You cannot teach anyone to be something you’re not, or to do something you can’t do yourself. So before you teach, you must learn, and as you teach, you must continue to learn. The minister as teacher is an easy role to fall into for a lot of us. We’ve got this master’s degree that requires three times more credit hours than most other masters degrees do, and we’ve got some situations where we have a captive audience – Sunday school, adult education, preaching, new member classes and so on. I think its pretty obvious that we have all of this knowledge to pass it on.
We also need to remember that we are teaching all the time because as ministers, we are under some extra scrutiny in our behavior. Bad things seem worse when ministers do them, and good things get you a lot less credit because they’re often assumed. We teach by modeling behavior, and people will pick up on what we’re doing, whether we like it or not. When we’re caught up in an ugly conflict, when something goes right and we’re excited, when we fail and have to own up to it, part of what we are doing is demonstrating what it looks like to be Christian – whether we want to or not.
Our best teaching tool is ourselves. In a postmodern context, there is no pastoral authority to rely on. We don’t have the luxury of saying something and living out something else. Even if we did, would we want to? That’s a sheisty way of making a living. So we’re not going to be perfect, but we can’t just rely on what we say to teach. We have to remember that what we do teaches even more.
The minister as student is the obvious parallel, and for the most part I’m not really talking about the minister-as-person-who-reads-theology-in-their-closed-office. I think that if you pay careful attention, people will teach you how to be a pastor to them. You have a lot of preparation, but if its all about what you give and what others receive, then you’re not really in a relationship.
This has even been true for me in the literal classroom. I get bored of hearing myself talk, and I’m clear from the beginning – we’re all here to learn. Its crazy to stand there, a 28 year old guy, and think that I have all this stuff to teach people who have two or three times as much life experience as I have. Even when leading a class of 12-year-olds, I’m learning the whole time. I always come away from those classes with at least one thing I’ve learned, even if its just how to screw up less next time.
Its easy for anyone to fall into a routine that becomes a rut. I’ve seen a number of pastoral libraries which have a rich variety, leading up to about a year after the person graduated seminary, at which point there are almost no new books. That’s kind of a bad sign. Apart from books, I think a minister needs to be a student of the world around them. You have to remember how to speak the language of people who aren’t professional Christians. The church as it exists now is, shall we say, sometimes a bit cloistered. It has its own language, rituals, mores, traditions, symbology and so on which is increasingly incomprehensible to the outside world. This is bad, but you can’t do anything about it if you don’t decide to address the issue by continuously learning.