Three incidents recently have made me painfully aware of what the Bible means when it says:
Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.James 3:1
The first incident was when I carelessly gave my opinion on a controversial subject. I was unaware that my random thoughts would cause a new believer to leave the class. I only made the connection weeks later when I inquired about her absence from a friend.
The second was while teaching a Bible college class of young adults. In my hurry to cover certain material and avoid rabbit trails, I interrupted a student who was trying to answer my question. I saw her body shut down. Literally, she wilted!
The third incident was just yesterday when I told a student that his answer was good, only it wasn’t the answer to the question I had asked. I said it lightly and was attempting to illustrate a method, but he laughed and made jokes about not ever speaking up again. And he was not the only one.
Will other students now be afraid to speak up for fear that I will tell them their answer is wrong? Will they just not come back because I might put them on the spot and make them feel dumb? Will they no longer listen to me because I said something offensive or insensitive?
In each occasion, I let method and agenda trump people and relationships. The teacher in me was only concerned with getting a point across. I did not consider the person until it was too late. The words were out and it was time to do damage control.
So what does a teacher do in this case? I apologized. In the first instance, the student is gone, so I apologized to their friend. In the other two cases, I wrote an email apology to the class as soon as possible and then gave a verbal apology the next time the class met. I want to keep short accounts. I want my class to know that I am aware of the effect my words have on them. I never want to discourage attendance or participation because of my words or methods.
I am sobered and humbled. I cannot do this task alone. I MUST rely on the Holy Spirit’s guidance. I must be so sure of my identity and my message that I can accept correction and graciously respond to challenges. So to those who teach, remember…
- People trump methods
- Listen to the Holy Spirit’s nudging to apologize or make amends
- Admit to the class that you failed and hurt someone
- Invite the class to question you, to challenge you (in a polite way) and form their own opinions
Teaching God’s Word is an awesome responsibility but it is also an honor and a joy. I am grateful that his word is “living and active” (Hebrews 4:12) and does not totally depend on me, the messenger.