A Teacher Is a Disciple First and Always

Jeffrey C. Waddington

The apostle Paul told his protégé Timothy that men ought to possess God-given, Holy Spirit–produced, Christ-exemplifying character in order to serve as ministers of the gospel (1 Tim. 3:2; 2 Tim. 2:24; Titus 1:9). Using this array of gifts, a minister must be able to teach or give sound instruction, with the corresponding skill to refute false doctrine and living. We are more than familiar with this.

But have you ever thought about what being a teacher of the Word involves? Sure. We know that men who are called to the sacred office ought to be both pious and learned (to use the language common in another era). Piety and knowledge are like two legs, and to ask which is more important, the left leg or the right leg, is silly on the surface. The Gospels record that our Lord Jesus Christ trained twelve men for approximately three years before he gave his life for us and was raised and returned to the Father’s right hand (Luke 5:1–11; John 17:1–26). Before that, there were schools of the prophets, where young men lived with an established, mature prophet and learned the ins and outs of the prophetic vocation (2 Kings 4:38–44).

A truism in the world of leadership is that you must learn to be a follower before you can be a leader. This is more so in the Christian life and in ministry. The apostolic band in the early church had to spend time with Jesus before it could go into all the world (Matt. 28:19–20; Acts 4:13). Ministers today must learn to be faithful disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ too. A disciple is a learner or student or follower. And a minister is a disciple, not just at the beginning of the Christian life, but his whole life long. So if a minister must be able to teach and also be a lifelong disciple, then he needs to continuously learn from both God’s Word and God’s world.

In our day, ministers are typically trained for pastoral ministry in college and seminary. The college and seminary experience today, especially when we include an internship in a local congregation under the tutelage of an experienced minister, is much like the three years of training that the apostles received. Paul probably underwent a lengthy training period too (see Acts 9:30; 11:25; Gal. 1:17).

A man does not cease to be a disciple when he graduates from seminary. As grueling as the training can be (and it is!), seminary professors give men skills that they will utilize for the rest of their lives. There is not enough time in seminary to study every last aspect of each department of theology thoroughly. What a student gains is a certain skill set. This skill set will enable the man who is called, examined, ordained, and installed as a minister of the Word, to be able to study and learn day in and day out.

As I noted earlier, a minister as a disciple is to be a student of God’s Word and his world. We are to be students of people and life. The point is that the man who never cracks the covers of a book after he leaves seminary ought to be ashamed. If every Christian disciple is a lifelong learner, the minister-teacher is more so.

Years ago I had an exchange of letters with a Christian college president, and he shared his reading schedule with me. While lifelong learning should not be limited to reading books, journals, and websites, it certainly should include that. This mature minister told me that he was always reading through eight to ten books at any given time. He of course studied the Scriptures directly. But he also read from a Bible commentary, a church history book, a systematics book, one or two favorite theologians, a book on pastoral theology, something on apologetics, and also books on secular history and philosophy, as well as great literature and poetry. Our own unique interests will no doubt play a part in the variety of material we read.

The fact of the matter is that we cannot be helpful nurturing teachers if we are not ourselves continually learning. A lake that only empties into rivers and streams without also receiving waters from rivers and streams will eventually run dry. Oceans will dry up without regular rainfall. You get my point. Truth be told, if we whom God has called to be his minister-teachers have no interest in taking in as well as giving out, that is a good indicator that we have not been called and fitted for ministry.

The Reformed scholastics used to talk about a habitus that the man who would be a disciple and minister must manifest. A habitus is a habit or inclination or desire to learn. Without this, we are not fit for duty. Of course, I do not mean to suggest this is the only requirement a minister must meet. Surely it is not.

I have not attempted to give a comprehensive catalog of all the character traits a minister needs to be faithful. My concern is simply to remind us that, as Christian disciples, we should want to learn all that we can from God’s Word and world. And this is especially true for the man who would be a minister of God’s Word. A disciple of Christ seeks to sit at Jesus’ feet and learn from him. When we learn from our Lord and Savior, we are then, with the enabling of the Holy Spirit, to share the fruits of our learning with the saints wherever we serve.

The author is the stated supply for Knox OPC in Lansdowne, Pa.


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