Eight Traits of Good Teaching

Eight Traits of Good Teaching

It’s a very short book on spiritual leadership — just a booklet, really — but the walls of this small cave are lined with gold. You won’t even need a pickax to pluck off a nugget.

In The Marks of a Spiritual Leader, John Piper points to an “inner circle” and an “outer circle” of traits. The inner circle is “the absolute bare essentials,” or what must happen in the leader’s own soul if he is going to take even the first step in leading others spiritually. These include prayer, meditating on God’s word, and acknowledging your helplessness.

The outer circle, then, is comprised of “qualities that characterize both spiritual and non-spiritual leaders.” Piper gives 18 of these traits. One is skill in teaching. “It is not surprising to me that some of the great leaders at our church have been men who are also significant teachers. According to 1 Timothy 3:2, anyone who aspires to the office of overseer in the church should be able to teach.”

Piper then says, “A good teacher has at least the following characteristics” and provides these eight:

  1. A good teacher asks himself the hardest questions, works through to answers, and then frames provocative questions for his learners to stimulate their thinking.

  2. A good teacher analyzes his subject matter into parts and sees relationships and discovers the unity of the whole.

  3. A good teacher knows the problems learners will have with his subject matter and encourages them and gets them over the humps of discouragement.

  4. A good teacher foresees objections and thinks them through so that he can answer them intelligently.

  5. A good teacher can put himself in the place of a variety of learners and therefore explain hard things in terms that are clear from their standpoint.

  6. A good teacher is concrete, not abstract; specific, not general; precise, not vague; vulnerable, not evasive.

  7. A good teacher always asks, “So what?” and tries to see how discoveries shape our whole system of thought. He tries to relate discoveries to life and tries to avoid compartmentalizing.

  8. The goal of a good teacher is the transformation of all of life and thought into a Christ-honoring unity.


The Marks of a Spiritual Leader is available as 38-page printed booklet as well as free of charge in three electronic formats (PDF, EPUB, and MOBI).

David Mathis (@davidcmathis) is executive editor at desiringGod.org and an elder at Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis. He has edited several books, including Thinking. Loving. Doing., Finish the Mission, and Acting the Miracle, and is co-author of How to Stay Christian in Seminary.