The idea of being a teacher of one kind or another is now a very old idea for me. Shortly after entering my seventh grade year in junior high school, I decided (at my musical mother’s urging) to start taking band as a subject. By the next year, I had decided to become a band director, a teacher of music. I never wavered from that decision once I made it, at least until the “preaching bug” bit me after I was married and started seeking God in a serious way. I recall taking the Kuder Occupational Interest Survey in the eighth grade and testing very high in music. (It’s odd that I remember the name of a test I took 60 years ago!) I already knew what my interests were, so the test results offered no surprises.
Becoming a band leader started long before I became a band director. I was selected to be the drum major of my junior high band for one year, drum major of my high school band for two years, and drum major of my college band for all four years. In the latter role, the band director didn’t like directing the band during football games, so I not only did that on the field at halftime, but also in the stands during the rest of the game. He may have hated that role, but I relished it. Thus, I was a teacher of sorts long before it became an official position for me.
I did indeed major in Music Education in college and began my career as a music teacher in the fall of 1965, as a newly married man. Soon thereafter, I enrolled in graduate school to pursue an advanced degree in educational administration. The exact name of my program was: “Supervision and Administration at the Secondary Level.” In other words, I was being educated to become a high school principal. I only finished half of that degree, since I decided to enter the ministry during that process. However, all of the education courses I took at both undergraduate and graduate levels gave me a good foundation of educational principles and processes, training that served me well in all future teaching endeavors. But ever since I was a young teen, education was my thing. I never wanted to do anything besides teach.
I first began preaching in 1970 while attending a ministry training school (the Preston Road School of Preaching in Dallas, Texas). The preaching when in school was on a part-time basis, but I had stuck my foot in the water and had found it very exciting and intriguing. I was still a teacher, but now the subject was Bible. My interest in music all but left me, for I felt as if I were in heaven while studying and teaching the Bible. Once I graduated from that two year ministry training program, I worked alongside an older, very skilled preacher in the Northwest and sharpened my preaching and teaching skills under his tutelage. (My book, My Three Lives contains many details of those and other years in my earlier ministry.)
When I did graduate from that particular school, the faculty told me during my senior conference that they envisioned me returning to teach there after I had gained some ministry experience. They said that it was obvious that I should be a teacher in a setting like that one. Preaching is teaching, but they were talking about a more in-depth training of other preachers. I was flattered by their vision for me, but assumed that this role was going to be at least a decade away. As it turned out, it was less than three years away. Honestly, I was a bit “green” for such a position, but with God’s help and the burning of much midnight oil, I managed to survive and hopefully did a reasonably good job.
Teaching in this program taught me far more than I conveyed to the students. The curriculum included every book in the Bible studied in quite some depth. Some courses grouped several biblical books together, like the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Old Testament) or the Minor Prophets, but many were studied as single books. Each course had 54 hours of classroom instruction per semester. That meant that teaching a book like Revelation, with its 22 chapters, gave the instructors about 2 ½ hours per chapter to really dig into the text. Since we were teaching four courses each semester, the preparation was almost overwhelming, especially the first time we taught a given course. At any rate, teaching in such a challenging program gave me the background preparation for all Bible teaching that was to follow.
I taught in this program full-time for four years and part-time for another three. During those years, I completed a Master’s Degree in Bible – “New Testament Studies” being my specialty. When teaching part-time at Preston Road, I was a full-time minister for a local church. Since the church group I was in during that time had four meetings per week (two services on Sunday, a Sunday School slot, and a midweek service), I was preparing and delivering lessons most of the time. To say that teaching was my life would have been true in more than one way!
When we left Dallas and moved back to the Northwest, I was the new kid on the block and had a reputation as a Bible teacher. Plus, I had met the Campus Ministry Movement (the predecessor of what was to become the ICOC – International Churches of Christ) and was regularly invited to speak on their programs. During my four year tenure in Washington State, I counted up my teaching and preaching slots for one of those calendar years, and discovered that I had averaged delivering one sermon every other day (not counting Sunday School or midweek lessons). As I said, teaching was my life and evidently was destined to remain so for the remainder of it.
Once I joined our present movement of churches in 1985, the teaching slots diminished considerably. We had only one service on Sundays and midweeks were often done in small groups, with lessons that were more on the practical side than the exegetical side. Of course, there were leader meetings of various types, but the lessons for them were mostly practical and administrative in nature. At this point in my teaching career, I assumed that the more in-depth type of teaching to which I had been accustomed was pretty much over. Of course, there were the occasional seminar or conference lessons to be developed and taught, but they were occasional and involved more preaching than teaching (yes, there is a difference).
In the early 1990s, to my surprise and delight, I was to don my “professor’s hat” once again. In 1993, Randy McKean, the congregational evangelist for the Boston Church of Christ, asked me to put that hat on again. This new emphasis meant that I was given large chunks of time for writing and preparation for teaching. We began the New England School of Ministry, which involved teaching all of our ministry staff in New England a series of biblical courses in a classroom setting, complete with advance assignments and a final exam.
We quickly expanded that program to include the staff of churches in Europe that the Boston church established or oversaw. My trips to Europe were frequent, both for ministry training and for just strengthening young churches. In addition to the ministry training program, Randy introduced occasional all-day Saturday teaching sessions for the church, calling these sessions “Bible Jubilees.” The content for nearly all of these exciting teaching days came from materials I had just written – in-depth outlines in booklet form at first, and full length books beginning in 1995 (“Prepared to Answer” and “The Victory of Surrender” that year).
After sixteen years in Boston, we moved to Phoenix for nine. Once again, my teaching slots diminished as I was immersed in the ministry of a local church. However, as I approached my 65th year, my teaching focus expanded once more. About the time I was nearing that ominous birthday, the elders were discussing the budget for the following year (2008). It was becoming increasingly obvious that the church in Phoenix wasn’t large enough to support me and Theresa in the role of teacher/elder and women’s ministry leader. The discussion moved in the direction of needing to lay off our Teen Ministry couple or our Campus Ministry couple in order to keep us on staff. As an elder at the time, I just couldn’t approve doing that. So I told the other elders that I was going to have to help them fire me and that I would find another means to provide for us financially. Starting a teaching ministry seemed the best way to do that, and I had already had discussions with others about that possibility.
Sometime during that period several had approached me about starting a training program in Asia, one that ended up as the Asia-Pacific Leadership Training Academy (APLA). God was opening doors for me to start a formal teaching ministry, which began officially in mid-2008. God soon opened another door. Shawn Wooten, evangelist in Kiev, asked me to set up a leadership program in Kiev patterned after APLA, a program to be named the Ukrainian Institute of Ministry. Both programs had a curriculum of eleven courses for the Ministry Track students (those on staff) and an eight course curriculum for the Shepherding Track students (lay leaders). In addition to teaching in these two programs, I continued to travel and speak in a number of other settings. As I often said, I lived in the “jet lag” time zone!
In November of 2012, we moved to the Los Angeles area and I assumed the role of Director of the Pacific School of Ministry in January of 2013 for a two year term. At the end of that assignment, we moved to Dallas, Texas where we now reside. By design, my traveling days have been reduced significantly. My teaching is focused on (but not limited to) a writing ministry. I wrote three book in 2016, bringing my total number of books to fifteen. Additionally, I have a number of audio and video teaching series that are available through my publisher, Illumination Publishers (IPI) – ipibooks.com. Perhaps I will write more books in the future, but writing three books in six months last year pretty much satisfied that “itch,” at least for the present.
Near the end of 2016, through an expected chain of events, God unleashed a new passion in me, one that led to the development of a new blog on racial issues, entitled Black Tax and White Benefits (blacktaxandwhitebenefits.com). As might be expected, a number of invitations to speak have been on this subject. I also am working on expanding my teaching in writing through this teaching website, gordonferguson.org. My prayer for this late stage of life (turning 75 in October!) is still the same as always, that God would use me in any way that he wants. Whatever that turns out to be, one would have to assume that it will be in some form of teaching. That has been my life for decades, and is still my life now. Romans 12:7 mentions a “gift” of teaching, and God has graciously given me this gift and kept it functioning for many years. I am most grateful, and pray that my use of the gift might glorify him and bless others!
— Gordon Ferguson (August 2017)