How to Teach with Authority

January 20th, 2014

There was something about the way Jesus taught that was different from the way other teachers did it at the time. In the Gospel of Mark, when Jesus went to the synagogue in Capernaum to teach, we read, “The people were amazed by his teaching, for he was teaching them with authority, not like the legal experts” (Mark 1:22 CEB). Jesus’ teaching not only impressed the people of Capernaum, it amazed them. And it was because he taught with authority. So whatever authority is, if it caused the teachings of Jesus to have that much of an impact on everyone, then I want to learn how to teach with authority. You should too.

What exactly is authority, and why do you need it to be a more effective teacher? The word itself can mean a number of things, but in the Biblical sense, it refers to jurisdiction, influence, and/or power of choice. Leadership expert John Maxwell has defined leadership as influence. So ultimately, if authority is influence and leadership is influence, then demonstrating authority is showing leadership and demonstrating leadership is showing authority. The two are inseparable. Also, there are generally two types of authority, intrinsic and delegated. In plain language, this means you either have authority because of who you are or because of who or what you represent. Ultimately, since all authority comes from God, a Christian’s authority is the delegated type. Jesus had authority because he was the Son of God. Christians have authority because of our relationship with Jesus.

If you regularly teach others, and you want this authority to be evident in your teaching, here are some things you should do:

  • Teach from personal experience. People want to know if all the things you teach actually work both in practice and in theory. There’s even an old saying in some religious circles that demonstrates this idea: “A person with an experience is never at the mercy of a person with an argument.” Although experience doesn’t trump scripture, it can certainly be powerful and persuasive.
  • Teach practically. How many angels can dance on the head of a pin? Honestly, most people couldn’t care less. Sure, we all talk about these kinds of things from time to time, but when the rubber meets the road, most people want to know how to have a deeper walk with God, and how to make this Christianity stuff work. When you teach, persuade people and empower them. Don’t dwell on topics of little consequence.
  • Teach biblically. The authority of the written word of God is necessary to give real authority to your teaching. Appealing to theologians, poets, and contemporary authors will add variety to what you say, but that won’t give it authority. Since Christian authority is delegated, appealing to the Word of God recognizes the source of that authority. If you’re speaking in a higher authority’s name, never underestimate the power and authority that comes with using their own words.
  • Ask guided questions. We’ve already established that authority is influence, and asking the right questions when you teach will ensure that your talks have their intended effect on listeners. Ask questions that take students to where you want them to go, but give them enough room to figure out at least part of the principle by themselves. Most of us learn best when we arrive at a truth at least partly on our own rather than simply having information imparted to us. Using the guided question approach avoids rigid indoctrination on one end of the spectrum and “pooling of ignorance” discussions on the other.
  • Make Jesus the center of your teaching. The foundation of Christianity is Jesus himself, not a creed, denomination, or a set of doctrines. Teaching that is authoritative and effective at expanding the Kingdom of God will by definition be Christ-centered. Is Jesus the foundation of your teaching and preaching, or more of an afterthought?
  • Pray. Jesus already had authority based on who he was, yet he still found it necessary to pray often to the God the Father. If you’re going to teach with delegated authority, doesn’t it make sense to meet as often as you can with the source of that authority to make sure your purpose and will are lined up with his? I’ve found that prayer time is even more important than preparation time when it comes to teaching the word of God.

In a world that seems to be increasingly persuaded that spiritual truth is subjective, teaching with authority will likely set you apart from many other teachers and preachers. The keys to doing it effectively are maintaining humility and remembering where your authority ultimately comes from.

What are some other ways you can be more authoritative when you teach?

Shane Raynor is an editor at Ministry Matters and editor of the Converge Bible Studies series from Abingdon Press. Connect with Shane on Google+Twitter, and FacebookSign up to receive Shane's posts free via email.

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