The Tongues of the Church
A few weeks ago I began a discussion of the importance of youth education in the church, seeking particularly to drive home the point that we should expect more for them and from them. If our students are to leave the church as modern day Josiahs rather than Jezebels we must give serious consideration to the matter of education in the Christian church and home. (See previous posts)
If we are to take corrective measure we must evaluate several aspects of education: teaching, curriculum, the relationship between the church/school and home, and finally the disposition/dedication of the learner. Let’s consider these matters in order; first of all, the teacher.
James says in James 3:1, “Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.” This verse in itself does serious damage to the modern day philosophy of the typical Baptist church, that “almost everyone” should serve as teachers. The foundational element of Christian ed. in most churches, particularly Baptist ones, is the small group. In the traditional setting these are typically referred to as Sunday School classes. Success is measured in numerical growth. Numerical growth comes by multiplication. Classes are challenged to start new classes. The commitment of the structure is to gain more and more students by offering more and more classes. The end result is a fully graded Sunday School slate for children and a plethora of targeted classes for adults that range from everything as mundane as the “Your Married and 30 So Go Here Class” to the “We Ride Harleys on the Weekend Road Warrior Class.” In the melee of multiplication there is great excitement but a vitally important element is most often ignored that results in a growing-church that is 100 miles wide and 1 inch deep. What have we neglected? We have succeeded in multiplying students, but we have failed to do the serious work of grooming truly gifted, Biblically sound, Christ-centered, expositors of the Word of God - real teachers.
It seems that the early New Testament church suffered from the same struggle. There was an ever growing need for learning and discipleship and a corresponding famine of real teachers. To solve the issue, they like we, must have found the first willing soul and given them a quarterly, or in the case of James a papyrus scroll of copied text. Yet we must remember, a quarterly in a willing hand does not a teacher make! So James was honest about the situation and tells the church plainly that not everyone who currently fills a teaching position is qualified to teach. “Not many” or “Not as many of you should become teachers.” Though James is direct, his counsel is given in love. Though he is judging them, he is not abandoning them, “my brothers.” Though he is harsh, he is concerned, “for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.” I do not think James is necessarily saying that they should quit and never teach again. I think what James is saying is that in the very least they should not continue teaching as they are without giving more serious consideration to what they are doing. Why?
Teachers are the tongues of the church.
Beginning in verse 2 James launches into an exposition on the danger of the tongue. The working metaphor is that little things can make a big difference. A tongue is one of the smallest body parts, but is powerful through speech. A rudder is a small part of the ship, but it determines its course. A bit is only a small piece of metal, but it has the power to steer a horse. A spark is only a tiny momentary flash of heat, but it can quickly turn a field into flame.
Teachers, comparative to the numbers of students may be few, but they hold a great deal of sway over the actual outcome of discipleship in the church. Teachers are the tongues, rudders, bits, and sparks of the church. We need then to be diligent not only to start classes, but to train teachers. Faithful to the metaphor in James 3, perhaps we should do something relatively small that will pay big dividends in the direction of the church. I am like James. I am not calling on teachers to necessarily quit, but I am calling on our teachers to give serious consideration to what they are doing. We cannot continue as we are. A small amount of regular time devoted to training, oversight, and faithful exposition of the text could make a big difference in what we are hearing from the tongues of the church. In the end we will begin to see a big difference in our students. Great teachers inspire great students. Let’s be more diligent in the task of grooming faithful teachers.
More to come (How to Teach)
For a good exposition of James 3 see David P. Nystrom, The NIV Application Commentary: James