Several days ago, on December 15th, I celebrated the 10th anniversary of standing for my oral defense as the final assignment during my first doctorate. For most doctoral students, after years of classes and then writing a massive dissertation, the final step in seeking graduation with a doctorate is the oral defense of your dissertation. And that’s what happened on December 15, 2005. I had a faculty sponsor who had worked with me for years and assembled the group of pastors, educators and missionaries who had achieved advanced degrees of their own and would now act as judge and jury – deciding whether I would start over or finally achieve peer status with the group in the room.
It’s a heady experience – filled with anticipation and excitement – yet somehow, it’s difficult to explain the trepidation and concern about all the questions that will come up during the examination phase of the defense. And it’s quite tiring – in my case, I stood, yes stood, at the end of a very long table for more than three hours – answering every question and challenge that came from more than a dozen icons of the faith – each an expert in his own area of study. It was daunting to say the least.
But these gentlemen knew that achieving doctoral status meant that a post graduate student had to add to the body of knowledge and it is important that the quest for knowledge be at the forefront of the proceedings. I learned quite a bit during my seminary experience. In fact, as a result of my project, I actually changed my philosophy about para-church and non-profit organizations. I came to realize that most of these initiatives are actually the responsibility of the church and the advent of almost all of these organizations initially came as a result of the church’s failure to address the needs of the people.
I came to believe that if churches could adequately address issues such as poverty, homelessness, family dysfunctions and other societal ills, the entire country would be far better off. But divisiveness and bickering necessitated the need for third party providers who could walk alongside people in need to fill the void left by inadequate church responsiveness. Believe me, that was a tough message to convey to this group of theologians and church leaders. In fact, I thought that my honesty would sound a little harsh but I was pleasantly surprised to learn that my conclusions were well received by my audience. In fact, for those of you who know me well, I always find it a little difficult to be less than straight forward about my position on just about anything.
To cut to the chase, I passed my oral defense and, after the secret vote, was welcomed back into the room as Dr. Toussaint. I had worked years for this degree and was grateful for the education that I had received from my teachers and mentors. Of course, this also meant that being a teacher of the Scripture was part of the responsibility I now had. And while that was daunting at first, I have become comfortable with the role during the last decade.
I have had the privilege of teaching Bible college classes, seminary and my greatest love, our home Bible study that has met together for many years. I find teaching to be very fulfilling and rewarding; and as my corporate career starts to slow down, I fully intend to ramp up teaching, one way or another. One of my own teachers who was a wonderful theologian responsible for tackling subjects such as Angelology, Trinitarianism, Systematic Theology and many other deep courses passed away earlier this year. I miss him greatly and recognize the impact that a fine teacher can have on one’s life.
Scripturally, teachers have an important role in preaching the Word of God. Even in the first century, false teachers came out of the church and spread lies about Creator of the universe. The apostle John wrote several letters to the churches, in addition to his Gospel, highlighting the dangers of false teaching and urged Christians to make sure that they only followed teaching that acknowledged the deity of Jesus. The standards for teaching the Bible are very high and those of us who are pastors and educators still engage in study to make sure that we are in alignment with God’s Word.
Our verse for the evening comes from the book of Titus. We are told, in Titus 2:7, “In everything set them an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech…” What great words of wisdom for aspiring teachers. My encouragement tonight is that God assigns some of us to be pastors and teachers, others to work with other spiritual gifts and we are to recognize that each of us has gifts that can be used to advance the Kingdom of God on earth. My prayer is that, no matter what area of expertise you have, you will spend time learning more about God and His Bible. If you don’t have a place to learn, find a great Bible centered church and sit under the teaching of God centered leaders. I think you’ll be glad you did – I was! Have a great day in the Lord, grace and peace…