Higher Education: Learning as Preparation for Living

GraduationPomp and Circumstance must reverberate through the atmosphere at this time of year.  Graduates of higher education have received their expensive diplomas declaring them ready for real life and productive work.

 An education is preparation for life and for work.

The Church is also engaged in Higher education.

What is the purpose of the education that we receive from our churches?

Christians today have excellent instruction available to them in their churches, on-line, and in Bible studies.  Highly skilled pastors/teachers give excellent lectures – oops, I mean messages.  Class – I mean church members dutifully listen, take notes, and personally apply the material.

Biblical preaching and teaching is the education that should prepare each follower of Jesus for the a life and the job of making disciples. 

I wonder if the church tends to confuse education with the work of discipleship.

Several churches that I’ve attended feature a message, at least 45 minutes in length, as the main event of Sunday morning worship services.  Why call it a worship service if is mostly education?  (Other traditions have a more balanced mix of liturgy, music, sacraments and a sermon.  Frankly, that sounds more like worship.)

 I wonder if the church tends to confuse education with worship.

Are churches over-emphasizing education at the expense of other important aspects of faith, discipleship and worship?

The book What is the Mission of the Church?, by Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert, is representative of churches that operate with a focus on, “…preaching and teaching, announcing and testifying, making disciples and bearing witness…the initial and continuing verbal declaration of the gospel…”  (p. 59, italics mine.)  The authors recognize that other aspects of the Christian life, most notably service to the poor and oppressed, are important but are not the most important work of the church.

I appreciate that this is motivated by a proper emphasis on the Gospel.  It is, as Paul put it, “…the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16).

My concern is that the emphasis on “preaching and teaching” tends to locate the primary work of the church with the few people who speak from the pulpit.  The rest of us start to believe that our job is to learn instead of to live the Gospel.

Furthermore, churches with this focus seek leaders who are gifted teachers perhaps at the expense of other important pastoral gifts.  “Able to teach” is just one of the biblical qualifications for church leadership.

Learning is important preparation for living. Following Jesus is the life and disciple-making the job of every Christian. 

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.  And surely I will be with you always, to the very end of the age.”  Matthew 28:18-20

Do you think churches over-emphasize education?  How do you “make disciples?”

12 thoughts on “Higher Education: Learning as Preparation for Living

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  1. Interesting post Judy! My initial thoughts may make it sound like I disagree with you, but I do actually agree. I personally find that way too many churches lack good teaching – whether from the pulpit or in “Bible studies”. There is too much of these fluffy, “how to” sermons or studies that seem more like psychological pep talks with a couple of Bible verses thrown in.

    But in churches that do have more solid biblical instruction (like the ones you refer too), I totally agree that the ultimate purpose of life transformation can be lost. “Are churches over-emphasizing education at the expense of other important aspects of faith, discipleship and worship?” – Yes, I think some are! Perhaps it is a over-reaction to some of the fluffy, superficial teaching. But over-reaction leads to its own problems, as your post points out.

    “Churches with this focus seek leaders who are gifted teachers perhaps at the expense of other important pastoral gifts. Able to teach is just one of the biblical qualifications for church leadership.” – I totally agree. And have experienced this personally. A large church near me has exceptional expository preaching/teaching, yet we found other important pastoral gifts very lacking. Like the gift of “pastoring”! There seemed to be great pulpit skills, but a severe lack of people/shepherding skills. People need good teaching but they need to be cared for too!

    Well, thanks for letting me ramble and for stimulating my thinking Judy.

    1. Thank you for your thoughtful ramble, Laura! I appreciate your point about the importance of solid biblical teaching. I love and greatly benefit from gifted teachers who speak from a position under the authority of the Bible as opposed to those who tend to speak on their own authority and using the Bible as handy reinforcement. So, as you point out, in reaction to weak teaching we tend to emphasize strong teaching…which places all of the focus on the stage instead of on the difficult job of shepherding people.
      I feel for pastors who are doing their best to live up to our high expectations. It’s the rare individual who can provide high quality teaching, run a church staff, and interact pastorally with members at all levels of Christian maturity and dealing with all kinds of life’s problems. Actually, it wasn’t God’s design for one person, or even a church staff, to do all of that. He gifted the Body of Christ, all of us, to cover that spiritual ground with each other. The more we depend on the teaching of one person for our spiritual development, the less we will be inclined to exercise our own gifts or to appreciate the gifts of others. Now you’ve got me thinking… Thanks again, Laura!

  2. “The rest of us start to believe that our job is to learn instead of to live the Gospel.” Thank you, Judy! You always help us think about what is really going on. Praying for that balance of learning and living the Gospel out loud. God bless you!

  3. Wow, this really struck me personally, Judy–as I seem to be focused on learning; but possibly, I’m just catching up (from years of being so ignorant). Anyway, you’ve got me thinking! I’ll be watching to see if I’m living out what I’m learning. Thanks for another great message–God bless you BIG–love, sis Caddo

    1. So well said, Caddo, the importance of “watching to see if (we’re) living out what (we’re) learning.” Thanks, and big blessings back to you!

  4. I believe the best way to disciple believers is for everyone to be a part of the process, rather than a few gifted teachers expounding from a pulpit. For example, there is nothing more exciting than new believers giving testimonies about what God is doing in their lives. This sharing by them encourages them and increases their hunger. I believe that allowing people to have a voice in meetings will mature them faster than a thousand teachings by one gifted person.

    Am I against teachings? No, not at all, because I am a teacher. But a 5 to 10 minute teaching with an open discussion at the end will make the teachings come to life for believers.

    And I also believe a big part of the disciple process is teaching people how to wait on the Holy Spirit and then move with Him. This is easily done in a group where invariably the Holy Spirit will use almost anyone rather than the gifted leaders.

    1. Thank you, Larry. I love your phrase “teachings come to life…” That’s the intention, isn’t it? It makes sense that actively contributing is more “lively” than passively listening. After all, teachers give grades for “class participation,” because it’s evidence of interest and comprehension. Is it your experience in this kind of worship setting that everyone contributes? Just a few?

      1. Most of my experience is in groups of 20 or less, but I believe all Christians have inner desire to give voice or do something because of their inner spirit being alive to the Holy Spirit. To bring this about, the leader has to be determined that the other believers are more important than his own calling and keep encouraging them. As simple as this may sound, ask the untalkative members to pray for you and others. Hey, it works!

  5. The emphasis on the pulpit for Sunday morning services can be a good way to join in corporate worship. I think the reformers intended that centrality to focus on God’s revelation, and so be a focus on God. Too often now though we tend to look at sermons as didactic tools. That is a travesty to me. Should they be didactic? Sure. But that should be a by product of coming into God’s presence corporately and focusing on who God is as revealed in his word.

    Sorry, huge ramble going on here Judy. You got me thinking!


    1. The difference between a focus on God’s revelation and a perception of the sermon as a didactic tool is a helpful distinction, Tim. Certainly congregation members have their own responsibility to engage with a message as God’s revelation. What I have observed, however, is the development of a culture in which teaching is highly revered and Christian life becomes largely intellectual. The application of a Sunday message is often to spend more time in God’s Word. There is a danger of developing well educated but passive Christians. As a Bible teacher myself, I have to resist that tendency. I love studying and teaching God’s word in a (hopefully) true, engaging and life-giving way. What am I doing with all that God has taught me? Does it all stay in my head, or am I putting it into action? Thanks for your thoughtful comment (not a ramble at all!), Tim. And there are few comments that please me more than “You got me thinking”:) Judy

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