In writing to Timothy, Paul encouraged him to give himself to exercise his gift of teaching—to be devoted to teaching—so that “his progress could be evident to all” (1 Timothy 4:13–16). This must mean that as gifted as Timothy was, he could get better in his teaching. And this must mean that sometimes his teaching wasn’t the best.
The implication of this is that as gifted as your pastor or teaching elder might be he could get better. And if he could get better, there may well be times when he delivers a message, that . . . well, to put it kindly . . . is hardly life-changing. Sometimes even good teachers deliver poor messages.
Before we get to some suggestions for benefitting from poor teaching, it will be important to clarify what is meant by poor teaching.
We are not talking about heresy. Compromise on the essentials of the Gospel should not be tolerated, even in the name of “rendering grace” to the teacher. Someone who brings “another Gospel” is not to be welcomed or encouraged (Galatians 1:6–9; 2 John 7–11).
So how might we define poor teaching? This would include things like:
Teaching Gospel truth without anchoring the message in the Scriptures. Some teachers will proclaim things that are Gospel-consistent, but they might not make evident how those truths arise from the text open before them.
Spending the majority of the message sharing personal stories. Some teachers, wanting to connect with the listeners and longing to be relevant, may over-privilege their experiences, their illustrations, and their own ideas in seeking to teach a text.
So what can you do when you find yourself sitting under poor teaching? Let me offer five simple suggestions.
- When you are listening to poor teaching, you are reminded that the messenger is not to be the prime focus—the message from Scripture is what matters most as Paul clarified in 1 Corinthians 2:1–5; 3:1–9. That reminder can keep you from becoming over-enamored of those who bring the message.
- When you are listening to poor teaching, it can nudge you to search out truth for yourself. Think of the commendation Luke gave to the believers in Berea for doing just that as recorded for us in Acts 17:11. You don’t have to rest wholly on what the teacher says—you can dig out truth for yourself.
- When you are listening to poor teaching, it could be a prompt to pray for the teacher. No Bible teacher gets it right all the time. Every Bible teacher needs others to be praying for his effective ministry, as even the Apostle Paul knew (Ephesians 6:19).
- When you are listening to poor teaching, you might realize afresh that whoever is teaching is only one part of the Body of Christ. No member of the Body—pastors and elders included—embodies everything the Body needs to grow (1 Corinthians 12:12–26). Yes, they have a part to play, but it is just one part of what Jesus is doing.
- When you are listening to poor teaching, you can still catch glimpses of text here or there or hear a word from Scripture (whether handled well or not). You can let that word, snippet though it may be, serve as the food your soul needs. Look for a kernel of grain that can be of help to you and feel free to let the chaff drift away.