Tonight I wrapped up teaching one of our September offerings for Journey Bible Classes. Afterwards, one of the guys in the class asked what steps he should take if he thinks he might teach some day. Among other things, I said this:
Be the best listener you can be. A teacher earns the right to speak by listening well.
Have you ever had a conversation with someone who thought they knew what you were going to say, and so they kept completing your sentences, only to find out that they were wrong each time? It’s a frustrating experience, right? I think we do this as teachers.
First, we do it to the Bible. If we grew up in Church or have had any kind of Biblical training, it can be difficult to let the Bible speak for itself. We keep finishing its sentences, expecting any verse that begins with “the Gospel” to end with a reference to what some people call “substitutionary atonement”. We assume that any given verse in our Bibles is trying to answer the question, “How do I get to heaven when I die?” when very little of it may really have been written for that purpose. We turn to the Gospel of Luke and, because we’ve already read Matthew, expect the Beatitudes to speak to purely spiritual realities (“Blessed are the poor in spirit,” says Matthew). We’re unable to hear the very physical sense of earthly poverty that Jesus is speaking to in Luke when He says, “Blessed are the poor”. It all amounts to very poor listening skills. And a teacher earns the right to speak by listening well.
But we also do it to the people we’re addressing. I imagine most of us have sat through a sermon and thought of the preacher, “this guy has obviously not had a real conversation with anyone in this room! No one is asking the questions he’s answering.” I’m the chief of sinners on this front. Every gifting carries with it a unique liability, and preachers are no different. We’re wired with a passion to speak the truth, but if we’re not careful, we roll over people like a bulldozer with all of our right answers and leave them worse off than they were before we spoke. I shudder to think of how often I’ve done this to an individual or a crowd.
Daniel Boorstin is one of my favorite historians. He wrote, “The greatest obstacle to discovery is not ignorance – it is the illusion of knowledge.” I would push back slightly and say that knowledge is not all illusion, but he makes a good point. The more we think we know, the less we listen. At least I think that’s what he’s trying to say.
To listen is to seek to understand, and so listening is an act of love. I’ve had the ongoing privilege of working as an understudy to a few incredible teachers. Mark Beeson, Rob Wegner, Mark Waltz, and Bob Laurent exhibit a love for the people they teach that convicts me deeply and challenges me to be a better man. I wish every one of you could know how seriously these men believe that to teach is to carry a sobering responsibility on one’s shoulders. They ooze with pastors’ hearts as they prepare and deliver. They listen and love well. I want the same to be true of me. And whether you’re teaching in a church or school or just opening your mouth occasionally to speak to your friends, I hope you’ll listen well, too.