Mailbag #12: Training Bible Teachers; Attending a Wedding Between Professing Christian and a Muslim; Thoughts on “Re-Baptisms”; My Pastor Never Reads his Sermon Text
Recently, we heard concerns from within our church that we select “whomever we want” to teach small groups, sort of like a “good ole boy” network. That is certainly not the case. As shepherds, the other pastors and I have a sense for who might be an effective small group leader/teacher and who wouldn’t.
However, I’m concerned that our method does come across as arbitrary. In addition, as our church gets bigger, we’ll have less of a sense of who is able to teach and who isn’t. For this reason, we feel like it would be helpful to have some sort of process in place that potential teachers could go through that will help us select teachers; we need a more formal structure and process for identifying, assessing, and training teachers. Can you help me flesh this out? How does your church handle this?
My second question is also related to teaching: How doctrinally-aligned do Bible study teachers and small group leaders need to be with the elders? What about non-salvific but potentially divisive issues like dispensationalism and Israel?
—Pastor D, Georgia
Well, the church I attend has around 1000 members, and minimal structures for identifying and training teachers. So I’m not convinced you need a training program. Primarily what we offer are lots of opportunities to teach:
- Every Sunday night a different man preaches a 15-minute devotion. Almost always, this man is a lay-member.
- We always have six or seven adult Sunday School tracks running simultaneously (Basic Christianity; OT/NT Overview; Christian Life; etc). Every class in each one of those tracks lasts 6, 7, or 13 weeks, and every class has a senior teacher and a junior teacher. After the those classes are up, a new senior and junior teacher steps in. (You can see the entire 15-month schedule here; and here is the curriculum for all the classes).
- Then we have different small group teachers, and we always have a senior and junior teacher.
All told, there are dozens and dozens of opportunities for testing and training people in teaching. I’m not saying you have to adopt our structures, but you may want to look for ways to create more public teaching opportunities.
Building in opportunities for feedback is also important. That’s why we always pair a senior and junior teacher. We also have a weekly “service review” for any Sunday School teacher or evening preacher who is interested. Godly feedback that’s both encouraging and helpfully critical is very important in the training process.
Finally, we take chances. We won’t give a guy an opportunity to teach if he’s not living above reproach, but we have a pretty low bar in terms of necessary experience. First-timers have to have their first time somewhere! We try to be generous with teaching opportunities. I’ve often heard Mark Dever say that conservative evangelicals can be a little too conservative with giving young guys opportunities to make mistakes.
Here’s an illustration of how it might work. Jamie is the staff pastor responsible for assigning teachers to all the Sunday School classes. Recently, I emailed Jamie and said he ought to give Jon an opportunity to help teach an adult Sunday School. I’ve met with Jon a few times. He seems to be doing well spiritually, and he told me he’d like to be more involved in church. Plus, I have reason to think he’d be a capable teacher. Jamie asked me why I thought Jon would be a good teacher over email, but the email got buried and I never answered. The other day I was talking to Jamie in person and told him I would answer his email soon. He said he had already slotted Jon for an upcoming quarter. Great! One less email for me.
Do you see the point? Pastor Jamie didn’t need to know Jon personally. He just needed to trust me, and I recommended Jon. Then, since our church has so many teaching opportunities available, it wasn’t hard for Jamie to get Jon started as a junior teacher for a 13-week class.
In terms of doctrinal alignment, every person joining the church has to sign the statement of faith. So no teacher can teach against the statement of faith, and no teacher should insist that others believe something not specified in the statement of faith, as would be the case with someone who embraced dispensationalism. Our statement says nothing about dispensationalism. Therefore, we would expect Sunday School teachers to refrain from using their platform to promote a particular agenda. Now, from time to time, when I’m teaching, I might mention my own personal belief on some matter, but if my view is idiosyncratic or unspecified by our statement of faith, I will tell the class as much.
I hope all of this answers your question about being accused of playing favorites. If you’re creating lots of opportunities to teach, and if you’re giving people chances to make mistakes, I suspect that that criticism will eventually dissipate.
I have a friend who professes faith but is now engaged to a Muslim man. She regularly attends an attraction-driven church, and I’ve never been confident that she is a true believer, so I’m having trouble trying to decide whether to attend her wedding. Should I treat this as a wedding between two unbelievers and go, or should I hold her to her profession of faith and not go?
Probably your latter option. Generally speaking, I would not attend the wedding of a professing believer and an unbeliever. So, the first thing I would do in your situation is speak with your friend. Warn her of what the Bible says about believers marrying unbelievers (1 Cor. 7:39; 2 Cor. 6:14). Then I would make my decision about whether or not to attend the wedding depending on how that conversation went. If she concedes that she’s not really a Christian, then I might attend. If she protests that she is a Christian, but that she just really wants to be married because she’s tired of waiting (or any other reason), I would affirm my care for her and then explain why I would not attend.
I have been a member of several Baptist churches for close to 30 years. In those 30 years I have witnessed multiple “repeat baptisms.” The typical reasons given and affirmed by church leadership is “it didn’t mean anything to me the first time” or “I didn’t understand completely what it meant.” This has troubled me, as we are in essence saying to the giver/keeper/guarantor of the promise/ordinance “this didn’t mean anything the first time or second time so we’re going to pass it by you again.” Your thoughts?
Jesus gave his church two ordinances: baptism to act as the doorway in, and the Lord’s Supper as the covenantal meal for gathering the family around the dinner table. Believers should receive baptism once; the Lord’s Supper they should enjoy on a regular basis.
If a person believes that he or she was not actually a Christian when first baptized, then that person needs to be baptized. This happened to me. I “got wet” in the baptismal waters at age 7 or 8, but I don’t think I was a Christian. Therefore, I got baptized at age 30.
If, however, a person simply wants the baptism to be more “meaningful” because they weren’t really paying attention, as you say, I would tell them, “Praise God that it only takes the faith of a mustard seed to enter the kingdom of heaven. And if you had faith when you were first baptized, you were baptized, and you have nothing further to worry about. Move on!” Plus, keep in mind that baptism is a two-way statement: both the person speaks and the church who baptizes speaks. So, even if they were slightly distracted on that day they were baptized, they were speaking and the church was speaking through the baptismal act. The statement has been made. They have nothing further to do.
Sometimes, though, people will say there are “unsure” of whether they were Christians when they were baptized. I will then ask them, “When you were baptized, did you understand that Christ had died on the cross for your sins?” If they say “yes,” I will discourage another baptism. It’s to be expected that their knowledge of God in Christ will have grown since then, such that sometimes they might wonder if they really were Christians. That’s not surprising, but not a good enough reason to be “baptized” a second time. If they persist in uncertainty, I will repeat the basic principle—“you should only be baptized once, which is something you can only do as a believer”—and then I leave it to their conscience.
I can think of several dangers of second or third baptisms, aside from the fact that they’re unbiblical. First, they can encourage a kind of legalism, where I begin to evaluate my first baptism according to a set of extra criteria: “Baptism is for people with strong faith!” Second, it can encourage an unhealthy introspection and even tempt people toward doubt. Third, it can produce doubt in other believers in the church: “Man, I thought so-and-so was a believer when I saw him baptized the first time. But I guess not. Hmmm—maybe I wasn’t either?” We are saved by faith alone. Did you have faith when you were baptized? Great! That’s enough. Of course you’ve grown since then. The Spirit is powerful. And you’ll keep growing. Praise God that even weak and distracted Christians can get saved and be baptized.
(For a helpful article devoted to this topic, read this over at The Gospel Coalition.)
Over the past few years I’ve noticed that our senior pastor does not consistently read to the church the biblical text he’s preaching. Instead what he does is, after a long intro/story, he summarizes certain verses in his own words as he delivers his sermon. (Occasionally, he does read some of the text or part of a verse, but not the entire section he’s teaching from.) I’ve spoken to him directly about it, but he wasn’t clear on what I was talking about. Not reading the text seems to me to convey a lack of trust in the Word of God. I’m torn because my wife and I love our congregation, but at the same time I feel like I must look elsewhere for a church home where the Word of God is demonstrated to be completely trustworthy by being read aloud to the congregation. Any counsel?
It’s hard for me to give specific advice because I’ve never heard your pastor preach. Plus, I have heard my own pastor preach really long passages of the Bible (from 5 or 6 chapters to whole books!), and he does not read the whole text when he does this. That said, I’m sympathetic. If a man is preaching a couple chapters or less, it does seem strange that he wouldn’t read it. There are a number of dangers here, but let me mention three.
First, preaching the Bible and not actually reading the Bible teaches a congregation to prize the preacher’s wisdom or spin instead of the Bible. He’s training them to depend upon his interpretive work.
By the same token, second, he’s missing the opportunity to teach them to love the Bible and to interpret it for themselves. To sum up one and two, such a preacher effectively infantilizes a church. He helps to keep them biblically illiterate.
Third, he doesn’t protect himself or the church from heresy. The Spirit of God is in every believer, such that should a man begin to read a text and then preach a strange version of it, something in their hearts should say, “That doesn’t sound right.” But when he trains them to be unaccustomed to looking at the text, they have less chance to do that. Combine that with points one and two, and you do not have a good long term trajectory.
Bottom line: I cannot tell you want to do, Angel, because I haven’t heard your preacher and maybe you’re being overly critical of him. That said, the principle of what you describe is problematic, and preaching that always neglects to read the text is not the kind of preaching that will build a healthy church over the long term. I would think twice about remaining there.