Monday, January 18, 2010

Spiritual gifts part 9: The Gift of Teaching and a Geography Lesson

Hey gang!

Thanks for all the great emails of support and love over the weekend. Thanks also to you guys that actually taught me a geography lesson.

I can’t tell you whether it was my college professor Dr. Joshi, my junior high teacher Mr. Tichenor or someone else that somehow taught me that the Dominican Republic and Cuba were the same, but the truth is whoever I listened to was wrong.

If you look at the map above of the Caribbean, you will clearly see that Cuba is west of the island that contains Haiti and the Dominican Republic. I had referred to this in error on Thursday or Friday when I wrote my piece about the Haitian situation.

But this error proves a great point. One of my strongest spiritual gifts is teaching. However, as you can see by this last example, I am not perfect or above question. I strive to be clear and accurate when it comes to everything that I write. As I wrote that piece, I did not even bother to look at a map. And my teaching was wrong in that case.

This is something that needs to be stressed in teaching the Word of God. We need accuracy and clarity. Most of you are not going to get upset over the fact that my geography is not as strong as I thought, but when I teach God’s Word and give examples, it is vital for accuracy.

Why? The first is simple. People read my work. Some have come to respect it as a good Christian teaching website. To be in error with the Word can not only affect my reputation, but it can also mislead people. James 3:1 warns that I, and anyone else who teaches you about the things of God, will be judged more severely. If I cause a brother to stumble because of my teaching, I will pay for it at the mercy seat of Jesus. It may not cost me Heaven, but it might cost me some of the great rewards in Heaven. Call me selfish, but I don’t want to miss out on those rewards. Neither would you.

I taught a couple years as a substitute in West Virginia before I came to Christ. It was almost six years later when I taught my first Sunday school class. When I was teaching ABC’s and 123’s to children, it never really bothered me if I missed the mark with a few kids. Their regular teacher would have many more chances and, if they failed, there was always next year.

It was totally different that first Sunday with 7th and 8th graders teaching them about God. Honestly, I worried for days about it. First, I was worried about the fact that these kids might actually know more about God than me. I’ve been able to admit that my greatest growth was during those two years of teaching with the BBC teens. I grew along with them. I studied countless hours just in fear of not keeping up with them.

The less obvious reason was that I remembered that coma from 1992. What if today was someone’s last chance to hear about Jesus? That’s scary. I don’t want to be standing in Heaven on that day of judgment and be asked, “Frank, didn’t you know that the last chance this teen had to be saved was in your class? And what did you do? Rabbit trails and not knowing your stuff.” Those are the kind of conversations with God that used to keep me up at night.

That’s why today’s lesson about the spiritual gift of teaching is so important. That same section of James tells us that not all people should even attempt to be teachers. The prophet Hosea tells us in the fourth chapter of his book, verse six, “My people are destroyed for their lack of knowledge.”

Bryan Carraway opens up this section of his teaching in Spiritual Gifts, Their Power and Purpose talking about where a lot of Christians struggle because they don’t know or haven’t grasped important concepts from God’s Word. Many Christians struggle financially because they fail to read MalachI 3:9-11 where we are told that we live under a curse if we are not faithfully tithing. Why are so many families struggling? Because they fail to take heed of Ephesians 5:22-6:4 talking about how a family is to treat one another.

Many people spend years in the church and never hear some of the most vital information from God’s Word. Is this the faulting of pastors who stand at the front of the congregation each Sunday? Are Sunday school programs at fault because they’ve decided to tell us how The Office relates to our lives? Does the blame fall to our friends that would rather talk about sports and weather than reach in and grab nuggets from the Word? Unfortunately, the answer is no.

A lot of the blame falls upon us as individuals. We are not reading God’s Word and asking questions when we don’t understand. We are not grabbing these slices of truth and getting so excited that we can’t help but pass them on. That’s why finding good, solid teachers and people with the gift of teaching is so important.

Carraway defines the teaching gift as the unique, God-given ability to discover God’s truths and to communicate them in such a way that others can understand them and grow spiritually. Austrailian born evangelist Nick Vujicic is just like every other teacher you’ll ever see. This 26 year-old man from the land Down Under has no arms and no legs. There are times I’m very Italian with my teaching. I wave my hands and I could not imagine discussing anything without being able to use them. As I type, I realize this ministry would be crippled, no pun intended, if I could not use my hands. But this man teaches powerfully because he has been gifted of God. Below is a little of Nick’s awesome, inspiring story.

Carraway also tells us that teaching is one of only two spiritual gifts that was important enough to be listed in all three of the main passages about spiritual gifts, those being Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12 and Ephesians 4. The other gift, by the way, is prophecy, talked about in part 7 of this series.

There are four major characteristics of people that have the teaching gifting. The first is how high they hold the Word of God. I don’t mean that they hold it over their head here. I mean they value what God’s Word says and they get crazy when people take what the Bible says out of context or try to twist it to say what they want it to say. When I worked in Christian television, my buddy Jimmy would sit with me and watch a lot of the programs I aired. If a televangelist twisted the Word, Jimmy would get visibly upset and many times have to leave the room over the speaker’s faux paus.

The second characteristic is that they are very systematic about how they approach their study of the Word. They love bringing groups of scripture together to talk about a subject. They often will do research in commentaries and look up words in the Greek and Hebrew just to gain clearer understanding. They are thorough people when it comes to describing Bible stories and other godly information.

Thirdly, they have a strong desire and burden to see people fully informed when it comes to God’s Word. It drives people with the teaching gift absolutely bananas not to see people understand their giftings, their call, Christ and his return or anything else. They want mature Christians to have every single opportunity to grow, even when Christians don’t want to.

Lastly, and this should come as no surprise to anyone, they can communicate the gospel in easy-to-understand concepts with clear examples that relate to everyday people. Carraway brought up Kay Arthur as an example, but I also think of people like Charles Stanley, Bill Hybels and Pastor John Hagee. These people present the truths of God’s Word in such a way that unless you aren’t listening or aren’t paying attention, you will understand what they are talking about.

In my own teaching, I believe in teaching truth with the knowledge that not all of us came to Christ as a child. Some of us did stuff before we were delivered, sanctified, and cleaned by the blood of the Lamb. My friend Tim Schmidt and I had a conversation one night about how he and another friend had always been in church and didn’t get some of my comments about different subjects.

I have this way occasionally of making entire life Christians awkward because they don’t understand what it’s like to have been a heathen, so to speak. When I used to teach teens, some would come up and talk about some of the shows that they watched and I would be able to have a conversation about the show. Parents and other concerned attendees would ask how I could watch some of these shows. The truth is that the people who asked these questions had NEVER watched the shows. I would always try to give the teen something to think about as they watched the show. If they are going to watch it anyway, you try to get them to think with their mind of Christ, even if they don’t really want to use it. Once they do, they may decide that they don’t want to watch this show anyway.

Teaching melds with some of the other gifts, as well. Notice that most pastors have the gift of teaching. Paul tells us in 1 Timothy 3:2 that pastors and elders must be able to teach. Why? They are in charge of a congregation. It is imperative that they be able to explain things as they shepherd the flock.

Carraway also speaks of a concern I have. This primarily happens in smaller churches, but also seems to happen in larger churches too. Not all people that are teaching possess the gift to do so. I’ve said earlier in this series that in smaller churches, responsibilities fall to the six or seven willing people to do. That means that people that don’t necessarily have the gift are teaching. If you’ve ever experienced boring, monotone, or teachers that weren’t clear with examples, odds are you have had a person without this gifting. Churches need to try to remedy that as quickly as they can. There are people out there with the gift and sometimes there is a need to search for them.

That is the end of the five-fold ministry gifts. We will move on to other ministry gifts and next time, we’ll talk about a very overlooked gift. It is the gift of faith.

I love you guys!


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