of leadership before their character can bear it is a recipe for disaster, so we need a way to evaluate not just giftedness and competency, but also character and maturity.
[Tweet “We need a way to evaluate not just giftedness and competency, but character and maturity @bensternke”] This is the fifth article in a series on recognizing immaturity through the lens of fivefold gifting (sometimes called APEST – Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Shepherds, Teachers).
So far we’ve talked about immature apostlesprophetsevangelists, and pastors. Now we turn to the teachers.
How can we recognize an unhealthy teacher? And what should we do about it if we spot one in our church?

You Might Be a Teacher If…

Before we talk about immature teachers, let’s talk about teachers in general. How are they Christ’s gift to the church?
Since many communicators and leaders in churches are called “teachers,” it’s worth clarifying what we mean… We’re using “teacher” as it’s used in Ephesians 4, as one of five gifts that Christ gives to his church for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry.
Teachers are people who are motivated to help people learn and grow. JR Woodward calls them Light Givers, people whose primary concern is “that the community inhabits the sacred text [of the Bible]. They create a learning environment where people immerse themselves in the scriptures in order to be formed by them.”
You need some of these people in your church! Here are some signs of teachers in general:

  • They are drawn to the Scriptures and are often intensely hungry to read, study, and memorize Scripture.
  • They desire to help other people understand the truths of God’s Word.
  • They are often concerned with logic, order, process, and development.
  • They have a gift for outlining comprehensive curricula and systems.
  • They lean toward proven systems to “get the job done” vs. novel solutions.
  • They often ask tough questions that can lead to greater clarity for everyone.
  • They help “operationalize” the dreams and visions of apostles and prophets.
  • They like to see established track records of success before doing something different. “If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it,” is a typical mantra.
  • They look for ways to explain, enlighten, and apply Scripture.
  • They often make excellent coaches and mentors.

Signs of an Immature Teacher

But teachers need to grow from immaturity to maturity, just like all of us. Their greatest strength is also their greatest weakness.
Here are some signs of an immature teacher:

  • In their hunt for clarity, they can offend people with their bluntness. Immature teachers lack empathy.
  • They can get so enamored with order that they’re unwilling to endure any kind of ambiguity (which you have a lot of in church planting!).
  • They can get so enamored with stability that they’re unwilling to take risks or try something new.
  • In their desire to know the truth and make truth known, they may end up “cerebral” Christians, elevating head knowledge above practice.
  • More than any other type, teachers are prone to become Pharisees: content that they know and do the “right” things, setting up certain knowledge and behavior requirements as litmus tests for being a “serious” Christian.
  • In their desire to teach and train people, they have a tendency to keep people “in the nest” too long, fearing they aren’t “ready” until they take just one more class.
  • When in senior leadership roles, they can become “sermon machines,” leaving day-t0-day discipleship and leadership to others and assuming the “main” thing the church needs is teaching.
  • Like pastors, they like to be needed. While pastors like to be needed for the care and help they provide people, teachers like to be needed for their wisdom and insight.
  • They can become “devil’s advocates” with their questions about new ideas, creating a wet blanket affect on leadership teams.

Does any of this remind you of anyone? Maybe you’ve got an immature teacher in your church plant. Maybe you notice these characteristics in yourself. Read on for what to do with the immature teacher in your life (even if it’s you!).

What To Do with an Immature Teacher

It’s important to have teachers present in a church planting situation, because when people become new Christians through evangelism, you’ll need people who are excited to develop learning environments for those new Christians to grow in the basics of the faith.
So if you notice an immature teacher in your midst, one of the temptations will be to simply use them as a “content developer” that helps people assimilate into your community. The immature teacher will love this because people now “need” their knowledge… but it sets up a “mutual using society” that doesn’t reflect God’s kingdom of love.
[Tweet “Is your church plant setting up “mutual using societies” that don’t reflect God’s Kingdom?”] Also – especially if you’re an apostle – you might experience teachers as people who are always asking pesky questions about HOW you’re going to pull things off! Because of this, it can be tempting to reject an immature teacher as a pessimist.
But teachers are a tremendous gift to a church plant, and our job is just to “keep moving”; to bring the church to unity and maturity, “attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Eph. 4:13).
So don’t use immature teachers, and please also don’t reject them. Instead, disciple them so they become mature!
[Tweet “Don’t use immature teachers, and please also don’t reject them. Instead, disciple them! @bensternke”]

How To Disciple an Immature Teacher

So how do we disciple an immature teacher? First of all, we disciple them like we disciple everyone else: we love them by offering them an abundance of grace and truth so they can grow into the character and competency of Jesus.
But discipleship looks different for a teacher than it does for a prophet, evangelist, pastor, or apostle; the grace and truth they need take on a certain shape.
So what do grace and truth look like for teachers?

Grace for a Teacher

Here are a few notes on bringing grace to a teacher:

  • Take their bluntness in stride. They don’t mean to be rude – remember they’re probably just seeking clarity.
  • Listen to their how questions. They aren’t trying to shoot down ideas, they’re just interested in how things will actually get done.
  • Listen to their frustrations about the lack of organization in your church and empower them to do something about it.
  • Give them opportunities to teach others in appropriate ways.
  • Understand that their “evangelism” will often take place among nominal Christians rather than obvious “pagans.” Empower them to do this; tell them it’s important work.
  • Listen to them to learn from them, and tell them when you learned something from them. This is a way of honoring the gift they are to you and the church.
  • Empower them to develop systems to implement vision, then give them the time and space they need (alone) to work on this stuff!

Truth for a Teacher

Here are a few notes on bringing truth to an immature teacher:

  • Teachers need to embrace empathy for others, but it’s hard for them because they oftentimes think of it as “weak.” Help them realize how powerful it is and encourage them to truly empathize with others.
  • Encourage them to trust that the Holy Spirit can “fill in the gaps” in people’s knowledge, and that he’ll often do so as they’re on mission. Help them see places in Scripture where Jesus sent people out with almost no theological knowledge whatsoever!
  • Encourage them to have an apprentice at all times, someone that is learning to teach like they teach, so they can pass along what they know how to do.
  • Remind them that their job is to equip the body of Christ to live out truth, not just understand it.
  • Draw their attention to their tendency to make people dependent on them. Challenge them to “work themselves out of a job” by teaching people toward competence not just clarity.
  • Teachers can get so convinced by their own theological framework that they create a little enclave within the church for people who “really get it.” They sometimes need to be challenged to hold less rigidly to watertight theological systems. This is really hard for them, though, because they tend to associate their ideas about God with God himself. Letting go of those ideas feels like “heresy” (they may say this when you challenge them about this!).
[Tweet “Challenge teachers to “work themselves out of a job”; teach people toward competence @bensternke”] A mature teacher is a wonderful gift for a church plant to have. They can create catechetical frameworks and classes that deepen people’s understanding and practice of faith.
But they don’t just fall into your lap magically. Church planters often have to disciple their team into maturity before they can lean on their team to disciple others into maturity.

Questions for Discussion

How about you? Have you had experiences with immature teachers? What have you learned about discipling teachers? If you are a teacher, what has been most helpful in your growth?
Great News! Ben will be teaching at Praxis Gathering 2016. Sign up today!

About the Author

Ben Sternke

Ben Sternke is an Anglican priest, church planter at The Table, leadership coach/consultant with Gravity Leadership, and also helps churches and nonprofits hone their messaging and cultivate their online presence with Lifesize Digital. He lives in the Indianapolis area with his wife Deb, their four kids, and a little dog named Edith.

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