Constructing a Philosophy of Teaching for Your Church

Four reasons to do it

1. Because teaching should matter to the church.

This kind of careful attention to the teaching ministry of the church is absolutely warranted given the high value ascribed to teaching in Scripture (Matt. 28.20; Deut. 6.7; Heb. 5.12-14; James 3:1; 2 Tim. 1.13-14).  Teaching in the early church was carried out substantially by elders in each city, and overseers like Timothy and Titus were tasked with ensuring that the teaching in the city adhered to the apostolic teachings which they had received. Teaching can be a conduit for truth or error, heresy or orthodoxy, and for churches to have a nonchalant approach stands in stark contrast to the directives of Scripture and the practice of the early church.

2. Because church shouldn’t be a fly-by-night enterprise.

I think a lot of people fear mission or philosophy or purpose statements because those sorts of things seem to be more appropriate in the business world. But if you think about it, businesses use mission or philosophy or purpose statements because they make sense. They realize the biblical principle of Prov. 29.18, “where there is no vision, people are unrestrained.” Propositional directives are a must in daily life, in business, and in the ministry of the church.

3. Because you don’t need to wait until problems occur in order to standardize expectations.

A teacher who’s been teaching for several years ends up telling a class that he’s not certain about biblical inerrancy. A teacher ends up carrying out a knock-down-drag-out discussion regarding the Christian’s use of alcohol. A woman volunteers to lead a mixed gender Bible study. Your church may have varying levels of concern for each of these cases, but hopefully you recognize the need to have a philosophy that addresses where your church stands on all of these issues before the questions arise. Setting the bar upfront will save you the headache of trying to fix an issue gone awry further down the trail.

4. Because Jesus serves as a model for a teaching philosophy.

Jesus wasn’t just the model teacher, he modeled a practical teaching philosophy for the disciples. He had specific reasons why he used parables on various occasions. He revealed certain teachings in systematic manners to his disciples. He relied on certain specific modes of questioning and logic. All of these facts and more point to the idea that Jesus had a particular philosophy of teaching in mind as he instructed his disciples. If Jesus had a defined approach to teaching, so should we!

Six questions to ask in order to construct it

1. What is the purpose of the teaching ministry?

Your purpose for the teaching ministry should be an outflow of the overall purpose statement for the church. A church purpose statement could read as follows: “____ Church exists to bring God glory by lifting up the Gospel in our teaching, edification, and worship, and by equipping saints to love and evangelize their community.” A followup teaching purpose statement could read as follows: “The purpose of the teaching ministry of ____ Church is to aid Christians in pursing spiritual maturity by teaching them to center their lives on the Gospel.”

2. What are the objectives of the teaching ministry?

In other words, you should be asking: what concrete steps must be taken in order to fulfill the purpose statement? Deconstruct your purpose statement and tackle it piece by piece. Typical objectives will include teaching content (breakdown of proportion of biblical, systematic, historical content), application (e.g., teaching for change), direction (e.g., Gospel-centered), and engagement (expectations of interaction, etc.). It is essential to build out what the Bible says about teaching and its importance in the church in this section.

3. What curriculum will we use?

This flows from the content section in your objectives. If you primarily let teachers instruct on books of the Bible or various topic, then you can provide direction on how they should be approaching these books. How should they determine what to include and exclude? Are there topics that should be avoided? Is there a preferred teaching method (lecture, Socratic, or hybrid)? Is there a system of books or topics that you see should be taught through? Some churches have a 5-year program that takes the congregation through the entire Bible. Other churches may alternate between biblical/systematic/historical theology during various seasons or years. This is where that program should be articulated. If you primarily provide material for your teachers, this would be an appropriate place to list that material.

4. Who can teach?

Most churches have varying approaches at different levels of the church. What kinds of qualifications or background checks are you looking for in teachers for children’s church or kids Sunday School? What about small group teachers or those teaching at the congregational level? What venues/age groups do you believe are acceptable for women to teach in? How long does someone need to be a member in order to begin teaching? What doctrinal beliefs do teachers need to assent to? Are there special behavioral guidelines that you expect for teachers? Who (specifically, what role) evaluates whether or not individuals are allowed to teach in the church? It may also be helpful to articulate ongoing methods for evaluation of teachers.

5. What is the method behind the madness?

This is different than articulating the objectives. This involves examining the existing or planned teaching events and charting a course that ends up at the family or individual level. This lowest common denominator is where churches should be aiming their teaching to be replicated by parents. Many churches use a funnel method in order to make sense of their teaching. For example, what is preached is applied and expanded on in small groups, and what is handled in small groups should end up applied and taught in the home. If you have an ideal flow such as this, here’s where you can articulate it so that your church can be on the same page with the leadership.

6. What roles do the various teaching venues play?

Think of this in terms of: (a) how they fulfill the purpose, (b) which objectives they meet, (c) implementation of curriculum for each, (d) what role oversees the teaching and teachers, and (e) how they fit into the method/flow of teaching with the church. Each teaching venue should include at least a two sentence summary that explains its role. Avoid being redundant, but rely on concepts and terms that you’ve already defined in the previous sections. As part of this process, you may ascertain that certain teaching venues are lacking or are unnecessary. This is an excellent opportunity to begin making programmatic shifts based on the prior conclusions. Categorize your teaching venues. Possible methods include: on-campus/off-campus, adult/teen/children/pre-K, men’s/women’s, Sunday/weekday, and/or lecture/discussion-based. Ideally these could be laid out on a spreadsheet prior to the final construction of the philosophy statement. The better you are able to categorize your teaching venues, the better you can fit them into the overall teaching program or perhaps see gaps in your existing teaching structure.

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