Great Teachers Make Teachers

A teacher accomplishes more by training 10 new teachers than teaching 100 new disciples.

It isn’t that teaching disciples is somehow less important; teaching is, in fact, the way Christians are equipped for the work of ministry to grow to maturity (Ephesians 4:11–13). But if teaching is so important, then it stands to reason that churches benefit greatly if more people are trained to teach effectively. Unfortunately, evangelists are rarely given the time and space to train others to do what they do, the way they do it. Unless an evangelist is spending time with a “preaching intern,” training often isn’t seen as part of the job description. Ultimately, this practice results in two particular problems: the evangelist shoulders a disproportionate amount of the teaching load, and the church has no recourse to continue the work of teaching once that evangelist leaves.

While teaching ought to be central to anyone’s understanding of the work of an evangelist, it doesn’t mean that the evangelist is the only one expected to teach effectively. Were this true, how could teaching well be a defining characteristic of pastoral leadership? Shouldering the burden of instructing disciples, if it isn’t shared, can easily consume evangelists, since there are no others available to do what they’re doing. Not all who are gifted teachers devote their lives to doing the work of an evangelist, but the work of an evangelist would be far less burdensome if those with the gift of teaching were equipped to minister alongside the evangelist tasked with equipping them.

If an evangelist is being supported by a church or churches to be devoted to the ministry of the word, you’d expect a resulting proficiency in reading, interpreting, teaching, and proclaiming biblical truth. And while this proficiency may be appreciated and admired from afar, it bears no continuing fruit in the realm of developing more mature teachers unless said evangelist has the time to train others within the church to be proficient as well. In other words, church leaders who want to see a legacy of effective teaching must make time and space for evangelists to give their work the best chance of continuing in their absence—by training others to do the kinds of things an evangelist does.

The biblical precedent for this concept of skilled teaching that makes more teachers manifests beautifully among the people of God as they prepare to construct the tabernacle:

Moses then said to the Israelites, “Look, the LORD has appointed by name Bezalel son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah. He has filled him with God’s Spirit, with wisdom, understanding, and ability in every kind of craft to design artistic works in gold, silver, and bronze, to cut gemstones for mounting, and to carve wood for work in every kind of artistic craft. He has also given both him and Oholiab son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan, the ability to teach others. He has filled them with skill to do all the work of a gem cutter; a designer; an embroiderer in blue, purple, and scarlet yarn and fine linen; and a weaver. They can do every kind of craft and design artistic designs. Bezalel, Oholiab, and all the skilled people are to work based on everything the LORD has commanded. The LORD has given them wisdom and understanding to know how to do all the work of constructing the sanctuary.” (Exodus 35:30–36:1 CSB)

Several things stand out to me in this passage. First, skilled teachers are those who’ve worked with the materials essential for the task at hand. Second, there’s a clear distinction between skillfully working with materials and teaching others how to work with them. And finally, skilled teachers with wisdom and understanding are the very people charged with leading others to work according to the pattern.

The image of building the tabernacle helps me see a more nuanced perspective of the work of an evangelist, since the body of Christ is also being built—though by teaching and equipping saints. Evangelists today work with materials that are essential for the task at hand. They frequently work with the text of the Bible, consult context-clarifying resources, and refine the practice of communicating the text in a way that makes it real and relevant for fellow Bible students. Those are the basic tools necessary for transmitting transformative truth to disciples who desire to grow thereby.

But building the body of Christ together means equipping other builders with the necessary tools. There’s a difference between evangelists who skillfully work with the word and those who equip others to do so as well. Evangelists would be far more effective in churches if they weren’t the only ones who knew how to use the “tools of the trade.”

And just like the master craftsmen who led the builders of the tabernacle to work according to the pattern God revealed to Moses, evangelists are accountable for leading God’s people today to do the works he’s prepared according to the pattern he revealed in Jesus. That means that not only should evangelists be working skillfully with the word and equipping other disciples to do so as well, but that they should be the primary ones tasked with making sure that new teachers are trained according to the pattern Christ revealed in his body, for his body.