In my second year in seminary, I had a professor ask me to grade for him. I had taken his class the year before and had struggled with writing papers, as I’ve discussed in previous blogs. But I was honored and accepted. Grading other people’s papers helped me understand my own. I graded for him that entire school year.

Then in my fourth year of seminary, I had a professor ask me to TA (teaching assistant). This is like grading but more intense. You are actually in the classroom, helping shape the students’ learning. I had taken this course before as well, and I had a great TA in my semester. I immediately felt unprepared and uncomfortable. It was a writing course, and I didn’t know nearly as much about writing. But my professor was very encouraging, reminding me that I did know a lot about writing, just not the same things. I didn’t know as much about the vocabulary and rules of writing, but I did know about songwriting.

But most importantly, she reminded me that I had an opportunity to pastor these students, whatever it was they were learning. Oddly, that reminded me of signing with Ardent and getting ready to go on our first tour years ago. I felt the same way. What am I doing here? I wasn’t a rock star. I was a worship leader and songwriter. And in that moment, God reminded me that he had created me. I was a minister. If that was true in my church job, it was going to be true on the road as well. It was a great learning and focusing moment for the years to come.

Then, in seminary, I had to learn it again. I always worried about the academic quality I had to offer in a course. But I was a minister. My job was to still be that in this new arena. I had students in my writing course that were better writers than I was. And someday I will probably have students in my theology class that will be better theologians than I am. My aim is not to be better than them, but to make them better. I want to encourage them and see them shaped into who God wants them to be.

The thing is I’m not a very good shaper. I’m not in very good shape myself. So, what’s the solution to that? I think the answer is that God has to be the shaper. My role as an instructor is to help that students connect with God, most likely in the context of the subject of this class. At the end of a semester, if a student can repeat everything I’ve said but doesn’t have an encounter with God, then I have probably failed them. My words won’t shape them. So I’m reconsidering how you should teach in this light. I know the classes I benefitted from the most were ones where I encountered God and his word. Sometimes it was a language class, sometimes a ministry class, sometimes a writing class, sometimes a bible class.

You may not be in school currently, as a student or a teacher. But this is the first time I’ve put this all into words, and I’m noticing something. If I want to encourage someone and see them shaped into who God wants them to be, the first people I should be starting with are my wife and kids. If it’s true at work, it’s true about those closest to me. So we can work on that together: creating time, experiences, and environments for the encouragement, equipping, and divine encounter of those we care about. Then, maybe we’ll move on to others.