Over the past centuries, the teaching gift has been in a place of dominance in the body of Christ. We can look at any part of the church and see that this is true. How are leaders prepared for serving in the church? By learning doctrine in an academic institution of higher learning – a bible school or seminary. How are leaders ordained? By passing a doctrinal ordination test. How do we select pastors? By hearing them teach and choosing the one who teaches ‘the best.’ Even our buildings stand as evidence. Which of the five-fold ministry gifts of Ephesians 4:11 would design a meeting place with rows of seats facing a pulpit in the front? A shepherd (pastor) would put some couches in a circle within a smaller, more intimate, room. An evangelist would prefer a stadium. A prophet would prefer a cave up on a mountain somewhere. An apostle would much rather borrow someone else’s space. Only a teacher would design a meeting hall like the ones we typically call “church.”
As the intended balance of the five-fold ministry team (apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor and teacher) gifts was lost and the teachers became the predominant leaders in the Church, the other gifts shrank to the margins and virtually disappeared. The teachers taught that the apostles disappeared with the completion of the New testament. Prophets were redefined as “forth tellers of truth,” which is another way of saying t’teacher.’ And the pastors (shepherds) were absorbed into a composite pastor-teacher role, based on an errant interpretation of the Ephesians 4 test. But as churches grew in size beyond the scope of a single shepherd, the term pastor become more synonymous with teacher than with shepherd. That left only the evangelists, but they eventually left the church (or should we say teaching hall?) to start parachurch organization so they could continue to reach people without all the complications wrought by various church committees.
Today, it seems the church believes that the worst thing that could happen would be the teaching of heresy. Through heresy is a bad thing, it is not the only bad thing. Teachers have instructed us that sound doctrine fixes everything and that every problem is a result of false doctrine. When all you have is a hammer, you see every problem as a nail.
So, if this is the case and we need to see less emphasis on the teaching of doctrine and the role of the teacher in the church – how do we handle heresy in the church today. After all, if teachers today are discipled and mentored by practicing pastors and teachers – how do we guide against heresy when we don’t have credentialed teachers? Good question. However, think about it for a second. How many people do you personally know that have taught heresy and started a cult? However, how many of us know of a Christian leader who has fallen into immorality? Heresy is not our biggest problem, it seems. But, we have been convinced by the church run by ‘teachers’ who have monopolized all the leadership roles in our churches, that heresy is the only problem and solid teaching our only remedy.
We must allow for the other gifts and callings to reemerge. This is not to say that we don’t need teachers. We need teachers to equip successive generations to teach, and we need to shift the balance in our training so that the other gifts have equitable preparation time, resources, and validation.
I have singled out teachers as impediments to the proper implementation of the five-fold ministry and the interaction of all the five-fold ministry gifts. But that is the current reality in much of the church. We all have far too much experience living under the leadership of solo teachers. Perhaps that will change in the near future, and perhaps one day we will see longer shadows cast by the other gifts. But at the present moment in church history, the five-fold ministry model is out of kilter, and we need to begin to push in the other direction in the hope of finding a more balanced approach to church ministry.