(De)Constructive Criticism

[Seeing as I am a new, young minister, I am going to be studying a bit deeper into Paul’s pastoral letters — 1 & 2 Timothy, Titus. I’ll be sharing some of my thoughts throughout the study]

1 Timothy 1:3-7

When I was in 8th grade, I had an English teacher who was brand new to the school. She was also new to the type of English curriculum we were used to — the good ol’ Shirley Method. To make matters worse, she had somehow lost the teacher’s manual (I think it was actually stolen…). So the entire year she was following along in a student book without the answer keys…and she was often wrong…and I often pointed it out.

Yes, my little brainiac, smarter-than-the-teacher, 8th grade self would correct the teacher often. So often, in fact, that she sent me out into the hall for correcting her! Ha.

As I got older I was not as quick to point out the mistakes made by my teachers, and when I did, I was much more polite and considerate. My concern became less about showing how smart I was and more about making sure my classmates were not “lead astray” or confused by a teacher who misspoke.

When Paul writes to Timothy, the first instruction is to correct anyone who is teaching false doctrines or who is focusing too heavily on myths and genealogies. The term “false doctrine” can be a dangerous one to throw around, and we need to make sure that we use the phrase with the same understanding as Paul and the apostles. But the fact remains that Timothy is given the task of correcting the shortcomings of some teachers.

I don’t think these are “bad” men. I don’t think they are purposefully trying to lead people astray. Paul even says that they want to be teachers. They just don’t know enough about what they are teaching. James gives a warning along these lines in James 3, when he warns that not many people should become teachers for they will be subject to a stricter judgment.

That’s scary to me as a youth minister. Teaching is one thing I do the most!

So what if you are sitting in your Sunday morning class and you notice the teacher talking about something that is incorrect, misinformed, or confusing? What if a teacher is beginning to cause debates, arguments, and unrest among the students?

Correct them. Go to them and discuss your concerns. Study with them more on the topic. Do something!

But the goal is not to make yourself look better. It’s not to show how much you know and how little the teacher actually knows.

The goal is LOVE.

“The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (vs 5).

That’s tough stuff. It’s not easy to keep a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith when confronting someone with whom you disagree. But that’s what is necessary if love is to be the ultimate goal in all we do.

Greater Things

Who was your favorite teacher?

Think back to your high school and college years. I’m sure there are 2 or 3 teachers/professors who had a profound impact on you. They didn’t just tell you what to think, they taught you how to think. They shared their stories, their insights, their knowledge, even their lives with you. You view the world differently because of them.

You wouldn’t be the person you are today without them.

Their influence doesn’t stop in the classroom. Their influence reaches the farthest reaches of the world because of you. You take their teachings with you wherever you go. Their influence is in fact greater now than could ever be while you were still in the classroom. I’m sure there are things they taught you that didn’t even make sense until later in life. Now that you have more experience and understanding, you really get what they were trying to do.

A good teacher’s influence is only constrained to the white board, the worksheets, the tests, or the four cinder block walls while the students are in the classroom.

In John 14:12, Jesus tells his disciples, “Whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father.”

Jesus is not saying that they will do more impressive, more astonishing works than he did. How could anything be more amazing than raising Lazarus from the dead? What Jesus means is that a new era is dawning. At his resurrection everything he has said and done will make sense. While Jesus was performing his earthly ministry, people were unable to understand why he said and did certain things. But with the resurrection, all was made clear.

The disciples, Jesus says, will now be able to do what Jesus did and even greater things precisely because he is leaving them. He will be with the Father. But he is sending his Spirit to dwell in the believers. And whatever they ask in his name, according to his will, he will do.

Look through the book of Acts. Countless more people accepted God’s salvation after Jesus left than did during Jesus’ ministry. The gospel had much greater reach and influence in the post-resurrection era than it did before.

These “greater works” could not be accomplished while Jesus was still with the disciples just as a teacher’s influence cannot spread while the students are sitting in their desks.