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The Pastor as Teacher

 “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” (Acts of the Apostles 2:42). In the New Testament and throughout the life of the Church, teaching is one of the most important role of the leaders of the Church. The bishops of the Church are our chief teachers. At every Divine Liturgy we pray for our local hierarch who “rightly teaches the word of Your truth.” In our parishes, the clergy – priests and deacons – are the local teachers. They, in turn, delegate and designate others as teachers and catechists for a parish Sunday church school and the adult religious education ministry.

Teaching is a major ministry in all parishes, engaging all of its members. In a few words, the ministry of teaching is a handing down or handing over what has been handed down to us. Some have called it “traditioning.”

In the last months, throughout the course of the pandemic, the teaching ministry of our clergy has been elevated. Out of necessity, they have increased the number of online Bible studies, talks and lectures, and meeting with groups of children and youth, and more.

Parish life in the coming months is still very uncertain. While in-person worship services are resuming (and as of this writing, that changed again in large parts of the USA), in-person ministries may remain virtual. No one knows for how long this may continue.

With that in mind, the role of the pastor as teacher will continue to increase because teaching and learning can occur on-line. Sermons for youth and adults can be live-streamed, then replayed. Lectures and talks can be live-streamed, with an on-line audience for discussions. A Bible study, book club, and other kinds of classes can occur on-line. Will we miss the face-to-face contact, fellowship and camaraderie? Of course we will. This will be hardest for young people, but teaching the faith must continue as best we can.

The Pastor’s Study vs the Pastor’s Office

Fr. Theodore Stylianopoulos in his classes would always like to talk about the “pastor’s study” to emphasize that he should be spending more time reading and studying than managing, as someone working in an office might suggest. With our parish clergy devoting more of their time and energy to teaching activity, especially preparing for those activities, calling his “office” a “study” has real merit. The 2017 Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of the USA Study, “Go and Make Disciples: Evanglization and Outreach in us Orthodox parishes” (http://assemblyofbishops.org/news/2017/evangelization-study-report) confirms this attitude by noting that clergy in growing parishes and had more active evangelization efforts saw themselves a being a “good teacher and preacher,” and less focused on managerial tasks.

Resources for Learning

On-line educators know that their learners still should be reading and researching a topic through articles, books, and more, in preparation for and during an online class meeting. Most classes involve discussion around a text so all can be involved, but they need a copy of the text. Since people may be able to attend church services or at least visit the parish, resources for on-line learning, especially books, may still be made available for people to take home as they prepare to attend the pastor’s educational offerings. Of course, some things can be emailed as handouts.

Preparation Takes Time

As any teacher knows, preparing to teach a class takes time. In a school, teachers are given a “prep period,” to give them time to work on lessons, work on student issues, or planning ahead with other teachers. In many places, teachers receive one per day.

Your pastor will need preparation time for the many lessons, lectures, and teaching opportunities he now has. A fair rule of thumb is that for every class session he offers, he should have around the same amount of time to prepare for that session. If he is teaching something for the first time, he will need more time to prepare. As most teachers will admit, the first time a class is offered is the hardest. It starts to get easier after that, but good teachers are constantly preparing to teach the next class, even one taught for many years.

Sermons are a special case. A good sermon of even ten minutes could take at least a few hours to prepare, with research, writing, editing, and practice in delivery. And since many clergy will offer an “adult sermon” and a “children’s sermon” at a given service, they should be preparing for both.

In The Other 80 Percent, authors Scott Thumma and Warren Bird, note that parishes that are educationally minded are more likely to be described as “spiritually vital.” Increasing the teaching work of parish clergy, even during this pandemic, is an important step to developing a vital parish.

Rev. Dr. Tony Vrame
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