WHAT is your goal as a teacher? If you have recently become a Kingdom publisher, you no doubt have the desire to learn how to conduct a home Bible study, since Jesus gave his followers the assignment to make disciples. (Matt. 28:19, 20) If you already have experience in this activity, perhaps your goal is to be more effective in reaching the hearts of those whom you seek to help. If you are a parent, you surely want to be the sort of teacher who can motivate your children to dedicate their lives to God. (3 John 4) If you are an elder or are reaching out to become one, perhaps you want to be a public speaker who can build in his listeners a deeper appreciation for Jehovah and his ways. How can you reach these goals?
Take a lesson from the Master Teacher, Jesus Christ. (Luke 6:40) Whether Jesus was speaking to a crowd on a mountainside or to just a few people as they walked on the road, what he said and the way he said it made a lasting impression. Jesus stimulated the minds and hearts of his listeners, and he made practical application that they could understand. Can you accomplish similar things?
Rely on Jehovah
Jesus’ teaching ability was enhanced both by the intimate relationship that he had with his heavenly Father and by the blessing of God’s spirit. Do you earnestly pray to Jehovah to be able to conduct a home Bible study effectively? If you are a parent, do you regularly pray for divine guidance in teaching your children? Do you offer heartfelt prayer when preparing to give talks or to conduct meetings? Such prayerful reliance on Jehovah will help you become a more effective teacher.
Dependence on Jehovah is also manifested by reliance on his Word, the Bible. In prayer on the final evening of his life as a perfect human, Jesus said to his Father: “I have given your word to them.” (John 17:14) Though Jesus had vast experience, he never spoke of his own originality. He always spoke what his Father taught him, thereby leaving an example for us to follow. (John 12:49, 50) God’s word, as preserved in the Bible, has power to influence people—their actions, inmost thoughts, and feelings. (Heb. 4:12) As you grow in knowledge of God’s Word and learn to use it well in your ministry, you will be developing the sort of teaching ability that draws people to God.—2 Tim. 3:16, 17.
Being a teacher in imitation of Christ is not simply a matter of being able to give an interesting discourse. True, people marveled at Jesus’ “winsome words.” (Luke 4:22) But what was Jesus’ objective in speaking well? It was to honor Jehovah, not to draw attention to himself. (John 7:16-18) And he urged his followers: “Let your light shine before men, that they may see your fine works and give glory to your Father who is in the heavens.” (Matt. 5:16) That counsel should influence the way we teach. It ought to be our aim to avoid anything that would detract from that objective. So when planning what we will say or how we will say it, we do well to ask ourselves, ‘Will this deepen appreciation for Jehovah, or will it attract attention to me?’
For example, illustrations and real-life examples can be used effectively in teaching. However, when a lengthy illustration is developed or an experience is related in excessive detail, the point of the instruction may be lost. Similarly, telling stories that merely entertain detracts from the purpose of our ministry. In effect, the teacher is drawing attention to himself instead of accomplishing the real goal of theocratic education.
“Make a Distinction”
For a person truly to become a disciple, he must clearly understand what is being taught. He must hear the truth and see how it differs from other beliefs. Drawing contrasts helps to achieve this.
Repeatedly, Jehovah urged his people to “make a distinction” between what is clean and what is unclean. (Lev. 10:9-11) He said that those who would serve in his great spiritual temple would instruct people “in the difference between a holy thing and a profane thing.” (Ezek. 44:23) The book of Proverbs is full of contrasts between righteousness and wickedness, between wisdom and foolishness. Even things that are not opposites can be distinguished from one another. The apostle Paul drew a contrast between a righteous man and a good man, as recorded at Romans 5:7. In the book of Hebrews, he showed the superiority of Christ’s high-priestly service over that of Aaron. Indeed, as 17th-century educator John Amos Comenius wrote: “To teach means scarcely anything more than to show how things differ from one another in their different purposes, forms, and origins. . . . Therefore, he who differentiates well teaches well.”
Take, as an example, teaching someone about God’s Kingdom. If he does not understand what the Kingdom is, you might show how what the Bible says contrasts with the idea that the Kingdom is simply a condition in a person’s heart. Or you could show how the Kingdom differs from human governments. Yet, for people who know these basic truths, you might go into greater detail. You might show them how the Messianic Kingdom differs from Jehovah’s own universal kingship, described at Psalm 103:19, or from ‘the kingdom of the Son of God’s love,’ mentioned at Colossians 1:13, or from the “administration,” spoken of at Ephesians 1:10. The use of contrasts can help to bring this important Bible teaching clearly into focus for your audience.
Jesus repeatedly employed this teaching device. He contrasted the popular understanding of the Mosaic Law with the true intent of the Law. (Matt. 5:21-48) He differentiated true godly devotion from the hypocritical acts of the Pharisees. (Matt. 6:1-18) He contrasted the spirit of those who ‘lorded it over’ others with the self-sacrificing spirit that his followers would show. (Matt. 20:25-28) On another occasion, recorded at Matthew 21:28-32, Jesus invited his listeners to draw their own contrast between self-righteousness and true repentance. That leads us to another valuable facet of good teaching.
Encourage Listeners to Think
At Matthew 21:28, we read that Jesus introduced his comparison by asking: “What do you think?” A capable teacher does not simply relate facts or give answers. Instead, he encourages his listeners to cultivate thinking ability. (Prov. 3:21; Rom. 12:1) This is done, in part, by asking questions. As found at Matthew 17:25, Jesus asked: “What do you think, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth receive duties or head tax? From their sons or from the strangers?” Jesus’ thought-provoking questions helped Peter draw his own correct conclusion about paying the temple tax. Similarly, when responding to the man who asked, “Who really is my neighbor?” Jesus contrasted the actions of a priest and a Levite with those of a Samaritan. Then he posed this question: “Who of these three seems to you to have made himself neighbor to the man that fell among the robbers?” (Luke 10:29-36) Here again, rather than thinking for his listener, Jesus invited him to answer his own question.—Luke 7:41-43.
Reach for the Heart
Teachers who grasp the sense of God’s Word realize that true worship is not merely a matter of memorizing certain facts and conforming to certain rules. It is built on a good relationship with Jehovah and appreciation for his ways. Such worship involves the heart. (Deut. 10:12, 13; Luke 10:25-27) In the Scriptures, the term “heart” often refers to the whole inner person, including such things as desires, affections, feelings, and motivations.
Jesus knew that while humans look at the outward appearance, God sees what the heart is. (1 Sam. 16:7) Our service to God should be motivated by our love for him, not by efforts to impress fellow humans. (Matt. 6:5-8) On the other hand, the Pharisees did many things for outward show. They put great emphasis on conformity to details of the Law and compliance with rules of their own making. But they failed to manifest in their lives the qualities that would identify them with the God whom they professed to worship. (Matt. 9:13; Luke 11:42) Jesus taught that while obedience to God’s requirements is important, the value of such obedience is determined by what is in the heart. (Matt. 15:7-9; Mark 7:20-23; John 3:36) Our teaching will accomplish the greatest good if we imitate Jesus’ example. It is important that we help people to learn what God requires of them. But it is also important for them to know and love Jehovah as a person so that their conduct becomes a reflection of the value they place on an approved relationship with the true God.
Of course, to benefit from such teaching, people need to face up to what is in their own hearts. Jesus encouraged people to analyze their motives and to examine their feelings. When correcting a wrong view, he would ask his listeners why they thought, said, or did certain things. Yet, so as not to leave it at that, Jesus coupled his query with a statement, an illustration, or an action that encouraged them to view matters correctly. (Mark 2:8; 4:40; 8:17; Luke 6:41, 46) We can likewise help our listeners by suggesting that they ask themselves such questions as: ‘Why does this course of action appeal to me? Why do I react to this situation as I do?’ Then supply motivation for them to view matters from Jehovah’s standpoint.
A good teacher knows that “wisdom is the prime thing.” (Prov. 4:7) Wisdom is the ability to apply knowledge successfully to solve problems, to avoid dangers, to attain goals, to help others. It is the responsibility of a teacher to help students learn to do that but not to make decisions for them. When discussing various Bible principles, help the student to reason. You might cite a situation from everyday life and then ask the student how the Bible principle you have just studied would help him if he were confronted with that situation.—Heb. 5:14.
In his discourse at Pentecost 33 C.E., the apostle Peter provided an example of practical application that touched people’s lives. (Acts 2:14-36) After he discussed three Scripture passages that the crowd professed to believe, Peter made application of these in the light of events that they had all witnessed. As a result, the crowd felt the need to act on what they had heard. Does your teaching have a similar effect on people? Do you go beyond a recitation of facts and help people to understand why things are so? Do you encourage them to consider how the things they are learning should affect their lives? They may not cry out, “What shall we do?” as did the crowd at Pentecost, but if you have applied the scriptures well, they will be moved to consider taking appropriate action.—Acts 2:37.
When reading the Bible with your children, you parents have a fine opportunity to train them to think in terms of practical application of Bible principles. (Eph. 6:4) You might, for example, select a few verses out of the Bible reading scheduled for the week, discuss their meaning, and then ask such questions as these: ‘How does this provide guidance for us? How might we use these verses in the ministry? What do they reveal about Jehovah and his way of doing things, and how does that build up our appreciation for him?’ Encourage your family to comment on these points during the discussion of Bible highlights at the Theocratic Ministry School. The verses they comment on will likely be those they remember.
Set a Good Example
You teach not only by what you say but also by what you do. Your actions provide a practical example of how to apply the things you say. This is the way that children learn. When they imitate their parents, they give evidence that they want to be like their parents. They want to know what it is like to do what their parents are doing. Likewise, when those whom you teach ‘become imitators of you as you are of Christ,’ they begin to experience the blessings of walking in Jehovah’s ways. (1 Cor. 11:1) God’s dealings with them become part of their own experiences.
This is a sobering reminder of the importance of setting a proper example. The “sort of persons [we are] in holy acts of conduct and deeds of godly devotion” will go a long way in giving those whom we teach a living demonstration of how to apply Bible principles. (2 Pet. 3:11) If you encourage a Bible student to read God’s Word regularly, be diligent about reading it yourself. If you want your children to learn to abide by Bible principles, be sure they see that your actions are in line with God’s will. If you instruct the congregation to be zealous in the ministry, see that you have a full share in that work. When you practice what you teach, you are in a better position to motivate others.—Rom. 2:21-23.
With a view to improving your teaching, ask yourself: ‘When I give instruction, is it done in such a way that it makes a difference in the attitudes, the speech, or the actions of those who hear it? To make matters clear, do I differentiate one idea or course of action from another? What do I do to help my students, my children, or my audience at a meeting to remember what I say? Do I clearly show my listeners how to apply what they are learning? Can they see it in my example? Do they appreciate how their response to the matter being discussed can influence their relationship with Jehovah?’ (Prov. 9:10) Continue giving attention to these things as you seek to develop ability as a teacher. “Pay constant attention to yourself and to your teaching. Stay by these things, for by doing this you will save both yourself and those who listen to you.”—1 Tim. 4:16.