Character or Content: Which Matters Most?
By Peter Beck
With school having started again recently, my life is seemingly consumed with the topic. At home, we have a closet full of school supplies. My desk is covered with textbooks, notebooks, and grade books (metaphorically speaking). So, much of my conversation at this time of the year relates to students and school.
Today, I want to reflect on the teachers. Specifically, I want to consider the Christian teacher and what he or she must do to do this task to the glory of God.
Paul warned Timothy, “Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things, for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you” (1 Timothy 4:16).
Too often teachers (and I include public, private, home, college, and Sunday School teachers in this category) focus only on the second half of Paul’s admonition — “your teaching.” We are right to be concerned about this area of our calling. We must insure that our content and our proficiency measure up. We will one day be held accountable for what we do or don’t do in the classroom.
The admonition to pay close attention to one’s teaching, however, is second in Paul’s mind. First, he urged Timothy, the teacher must pay close attention to himself (or herself, since the general principle applies to women as well in this essay). Who we are as Christians makes a difference in what we do as teachers.
We are to examine our hearts and our minds. We are to look at our sanctification and our preparation. The best lecture plans in the world are pointless, if the saving and preserving grace of Christ are not evident in the teacher.
As hard as it is to put together quality lectures and lesson plans, it’s far easier than examining and training one’s own soul. It’s also less painful. But, the latter must inform the former. The depth of our faith drives the quality of our teaching.
The consequences, Paul writes, are great. The eternal destiny of the teacher is at stake. If our hearts are not right, we may lose our souls. Moreover, as Christian teachers, we need to step back and consider our careers in light of eternity as well. What we do bears heavenly weight. The strength or weakness of our faith will fertilize the ground of our students’ souls and may produce wheat or weeds accordingly. As a teacher, we bear great responsibility, even on the spiritual level. To protect their souls, we must look after our own.
As Christians we are all called to make disciples (Mt 28:19-20). As teachers we are making disciples also. We must be careful that the disciples what we create are the type of disciples that God has called us to make.
Thus, Paul warns, “pay close attention to yourselves” first and “your teaching” second. Be sure that you have been schooled by the Master before you try to school the learners.
Peter Beck is Assistant Professor of Religion and Director of the Honors Program at Charleston Southern University in Charleston, South Carolina. He is the author of The Voice of Faith: Jonathan Edwards's Theology of Prayer. Follow him on Twitter @DrPeterBeck.