A few of the burdens of being a Bible teacher at a Christian school

When I say Bible teacher, I don’t mean a preacher or even a seminary professor. I also don’t mean a Sunday school teacher. I mean a Bible teacher at a Christian school. Most folks have a hard time categorizing what you do. To some, you’re a pastor, which isn’t the worst thing unless that’s all they see you as, because when you give them a bad grade on an assignment now you’re evil for grading their spirituality because they forgot you were a teacher assessing their academic skills in a range of academic disciplines related to the Bible. Some will view you as a professor. But then, when you do happen to give spiritual advice, they will tell you about their pastor’s contrary opinion to yours expecting to shut you down, or a book they read, or a podcast they listened to, or Youtube video they watched, or their own freshly formed opinion. It’s to be expected in any field every once and awhile, but something about being a Bible teacher makes people project all their opinions on Christian spirituality on to you such that they expect you to say what they are already thinking, even students, but not view your opinion as important as a pastor of a church. I know this happens in other ministry capacities too, but there are fewer category errors because the lines are more clearly drawn. The fact is, depending on how a school is structured, a Bible teacher has a foot in a pastor realm, an academic realm and a counseling realm. I believe doing the job well means owning this and clarifying what you are aiming to achieve in each setting you’re in as you are in them. It’s just part of the job, and it can take a long time for a new Bible teacher to establish as a practice and policy school wide, but it’s worth it.

Something I have been thinking about a lot is that while there is much attention given to training preachers, and Bible teachers in a church setting, there is very little to no training on teaching Bible in Christian schools. There’s becoming a pastor, a missionary, or a professor, but not an emphasis on primary or secondary schools. The markets of Christian higher education admissions and primary/secondary school Bible teaching jobs both reflect this neglect. Most Bible teacher jobs, and there are a sad few of those, have odd or few requirements, often low pay, and I cannot find a single Christian University or seminary that has a program specializing in Bible teaching to elementary or secondary school youth in a Christian school. Maybe churches and families have got it covered, but from my experience and what data I’ve been exposed to I think not, definitely not to the level needed in our secular age. Furthermore, even if they were, the majority of Christians want Christian education for their kids if they can get it, and a big part of that is because they want solid Bible education. Yet, what Bible education is is often thought of in truly nebulous and unhelpfully varied ways. Hence, many of the jobs are strange hybrids with coaching or other subject and those hired into them are either given too much administrative authority or no authority at all. In my case, my leadership takes it seriously and has given my colleague and I a lot of room to navigate the best practice in our context. Even with a green light to figure it out it is still an uphill battle, and that’s just our world, not to mention the battles inherent to any school., and a Christian one at that, topped off by the fact that we are an international school. That battles are endless. Yet, it’s worth it.

Why is all this worth it? Because of what the Bible is and what is says. If the Bible is the word of God, and I like all Christians believe that it is, and if it tells us to train up in children in the way they should go, with countless examples of that being training them in God’s word, then formally teaching youth in modern Christian schools as best we can is worth it. We also need to remember that if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well. I say there’s a lot we can do to that end.

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Beyond requirement in theological education: a reflection on longing

Though I’ve tried to change this about myself many times, my singular passion is for theological education. I wish I could switch, I’ve tried, but it stays with me.

One of the frustrations with theological education is that for many Christian traditions it is required in order to officially lead in any capacity. Many jobs within Christian institutions are reserved for those with official training of some kind, with official documentation. I’m certainly not against training, merely the result of taking a movement built by the unschooled and ordinary and putting them through a system to make them, at least seemingly, schooled and extraordinary. Many Christian leaders in the making have a passion for a great number of things, all filtered through the singular belief that Jesus Christ and his gospel will bring about his kingdom of peace, joy, love and truth. When that passion is pushed through the sieve of  institutionalized theological education the result is often varied, and too often with unfettered passion diminished under the weight of canned knowledge.

One of my primary theses regarding theological education is that it doesn’t have to be like this. We can acquire the necessary and helpful knowledge without losing passion, and even have them serve one anther. Even as a middle and high school Bible teacher, this is my goal (albeit a bloody challenge, no doubt).

I was reflecting on issues related to this this morning, and contemplating moments in my own formal training that were positively transcendent. For instance, in an otherwise dry Hebrew class when the professor sang “There is a Fountain Filled with Blood” before exegeting  Isaiah 53, pausing to explain what each detail had meant to him personally over the years, and the entire class had done more than learned about Hebrew Grammar, Jewish history, prophetic imagery, Old Testament Christology and Biblical theology, we were worshiping Christ through all of it.

In this brief reflection I just want to share an idea. Theological education happens in and out of formal training, and in all contexts I believe it transcends mere knowledge acquisition with at least one key ingredient, a deep sense of longing. And this, while always a challenge, is most helped by a pastoral teacher whose heart is heavy with gospel saturation so that with everything they do the blood of Christ is dripping everywhere.

More on this later…

My Conversation with Dr. Mike Licona

To listen to my conversation on SoundCloud, click here

I had the privilege of working with Dr. Licona on two courses for Mobile Ed, and interviewing him for the podcast. He has a great sense of humor, and though he’s a leading apologist, theologian and New Testament scholar, is incredibly down to earth.

I really appreciate scholars who want to engage in pastoral care, and Mike is the kind of guy who cares deeply about people, who doesn’t research for research’s sake, but wants to help people with their faith. I enjoyed my time with him immensely, and I hope you enjoy our conversation.