Do you know how your church leader was trained? Maybe you know what college or seminary they went to? Perhaps you know what courses they’ve attended or even what books they’re reading to keep up with their studies.
Christians have a long record of taking education seriously and for training their leaders to understand the Scriptures and with good Biblical precedent. Just consider these verses from second Timothy: 2 Tim 1:13, 2 Tim 2:2, 2 Tim 3:16-17. In the context of false teaching, Paul stresses the importance to Timothy of knowing his stuff.
So when you consider training Christian leaders what do you imagine? My guess is that, for most people they would picture a classroom setting with earnest students learning Greek and Hebrew, and important subjects like Biblical Theology etc.. My guess is you probably imagine something close to a university. What you imagine is the transfer of information and knowledge from a group of clever people to your church leader and then hope for the best.
Let’s try another question: Do you know who trained your church leader? Do you know their names? Have you heard of them? There is, of course, a chance that your leader was trained by someone well-known in theological education so if your leader was lucky enough to have studied under an NT Wright for example, you may know that. My guess, again, is that most people have not the faintest idea who trained your leader. More worryingly, your leader might not either.
They might remember their names and what subject they taught, they might remember whether they were interesting or boring, whether they felt helped or hindered by their classes but I wonder how well they knew their teachers, their way of life, the inner workings of their faith?
Why is this even important? It’s important, because it was important to the apostle Paul. I would argue that for Paul it was absolutely critical and all other learning was based upon this foundation.
You, however, know all about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance… (2 Tim 3:10)
Take a look at that list, how much is knowledge and how much is character? So if the Bible college helped your leader with the first one, who helped them with the others? If it was the same people, all well and good but it is at least worth asking the question.
Even that most beloved verse for evangelicals 2 Tim 3:16 is built on the foundation of Timothy knowing who taught him this. Read the two verses prior to that.
But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus (2 Tim 3:14-15)
Because you know those from whom you learned it. Do you know what they’re like on their day-off, in the mornings, when they’re fighting the battles of faith (winning or losing), have you seen them share the gospel, pray for the hurting, reach out to the lost, care for the poor? Have you seen them love God with all their heart, mind, soul and strength and their neighbour as themselves? Do you know how they pray and worship?
When Paul says then that elders should be able to teach do you think he just meant preaching? When he says in we should find ‘reliable men able to teach others’ is it simply teaching on a Sunday morning he’s thinking of? I don’t think those things are unimportant – Paul tells Timothy to keep hold of ‘the things you have heard from me’, so this is no ‘preach the gospel, use words if necessary’ thinking. Instead it is this, the life of your teacher should be inextricably bound to their words. Their life gives weight and proof and conviction to what they say because they match. What they tell you about Jesus is seen in how they live. What they tell you about God is seen in how they pray, what they say about evangelism and mission is matched by what they do, generosity by how they give, love by how they treat the poor, patience by how they treat their kids.
In other words no hypocrites, but the problem for many is that they wouldn’t know their teacher well enough to even know that. It’s also why pastors need to be in community groups and have friends in the church, to be seen at play as much as at work.
I know the books on my shelves, but I don’t know many of the authors. I’ve learned a great deal from them, even the ones who later have turned out not to have lived it out themselves. I know those who have taught me the most about what it means to be a Christian leader and I know those who taught me theology. The two are not the same.
We need Christian leaders who can think, know their Greek and their apologetics. However we need them to share their way of life with their students, their purpose, faith, patience and love more.