This is my question for all the preachers, teachers, and Sunday school volunteers. Whether you’re male or female, I want you to answer this question:
Why do you teach?
If we’re honest, I could almost guarantee you that every woman out there has already asked herself this question. I’m not a man, so I can’t speak for them. But women? They’ve asked why. And more importantly, they’ve asked, “should I teach?”.
The answers to those questions are important. The answer drives us as teachers. The answer, to some degree, defines our teaching. And the answer is usually the defining matter for what our ministry will look like.
If you’ve read this far and you’re wondering if this post is just another post about why women should teach and how, as a man, it has nothing to do with you, then you’re wrong. Please keep reading. Because this question is for both men and women, and the answers that men and women give to this question are so extremely important.
- Do you teach because you can?
- Do you teach because you’re gifted?
- Do you teach because God called you to it?
Tell me, why do you teach?
- Do you teach to make a statement?
- Do you teach to prove someone wrong?
- Do you teach because you feel it’s your right?
Seriously, tell me: why do you teach?
- Do you teach because you feel obligated?
- Do you teach because the world is watching?
- Do you teach because you think it’s biblical?
Why, why do you teach?
I ask myself that question every single day. And every single day I wake up feeling differently about why I do what I do. One of the best questions you can ever ask yourself is “why?”. The answer to that question, no matter what comes after it, might surprise you. But what might surprise you even more is if you ask the opposite question:
Why can’t you teach?
Tell me, why can’t you stand up and teach people? Does that thought ever cross your mind? If so, why does it go through your head? If not, why doesn’t that thought go through your head?
Go ahead, tell me. The answer might surprise you.
- Is it because you were told you can’t?
- Is it because you’re a woman?
- Is it because God didn’t call you to do it?
Why can’t you teach? Do you have an answer to that question?
- Is it because you’re too old?
- Is it because you’re too young?
- Is it because of something you read?
When you look me in the eye and tell me I can’t teach, my immediate response is one of acceptance and shame for what I do. But after the moment has passed, my response is to ask, “why not?”.
I could recite to you backwards all the reasons I grew up believing I couldn’t teach. I could sing them to you in a song. I could probably even convince someone that I’m right about something that I no longer believe.
But what I’ve learned over the past year is that the subject of teaching is not as black and white as some would make it out to be. And in the midst of the fear of being wrong about what I believe, I’ve felt God’s grace cover me. I’ve spent restless nights wrestling with scripture and opinions and theologies. I’ve had “light bulb moments” and “head in hands so confused I could scream” moments.
And at the end of the day, I’ve come back to one small whisper of an answer in my heart: “You teach, because I asked you to do it. You believe you shouldn’t because that’s what you were taught, not because you’ve ever actually wrestled with it, not because that’s your conclusion. You speak because I told you to. You remain silent because you’re afraid of disappointing the people you love, you’re afraid of disappointing who you once believed me to be. You teach because relationship with me does not depend on the perfection of your performance. Relationship with me rests on my unending grace. You teach because it’s playing a part in building our relationship that nothing else could.”.
And that’s what I lean on. On the days when I feel strong, on the nights when I feel as weak and as insignificantly small as a snowflake, I have to cling to the truth that God’s Spirit resides within me, that I will mess up, but God is never surprised and never loses control. And most importantly, my teaching does not define me: Jesus does. What Jesus did for me is the essence of who I am, He is my very worth.
So to the men I leave this challenge: Tell me why you teach. If you’ve never asked yourself that question, ask it now. The answer might surprise you. And the next time you feel called to make a joke about women in ministry, or women being silent, or women teaching, make sure you know who you’re about to make it to. Sometimes those jokes are funny. Sometimes they’re appropriate. But make sure that any of the women present aren’t struggling with what you believe shouldn’t even be an issue.
To the women I leave this challenge: Tell me why you can’t teach. If you’ve never asked yourself that question, ask it now. The answer might surprise you. Mine did. But also tell me why you do teach. Why? Because the answer might surprise you. And it’s important for you to know why you do what you do. Is the answer founded in shame, pride, or tradition? If so, then you’re probably teaching with the wrong motivation.
To both I would say this: if there were more people, more teachers, preachers, and Sunday school volunteers who woke up every day asking themselves why they teach, then I think there would be less stories of scandal, less bad teaching, and less confusion over who is right and who is wrong.
So at the end of the day, why do you teach? If you don’t know why, then no one else will know either.
Written by Ellen Stark
SBS Staff North Carolina