My friend had completed his doctoral studies and after all the research, writing and scholar activities he was ready to celebrate. What followed was a series of parties, dinners and celebrations with family, colleagues, and friends.
At the end of the celebrations, he went to dinner for a quiet intimate celebration with just his wife and children. They had made an enormous sacrifice and he wanted to thank them as well as celebrate. He later confessed that the status of his doctorate and celebrations had inflated his ego a bit. His daughter saw fit to help with that.
During dinner she asked her dad “Now that you’re a doctor can you write prescriptions for medicine?” He answered “No, it’s not that kind of doctorate, it’s an academic and scholarly degree.” She replied, “Oh, so you’re a doctor that can’t help anybody”! Everyone laughed, and his ego was deflated.
Unfortunately, many of today’s teachers including many in the church are teachers that “can’t help anybody.” Extensive time and effort is made on communicating Bible knowledge and proper doctrine with little attention given to life transformation.
In the final participle of the Great Commission, Jesus addresses this issue. As we have already noted the Commission itself is to “make disciples,” with three participles describing how that is done; going, baptizing and today we look at the third and final, teaching.
Teaching That Helps
The final participle is teaching, a concept at the very heart of children’s ministry. Children’s ministry is definitely about teaching.
We need teachers to serve in children’s ministry. In fact, teaching is a central aspect of the ministry. That’s why I’m going to explain what we mean by teaching.
The Greek word for teaching (διδάσκω) is from the root dek, meaning “to accept, extend the hand to… and the idea of repeatedly extending the hand for acceptance; the word therefore suggests the idea of causing someone to accept something."
In its various forms, this word occurs fourteen times in Matthew.
Consider these observations about Jesus’ teaching, all found in the Gospel of Matthew:
- Jesus taught in a variety of venues: Synagogue (4:23, 9:35, 13:54), Open air (5:1), and Temple (21:23, 26:55)
- Speaking with unique authority (7:29, 21:23), Jesus taught people about Himself, the kingdom of God, and the real meaning of the Scriptures.
- Jesus’ teaching was relevant to the real life of the people He spoke to, and He wanted people to live according to the lessons He taught (5:19, 15:9, 25:16).
- Jesus commissioned His disciples to teach others what He had taught them (Matthew 28:20).
In contrast to the mentioned-only-one-time notion of baptism, Matthew’s gospel contains a great amount of Jesus’ teaching, starting with His early teaching in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5) and continuing throughout the gospel.
Particularly important for children’s workers is Jesus’ reference to teaching in the Sermon on the Mount. Let’s set the scene.
In Matthew 5:1 we find out where Jesus was and who was with Him:
"Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them." (Matthew 5:1-2)
Did you notice that the disciples were the primary focus of Jesus’ teaching? This detail is significant because it clarifies the meaning of His later teaching in Matthew 5:19-7:27.
“Anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:19-20)
Imagine being one of Jesus’ disciples and hearing that He wants your righteousness to exceed that of the Pharisees! Impossible! The Pharisees knew so well both the Law and the commandments. They had studied for years. How can you achieve that kind of righteousness?
But—as if reading your mind—another disciple reminds you that, according to Jesus, the Pharisees had set aside their knowledge of God’s Law and His commandments. What they knew in their head did not impact or integrate into their life.
Jesus, however, wanted His disciples to know the commands, practice them (unlike the Pharisees!), and teach them to others.
Clearly, in the Gospel of Matthew, in general and in this passage in particular, the Pharisees appeared to have problems on two fronts.
First, the Pharisees did know Scripture very well. They could quote Scripture, cite the locations of specific texts, explain their meaning, and teach their interpretation of the Law. However, the Pharisees were wrong about some critical points.
Wanting them to understand—and teach—the truth of Scripture, Jesus corrected them on numerous occasions (Matthew 9:1-7, 12:1-8, 15:1-12). While the Pharisees’ zealousness for the truth was admirable, their misunderstanding of some fundamental truths put them at odds with Jesus’ teachings.
Second, the Pharisees did not do what they taught others to do, so of course they were also not transformed by what they taught. Jesus pointed this out in the famous “woes” passage in Matthew 23. He forcefully condemned the Pharisees by using the term hypocrite (ὑποκριταί) seven times in a single passage.
In the Greek world hypocrisy described an actor in a play. Jesus’ use of the word refers to the “jarring contradiction between what [the Pharisees] say and what they do, between the outward appearance and the inward lack of righteousness."
The Pharisees’ understanding of God’s truth was flawed. Furthermore, their actions did not align with what they taught. Similarly, their character was inconsistent with their own teaching. Maybe now Jesus’ command that His disciples’ righteousness surpass that of the Pharisees sounds more within reach.
Followers of Jesus are to embrace the truth that God revealed in Christ Jesus. The actions of His followers are to be consistent with that truth, and transformation of the heart will be the ultimate fruit.
Going, baptizing, teaching—these are the three means by which disciples are made.
Effective teaching presents God’s truth in a way that compels children to live according to that truth and, as a result, to ultimately experience the transformation of the heart.
Teaching in Jesus’ day—and today and in the years between—was limited to the dissemination of facts, information, and “truth.” The Pharisees limited teaching to head knowledge and added falsehoods, misinformation, and mistakes as well as rules not found in the Torah (the Jewish Scripture).
In addition to communicating accurate facts, correct information, and solid biblical truth, teaching also means giving the learners the opportunity to respond to that revelation of truth with their actions, words, and life choices.
The goal of Christlike teaching was—and is—for hearers to live a transformed life, the life of a disciple.
Nowhere is this understanding of teaching more essential than in our ministry among boys and girls. We can summarize it this way:
Truth – We need to teach the truth of God’s Word to boys and girls. Our goal is not their rote learning of various ideas from some random curriculum. Instead, we are to teach carefully designed lessons that present children with truth from the Bible and that meet their real-life needs. Every week around the world, preachers look afresh at God’s Word and communicate to the congregation the truth God revealed to them as they studied His Word. Children deserve no less. Activities, application, discussion, memory work, and the like are helpful only if they clearly teach biblical truth.
Practice – We effectively teach the Word of God to children when we keep in mind the “So what?” question. In other words, we should be teaching toward application and life response. Truth trapped in the children’s mind won’t lead to actions that honor God. But application and practice do not come automatically; we need to teach not only God’s truth but also—and this is crucial—the application and practice of God’s truth.
Character –The ultimate goal of effective teaching is the transformation of a child’s heart. We are to teach in a way that positions children for God’s abiding work in their heart. It is not enough for us to practice what we preach; rather the children—and we ourselves—should be transformed by practicing what we preach.
Up to this point, Jesus had urged His disciples to go, baptize, and teach others in order to “make disciples of all the nations.”
Next week we will conclude our mini-series with a look at the qualities and characteristics of a disciple of Jesus Christ, particularly a disciple who is a child.