Dipping the sleek paddle edge into the water, I glide the kayak smoothly through the calm waters of the lake. The early morning mist rises from the water in a blanket, covering the surface in a cloud-like embrace. On the nearby shore, fowl warble morning-greetings and welcome the day before casting aloft, circling above me then disappearing into the glorious early morning gloom. The light from the oncoming sun tinges the horizon, witness and ambassador for the oncoming day. As I round a bend in the shoreline, I come upon my destination. Here the lake drains away into the head of a river, beginning with a short waterfall. The water plunges over the edge of the drop before gaining momentum and coursing down the newfound river. What was once a still lake now has taken direction, pulling my kayak gently but noticeably forward towards the falls. The closer I become, the harder the pull becomes. I begin back-paddling in order to keep in place to watch the beautiful waterfall. After a few more moments, I dig my paddle in harder, attempting to break free from the pull that is drawing me towards the falls so I can head back the way I have come. Surprisingly, the kayak struggles to change direction and I need to fight to propel the kayak away from the edge and out from the constant pull.
In some ways, this analogy fits what a teacher feels. They experience an inexorable pull towards teaching. That was my experience. Even after I had dropped out of education, the Lord kept reminding me in little ways and sometimes big ways that He wanted me to be a teacher. He pulled me to it. I remember that, even in high school, there was an inclination to teach. This “inclination” or “pull” is sometimes referred to as the “call to teach”. That language opens the well-worn debate about whether teaching is a calling or an occupation. Some of that depends on the perspective of the teacher. There is, however, an element of being pulled into education that, frankly, can’t be denied. It would be hard to say, though, that those pulled to teaching endure the same level of a “call” that those called into the ministry feel. That type of a “call” is different in its scope and magnitude. Being a minister of the Word is more than an occupation, it is a life calling, a whole-encompassing life-calling. It should be a consuming calling. That isn’t the same for a teacher. Someone who is “called” into the profession of education need not fully-devote his entire life to it like a minister must give himself to his congregation. In that regard, teaching is an occupation. It is a job, similar to other jobs in that it has its own place within the life of the teacher (albeit a very important place). This place is to be balanced with the other responsibilities that the teacher has to family and personal life outside of teaching. A minister is on-call 24/7. If a call comes from a member of the church or an elder about a pressing matter, that minister will drop all, no matter the time of day (or night) to shepherd the flock. A teacher, on the flip-side, may check his/her email in the evenings, but is, for the most part, not obligated to deal with any of those emails or issues until the next day at school unless he/she chooses to.
It also could be rightly argued that it is healthy for a teacher to maintain a certain awareness of the “job” aspect of teaching so that it doesn’t fully consume him. It can be surprisingly easy to pour everything into teaching, heart and soul, to the full extent that other areas of his life can suffer (mental health, family life, personal relationships with others, spiritual-walk and devotional life, etc.) There is a proper balance to be established that remembers that teaching is an occupation. Yet, logically, if it is so easy and tempting for a teacher to over-extend himself and get consumed by the work as he devotes himself to it, that must say something about those who are teachers. They are pulled towards it. They have a passion for it that makes it easy to want to keep doing more. That is a good thing. A teacher who views teaching simply as a job, an occupation, but not as something more, loses a sense of the purpose and love for teaching at the same time. To that point, teaching is a calling. Those with a heart to teach actively feel God pulling them into education and, once become a teacher, continue to experience being pulled to love the work, love the job. It takes a special heart to feel this pull. Being there to serve and work for the betterment of the students can be humbling, frustrating, and exhausting (and that all in one day), but, as much or more so, it can be inspiring and rewarding to see God’s covenant youth learning about Him, applying what they’re learning to their understanding of Him, so that they mature and grow into their places within Christ’s Church.
The Bible also makes mention of teachers specifically and the beautiful calling that they have to teach. When speaking about the Body of Christ in Romans 12, we read:
For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office: so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another. Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith; or ministry, let us wait on our ministering: or he that teacheth, on teaching; or he that exhorteth, on exhortation: he that giveth, let him do it with simplicity; he that ruleth, with diligence; he that sheweth mercy, with cheerfulness. (vs. 4-8)
And so it is that God recognizes for our benefit that He specifically equips certain people with a heart designed and crafted by Him to teach. That’s their purpose within His Body, and He pulls all those that He has molded this way towards that. Everyone’s place in the Body is specific to the gifts given them. Those with the heart to teach have been given certain gifts in certain areas (more on these in future blog posts). These gifts work to incline or pull that individual towards education within His divine plan and in His time.
Again, in Ephesians 4, Paul makes special reference to the occupation of teacher and the role/significance it possesses within the Body of Christ:
And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: that we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; but speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: from whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love. (vs. 11-16).
Here Paul makes a point to address the role of the Body to edify one another in love so that we aren’t ignorant and are “no more children tossed to and fro” but are educated and wise. This includes the work of the pastors primarily in regards to doctrine, but also, an element is given to teachers as well, to those who hold this level of influence in shaping the minds and thinking of the future generations. We see this in the way our homes operate and the education that happens there as the parents instruct their children in the Lord, and we see that same education continued in the schools where the teachers take on that role of educating the youth in not only the content-areas that apply to their living and understanding the physical world they live in but also in their understanding and application of those principles in the light of the Word as a “most elegant book” (Belgic Confession Article 2). The centrality of the Word, Jesus Christ, in all of this ought not be overlooked. That is the real work of the teacher, to point students to Christ so that they may worship Him and see how He is at the heart of everything. It is likewise significant that both these references to teachers (Romans 12 and Ephesians 4) do so in the context of the Body of Christ. The calling of the teacher is to instruct, in the Spirit of Christ’s love, those of the Body of Christ, to enable them in the gifts they’ve been given, and to teach of and unto the “unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ” in order that, through that power of Christ, they “may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ” (Ephesians 4: 13,15).
So, what does this mean to the individual who is thinking about teaching? If God has desired and planned for you to teach, He will equip you with the heart to do just that. He will give and develop in you the gifts suitable for that occupation. He will also be faithful in pulling you into that calling … just be mindful that this is all on His time-schedule not yours. Be patient. If you are feeling underequipped, too young, or simply inexperienced and unsure, wait and listen. He will make His way clear. If you feel like you’ve “missed-the-boat” and that ship has sailed but you still feel the pull, give some thought and lots of prayer to it. Talk to others about it too, those that you trust to give you honest and loving advice. The Lord might’ve purposed to give you extra time outside education so that you could more perfectly fit and be the teacher He wants you to be. In either case and in all things, we are reminded by the prophet Isaiah that, “The LORD of hosts hath sworn, saying, Surely as I have thought, so shall it come to pass; and as I have purposed, so shall it stand” (14:24) and “Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure” (46:9-10).
Let us not forget and so take comfort. He is God. He has worked mightily in the earth and pulled mightily upon our hearts. He has brought us, dead sinners, out of darkness and into His light. He has decreed goodness to us and has promised to lead us gently in the paths of His tender-kindness. Who are we to doubt His plan? Who are we to question His timing or His designs for our lives for “the LORD he is God: it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name. For the LORD is good; his mercy is everlasting; and his truth endureth to all generations” (Psalm 100:3-5).
Mr. Ethan Mingerink is a teacher at Covenant Christian High School in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
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