What makes great teaching? Great teaching means creating great people. Where there are disciples, great teaching has taken place. We know that Jesus’ teaching was great, not because we find his stories interesting, but because we know that his men turned the world upside down. When our students turn the world upside down, we have done a reasonable good job of teaching. Jesus told us to make disciples, not merely make converts. The object of Christian teaching is measured by the lives that are produced.

Where there are no disciples there was no great teaching. You may have a great lecture and not produce disciples. You may have a mediocre lecture, but somehow, lives were changed. Teaching took place. I have seen stimulating discussion that kept people talking about the subject on the drive home and hours later. It is likely that good teaching took place. It is likely that changed lives are forthcoming.

Teaching is not about methods. It is about results. And the results of which I speak are changed lives. We are out to create people who enjoy God and get along with people. This is exactly how Paul evaluated his teaching. He wasn’t eloquent: “My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words,” (1 Corinthians 2:4). He did change lives: “You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.” (2 Corinthians 3:3) What people could you point to and say, “These people are living the disciple’s life because of me.”

Teaching that produces disciples is good teaching. Anything less is not enough.

In Double Your Class I said that the first principle in my philosophy of ministry is quality is more important than quantity. If I cannot point to men or women, boys or girls who are loving God, loving people and living holy lives I have failed. All the parties in Disneyland doesn’t change that. Getting a crowd together doesn’t change that. Even teaching a lesson that everyone compliments me on and says how interesting or helpful—that is not the point. The point, again, is Monday morning.

Here’s the rub: To some degree you are responsible for the kind of lives your students live. Not just the stuff you teach, but the stuff they do. Consider this: “Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.” (Hebrews 13:17) This verse is a command to all of us to submit to our leaders, but note a little subtlety that can sneak by if we don’t catch it. Leaders must give an account, not only for their behavior, but for the stewardship they have over the group.

What’s the Point?

Soon after he began teaching, my friend Ken Woods asked me, “How much time should I spend preparing to teach my lesson?” My answer was on target, as far as it went: “That is not really the point Ken, the point is not what you do at home, the point is what you do in class. In some sense, the less time the better. We all have busy schedules. If you can prepare a lesson that will be a “10” in 2 hours, don’t spend 4 doing it.”

When Lou Cowden read this manuscript for me, he pointed out an equally valid answer: 20 years. Our best lessons are not taught the first five years we teach. This is one of the exciting things about teaching year after year after year. The accumulation of knowledge builds over time. Each year you get better. I think about teachers like Lucille Eichholtz, who taught second graders in our Sunday School for 35 years. There will be a lot of high profile evangelists, authors and preachers who get in line behind her on the judgement day. The more years we spend teaching, the better lessons we can prepare. Still, there is no particular virtue in spending any unnecessary time on any particular lesson. All things being equal, the less time we spend the better.

This is part of why we purchase good Bible study aids. Not because we can’t dig it all out manually, but if better aids help us in getting at the same truth in half the time, so much the better. If a computerized Bible program can get me the information I need in 3 nanoseconds instead of 30 minutes, so much the better. There are plenty of things to be done and good tools just give us more time to do them. More time for calling, more time for cultivating group life. As far as that goes, more time to go to the movies with your wife. That is not so bad. This is what I tried to communicate to Ken, and I think my answer was good, as far as it goes.

But it doesn’t go near far enough.

The point is not what happens in the teacher’s home in preparation. The point is not even what happens with the teacher in class in presentation. The point is what happens in the student in class. The test of teaching is never what the teacher does; it is what the student learns. This is why videos can supplement our teaching: if you find a 30 minute message by Chuck Swindoll that says it better than you ever could, why not use it? If the student learns, the teacher has taught. I have heard teachers argue, “I just don’t feel fulfilled as a teacher if all I do is punch play on a video recorder.” But you see, this is not about the teacher feeling fulfilled. The class does not exist so that the teacher can feel fulfilled. The teacher exists so that the class will learn. Who cares that the teacher did not have to spend time preparing the lecture? (There are some disadvantages to video, and we will deal with that in more detail later.) What I want you to see is that teaching is not about certain gestures or questions or stories or activities. Teaching is not about the teacher. Teaching is about students learning. If a video will, in fact, cause the student to learn better than any other thing I could do, then that is the best method, even if I am bored and don’t feel important or used. Teaching is not about making me feel important or used, or easing my boredom. It is about serving a group by causing them to learn. It is not about me; it is about them.

As I thought about it further, I realized even this was not enough. Let me summarize what I had learned so far:

  • The point is not what happens in the teacher’s home.
  • The point is not what happens with the teacher in class.
  • The point is what happens in the student in class.

The point is not that the student feels entertained or interested or stimulated or whatever. The point is, will he live differently Monday morning?

I thought about that for about a year before I realized that this was not enough. It is not about the student feeling moved in class; it is about the student moving when he gets out of class. The point is not how high the student jumps, but how straight he walks when he gets down. It isn’t what happens in class that matters, it is what happens in the student’s home (and office and golf course and so on) that matters. The point is not that the students feel entertained or interested or stimulated or whatever. The point is, will they live differently Monday morning?

Hunt, Josh, and Larry Mays. 2010. Disciple-Making Teachers. Edited by Bob Buller. Josh Hunt.