Good Teachers Make Themselves Unneeded

LewisNoLongerNeedHow to be a good Bible teacher. A friend shared on Facebook an extremely insightful and useful quote by C.S. Lewis from The Four Loves. I think that if all teachers and leaders understand and apply this quote, they will become the best teachers. This would certainly be true of Bible teachers, pastors and leaders in the church. Read this quote slowly and carefully:

“But the proper aim of giving is to put the recipient in a state where he no longer needs our gift. We feed children in order that they may soon be able to feed themselves; we teach them in order that they may soon not need our teaching. Gift-love…must work towards its own abdication. We must aim at making ourselves superfluous. The hour when we can say ‘They need me no longer’ shall be our reward. But (this) instinct…has no power to fulfill this law. The instinct desires the good of its object, but… A much higher love–a love which desires the good of the object as such, from whatever source that good comes–must step in and help or tame the instinct before it can make the abdication. And of course it often does. But where it does not, the ravenous need to be needed will gratify itself either by keeping its objects needy or by inventing for them imaginary needs.”

Applying this to leaders, shepherds, pastors, and Bible teachers, I would say the following:

Good Bible teachers make themselves unneeded. A good leader, Bible teacher, shepherd and pastor makes himself or herself unneeded. He or she make themselves expendable, dispensable, nonessential and superfluous. A good Bible teacher teaches so well until the student no longer needs the teacher to keep having to teach them. C.S. Lewis says, “we teach them in order that they may soon not need our teaching.” A good Bible teacher mentors, disciples and teach others so well such that the student can lead and teach the Bible independently of their teacher. The best Bible teachers inspire their Bible students to love God and to love the Bible and to become personally motivated and inspired to study the Bible for themselves. Basically the best Bible teachers work themselves out of a job. The best Bible teachers produce independent leaders and self-motivated learners. In contrast, poor leaders produce dependent leaders who do not have the confidence or courage to take risks and to make decisions on their own. Why does this happen?

Inferior Bible teachers refuse to release their student. They do not abdicate. In contrast to good teachers, suboptimal Bible teachers always cause their students to feel as though they desperately need them to always be their Bible teacher and shepherd all the days of their life. I heard about a 62 year old Bible teacher telling his 61 year old Bible student, “You must obey me because you have been my sheep for 40 years.” Based on his words, he still insists on demanding that his Bible student obeys him as his Bible teacher. He has refused to release his Bible student even after 4 decades and even after they are both grand-fathers. I cannot say that he is a good Bible teacher that others should learn from.

The problem with bad leaders is their need to be needed as leaders. C.S. Lewis explains this most eloquently: “…the ravenous need to be needed will gratify itself either by keeping its objects needy or by inventing for them imaginary needs.” Bad leaders make their students feel as though they cannot function independently of their leader. They make their students feel as though they always need their leader and teacher to lead them and to teach them even after many decades.

Have you experienced good teachers who make themselves unneeded? Or have you experienced needy teachers who make you feel as though you cannot succeed without them?

Ben Toh


  1. forestsfailyou

    I would say I have not experienced a ‘shepherd’ who felt as though he needed to be needed. I know my pastor allowed for my roommate to leave even though it greatly pained him. On the other hand he was hurt by my relationship with the author of this article, because he accurately realized I trusted this author more than him. But in my defense this only happened because he refused to correct legalism and heresy even when he agreed it was such, and when his sense of “good” was very much tied up in how much one adhered to UBF’s policy of one to one bible study, campus mission, etc.

  2. forestsfailyou

    On a less polemic note, I will contrast gift love to what Lewis calls “need love” which is exactly what it sounds like. He immediately cautions us on associating it with selfishness, and I think that many times in life people mistake the desire to want as mere selfishness. We are born desiring companionship. Man’s love for God must be need love, and God’s love must be gift love. Our image of man and God don’t allow it any other way. Because some people don’t like dichotomies I will mention that God cannot need anything from us by the trait of omnipotence, and we cannot give him anything because he has everything (except our love, but giving love cannot be gift love because gift love means giving a thing and we immediately see this to be absurd a thing cannot give itself). At any rate something interesting happens.

    “Man approaches God most nearly when he is in one sense least like God. For what can be more unlike than fullness and need, sovereignty and humility, righteousness and penitence, limitless power and a cry for help.”
    Cs Lewis goes on to use an analogy. He says that if someone takes a path to get from point a to b, they might at some points be absolutely closer to b, but they progress on the path the whole time. This makes the problem of evil vanish as well. This shows how God can be glorified even (and I say so trembling)in our sin. Because all things work for the glory of God, John and Judas alike. They only question we have to answer is if we will call upon the name of the lord and be saved.

  3. Great post Ben and wonderful quotes from Lewis. On those points, I agree with Lewis.

    You asked some questions:

    “Have you experienced good teachers who make themselves unneeded?”

    I am experiencing that now at my workplace. I wrote about this elsewhere, but part of this has to do with orientation. In my jobs, I went through an orientation period. But then the orientation stopped and I did my job. The orientation was no longer needed.

    In contrast, KOPAHN theology requires a constant cycle of re-orientation. Every conference becomes a CME moment for “continuous mission education”. The hamster wheel has to keep turning otherwise KOPAHN falls apart, as we saw in Toledo, Yekaturinburg, India, Taiwan and several small 1 family house church chapters in recent years. Sadly, the wheel keeps spinning back up, the ugly cycle starting all over again.

    So regardless of how good or bad individual shepherds are at ubf, they are entrapped by the continual re-orientation needs of KOPAHN theology.

    “Or have you experienced needy teachers who make you feel as though you cannot succeed without them?”

    Yes as everyone knows already I was the lucky one who got to experience one of the hardcore shepherds at ubf who has narcissistic personality disorder. Surely not all ubf shepherds are narcissistic, but many of the top leaders are.

    Something that needs to be said here is something that Chris pointed out sometime. KOPAHN has a self-perpetuating element to it. So Ben I would not be surprised if some ubfers claim to like your quote. The peer pressure created by sogam sharing is one example. A ubf shepherd will tend to create a co-dependency type relationship (due to KOPAHN theology) but will also seek to have the sheep regurgitate KOPAHN on his/her own.

  4. Hi Dad,

    I think this is one of those things where when you’re in the middle of a codependent relationship you don’t think you are, but only after you come out of it you realize what an unhealthy relationship it was. I have no doubt this Bible teacher had good intentions, but when I think now about some of the things she said to me during our Bible studies, I can’t believe I stayed for as long as I did. Of course, I stayed because I assumed the problem was with me. I was too selfish, money-centered, etc., etc. I grew up with the idea that the shepherd is right because God is using the shepherd to speak to you. Sure, God uses people, so there’s some truth in that statement, but in UBF I feel like we elevated that to a point as though to say there is no way the shepherd can ever be wrong because God is sovereign over their leadership over you. Wow.

    I remember when I first started going to my current non-UBF church, I was shocked at how uninvolved/uncontrolling they were of their “younger members.” When I started dating my now-husband, no one was trying to control our relationship. Our close friends and mentors would ask how things were going, but it wasn’t in the “are you sure you’re not sinning??” kind of way. How is this possible?? I remember wondering if they should be prodding more than they are and if there was something wrong. But they trusted that as Christians the Holy Spirit was guiding us. Amazing concept.

  5. “I remember when I first started going to my current non-UBF church, I was shocked at how uninvolved/uncontrolling they were of their “younger members.”

    When my wife and I started attending our non-ubf church, we were shocked at how uninvolved/uncontroling they were of their older members. Isn’t it amazing what you start to see the more you connect with actual Christian churches?

    “But they trusted that as Christians the Holy Spirit was guiding us. Amazing concept.”

    Amazing concept indeed. I suspect many misunderstand my intentions with my blogs and books and discussions. My aim is not to attack ubf or destroy ubf. My aim is to open the back door of ubf so people can connect with authentic Christianity, such as C.S. Lewis, Christian pastors, Bonhoeffer, Spurgeon, etc etc. and most of all: bring KOPAHN into the light of public scrutiny.

    If possible, every conversation I have with ubf people ends with a discussion about this question: What is the gospel Jesus preached?

  6. MJ Peace

    I also want to add that the codependent relationship does not only affect the two people in the relationship, the “sheep” and the “shepherd.” It affects the children and spouse of the shepherd (and sheep.) I have seen many problems arise from a shepherd’s love for their sheep. As, has been mentioned on this site many times before, children have been overlooked because a shepherd was busy taking care of their sheep. A silent jealous competition arouses between the children of the shepherd(ess) and the sheep. Often it is subtle and no one will complain about it or talk about it. I just want to add this because it is a crucial issue in Christian families. I deal with Pastor kids and missionary kids and see it a lot.

    Moreover, as a teacher by profession, I can say that teaching is a selfless job. If you’re trying to prove something, earn a lot of money or recognition, then you are in the wrong profession and your students will suffer because of it. Codependent relationships have become harmful because in some circumstances the teacher needs the students to feel needed and valued in life. The shepherd needs the sheep to validate their Christianity. In these circumstances the love becomes need love instead of gift love. Basically, what I want to say is it takes a lot of maturity to be a teacher. (James 3:1)You have to be at a healthy place where you can give instead of take. And the focus of teaching is the students, not whether the teacher looks good or not.

  7. Joe Schafer

    “It is the hope of every good teacher to have students who take their work further than the teacher was able to do. To be surpassed is the ideal. To be replaced is the goal, not a sign of failure.”
    ― Dan B. Allender, Leading with a Limp: Take Full Advantage of Your Most Powerful Weakness

    • +1! I remember reading a CS Lewis quote that makes a similarly related (or contrary) point but can’t find it. The paraphrase is “If you keep telling people what to do, then when you stop telling them, they do not know how to take the initiative to do what they should.” Can anyone find the exact quote?

      This just came to mind with “marriage by faith.” It seems that some singles have developed an (over) dependency of waiting for their shepherds to find them a spouse. Thus, some seem frozen to take practical initiatives to prayerfully find a mate for themselves.

    • Joe Schafer

      When people passively wait for ubf leaders to find them a spouse, that passivity may persist into the marriage, causing all sorts of problems. Many of us bought into the idea that the secret to a wonderful marriage are (a) no dating, (b) letting someone else choose your spouse for you and (c) not becoming “family centered,” i.e. giving top attention to ubf activities at the expense of your spouse and children. Those ideas are false and unbiblical, but they were widely taught in ubf and did a lot of damage by encouraging people to live in denial, ignoring real problems in their marriages and family relationships. Making your marriage and family work requires serious attention and sustained effort and it needs to be prioritized. I believe that the culture and practices of “marriage by faith” made many of us (including myself) passive and unattentive husbands and fathers.

  8. Joe, I think you encapsulated this in a nutshell: “the secret to a wonderful marriage are (a) no dating, (b) letting someone else choose your spouse for you and (c) not becoming ‘family centered,’…” – See more at:

    Some chapters very likely still impose this rather rigid archaic pattern upon their single people. But since UBF is rather diverse, perhaps more and more chapters, leaders, shepherds, and especially 2nd gens are deviating rather significantly from this half century paradigm and model.

    In my opinion these 3 steps are unsustainable, if not downright unhealthy for those who follow this “blindly by the book/law.”

    To “feed sheep” at the expense of “spending quality time with your children” is bad parenting with some sad and highly preventable results.

    • I doubt that anyone is really deviating from the 50 year teachings. Many people do not accept such garbage, but it is still the expectation all over ubfland. Just read the Sunday lectures and reports.

      For example, being family-centered is still just as “bad” at ubf now as it was in 1961.

      “Before Bible study, he was full of fear and stress because of his future. He also had a strong family centered heart and mentality. However, God encouraged him to challenge his academic courses so that he got all “A’s” last fall. He has been president of our student organization on campus.”

      Source: Report from Baltimore UBF, March 27, 2014

      So it is probably true that no one is “defeating family-centered mentality” like SL did in requiring some missionary candidates to have abortions in order to qualify as “mission-centered” missionaries.

      But being “family-centered” is still a great sin at ubf. Therefore, my first chapter of my 7th book addresses this marriage hogwash. New ubf recruits simply must ask about marriage right away from the first Bible study and find out if they agree with the flawed ubf teachings about marriage.

    • Joe Schafer

      Ben, if those unhealthy ideas about marriage are dying out in some parts of ubf, then it’s primarily because missionaries’ kids have grown up, and the missionaries are unwilling to impose on their own children the strange practices that they imposed on us. But I expect that they will go to their graves before they ever apologize or admit that they were wrong.