My heart sank. I couldn't believe my high school baseball coach picked Jimmy Claven to be "coach for a day" when I was having a banner year. I was waiting for two years to be named "coach for a day." Success in baseball came easily for me. This was my year!
Jimmy Claven was a nice kid, but he wasn't the best player on the team. I was having a record-breaking year and couldn't believe that my performance had gone unnoticed. A mistake must have been made. Perhaps it was a joke?
I went to the coach and smiled knowingly. "John Paul," he told me, "you have very good natural talent. Because of your hand-eye coordination, you have a very good batting average. But you don't know the first thing about coaching. If a batter missed a ball, you'd simply tell him to quit taking his eye off the ball."
"On the other hand," he continued, "Jimmy would coach the batter about putting too much weight on his back leg when he swung, or he might notice that the batter was not getting proper arm extension. Jimmy would know if the player was watching the ball as it left the pitcher's hand with his front eye or his back eye." The coach went on to say: "Jimmy knows baseball because he has had to study to improve himself. All you had to do is show up and swing the bat."
Hearing those words from my coach stunned me--but he was right. I had no idea how to teach someone how to improve his or her techniques. What I did came easily for me.
That experience changed me. I have since applied it to all aspects of my life, including my spiritual life. As a result, some years ago I embarked on a journey to discover how to teach others what I know and do.
It takes people with godly character and habits to effectively serve in the kingdom of God. While there are many talented and anointed teachers, those who have a foundation of godly character (moral excellence) teach with more than their words; they teach with their lifestyles in ways that are truly transformational. Who we are as teachers is just as important as what we teach. It is who we are, more than what we know, that inspires change in another person's life.
We must decide to take the necessary steps to strengthen our own moral legacies, by practicing what we preach. Moral excellence can only be built through Bible study, quiet times with God and a history of making right choices--what I like to call "hidden victories." These hidden victories ensure long-term success in the kingdom.
Sadly, character is a topic that the church often talks about, but rarely teaches people how to walk out. All of us can remember examples of people who were put into positions of leadership based on their anointing and gifts, but they lacked character. We also remember the disheartening results. Such leaders had great charisma and great anointing, but, like Samson, their moral deficiencies brought their demise.
When leaders have talents that are greater in measure than their characters, they experience stress and anxiety, feeling the pressure to perform and succeed. They have a reputation they feel they must maintain. Deep inside they are afraid to let God do the work of advancement and recognition in their ministries and callings. So, they begin to rush ahead of God and promote themselves before they are truly "matured" by God.
As I have studied the Bible and meditated on God's view of character, I have concluded that there are four components that evidence healthy, godly character: love, integrity, maturity and an abundance mentality.
Love is essential to every ministry. The apostle Paul made this clear when he wrote, "If I speak God's Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, 'Jump,' and it jumps, but I don't love, I'm nothing" (1 Cor. 13:2, The Message).
What a statement! Throughout the history of God's kingdom, there have been "gifted nothings"--people who have done miraculous work but who never truly understood the need for intimacy with God and the love of Christ. No wonder love is the first fruit of the Holy Spirit listed in Galatians 5:22!
Integrity is the act of being entirely honest at all times. Teachers must forge a foundation of trust with those who they are mentoring, equipping and leading. If a teacher has integrity, a student will remember what he or she teaches, because the student will have seen the teacher's actions match his or her words. Jesus had the highest level of integrity possible; His disciples knew He practiced what He preached. This inspired them to strive to be like Jesus, both in word and deed.
Maturity involves sound reasoning and decision-making. When someone has walked through the trials and fires of life, spiritual maturity is developed. God says in Isaiah 48:10, "'Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction'" (NKJV). This furnace is at full flame when we are off the platform, living our lives away from the public eye.
It takes the private testing of God for a person's character to solidify and mature. The result of maturity is meekness, which is how we interact with others. Maturity allows us to esteem others higher than ourselves. Maturity allows us to see God's plan in our chaos.
An abundance mentality sees God as having so much talent and anointing to give people and recognizes that none of us have a corner on the market. Embracing an abundance mentality requires that we demonstrate humility.
It's not about us anyway; it's about God and His kingdom. Anything less allows jealousy to manifest in our lives. We must have a heart that blesses the gifts others have, knowing that all gifts are given by God to equip others and to further advance God's kingdom on earth.
We cannot become truly great in God's kingdom unless we walk through adversity, pain and difficulty. Here are some examples from God's Word:
**Joseph was made second-in-command of Egypt after years of wrongful imprisonment and unfair slavery.
**Gideon delivered the Israelites from their enemies after struggling with insecurity and fear.
**Samuel left his parents and served in the often-lonely temple before growing into a great prophet and judge.
**David became a beloved king after years of living in caves and dodging death threats.
**Paul was blinded and then persecuted as his ministry grew. These private battles forged great leaders for God.
Likewise, hidden victories in the daily grind of life form a foundation for how we operate publicly. What do we do when no one is watching us? How are we treating our spouses? Are we devoting quality time with our children? Are we being generous financially and spiritually? Have we overcome issues of rejection and fear that plague our lives? Have we restored broken relationships? Are we speaking blessings over others?
It takes hundreds of these seemingly insignificant, private victories to form a solid foundation of character upon which God places the weightiness of public ministry.
When David sought Saul's approval before facing Goliath, he told the king about his private victories: "'Your servant has killed both lion and bear; and this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, seeing he has defied the armies of the living God'" (1 Sam. 17:36).
David's history of hidden victories as a shepherd gave him the faith and confidence to face Goliath publicly as a protector of Israel's future. A foundation of character, formed humbly and quietly in the hidden moments of life, had been built in the future king's life. Little did David know how these events would allow God to use him one day. As we overcome our personal battles, God can trust us with the great responsibility of teaching others.
I believe we are tripartite human beings, composed of three parts: body, which is flesh, bone and blood; soul, which is our mind, will and emotions; and spirit, which is the source of wisdom, communion and conscience.
All ministry--teaching, mentoring, discipling and leading others--flows from one of the three parts of our beings. Therefore, teaching others can be classified in three parallel ways, according to which part of our beings the teaching flows: productive teaching, creative teaching or spiritual teaching.
Productive teaching is sparked when our bodies are in control. It's about doing, accomplishing and reaching a mandated quantity or volume. For teachers, it's manifested in a rigid adherence to predetermined lesson plans. Left unchecked, it will turn our love of teaching into a job, because the battle against time will consume us.
Productive teaching doesn't bring about long-term change in anyone or anything; it's simply an endless stream of information given to students in order to achieve higher test scores. This level of teaching does not demand understanding or the application of the material to life.
Creative teaching is produced by our souls; it can also be called imaginative teaching. Our human emotions produce a passion to teach, while our wills decide to capture those feelings in the lesson. Our minds then fuse this passion and desire into a complete effort.
Teachers who instruct and coach from this perspective feel as though they have to devise something and formulate ideas. Creative teaching can change a person for the short term, but it has no eternal effect on its students. It sounds intelligent, but it isn't breathed upon by God. Thus, students may apply the learned material to their current tasks, but they do not understand how to apply it to their lives.
Spiritual teaching flows from communion with the Holy Spirit. It involves communication from the teacher's spirit to the student's spirit through the power of the Holy Spirit. The human spirit is what connects each of us to God.
Because of the work of redemption, our spirits are intermingled, and the Spirit of God within us is imparted to students. The Spirit uses the soul and body to accomplish God's planned, incredible work.
While there are many gifted teachers, I believe that only a Christian can teach spiritually. When the Holy Spirit communicates through us to others it is transformational. The Holy Spirit's work results in an eternal change in a person's life. "I will not be the same," the student says. "This has changed my life." While "soulish" or creative teaching can cause temporary change in a person, spiritual teaching changes a man or woman for eternity.
The challenge for teachers, therefore, is to listen carefully to the heartbeat of the Holy Spirit. We must continually be sensitive to listening to the Holy Spirit and to cleaning out the issues that keep our souls in the drivers' seats of our lives. We must develop a history of hidden victories.
It takes discipline and practice to fully understand the distinction between what is our own soul and what is the leading of the Holy Spirit. We must be committed to allowing more and more of His essence to flow through us.
God wants to teach us today what will inspire others tomorrow. He has a vantage point of what will be, not just what is or has been. We as teachers have been content to grasp at slivers of spiritual insights, but the Holy Spirit wants to give us fuller concepts of God and His ways.
Teaching is a weighty responsibility, given by God to those whom He can trust to carry it. As teachers, we must develop godly character, and walk in greater integrity and maturity so that we can understand God's plans and visions for those whom we have been entrusted to teach.
Only the Lord, by helping us practice our private victories, can make our lives a lasting--and public--contribution to His eternal kingdom. Only then can we help others reach the exciting destinies for which God created them.