Pt. 2: A Failing Teaching Ministry
Updated: Jun 7, 2019
Good morning dear brothers and sisters,
First, I would like to thank you for taking the time out of your busy morning, day, or night to read this article. If you have been following the site for a while now, you likely notice that I am passionate about the church, and my topics often reflect the current issues, struggles, or concepts the churches are facing. This issue is no different, though many are turning a blind eye to the facts.
In the last article, we discussed a traditional platform for teaching, why it is no longer successful, and briefly touched on the idea of change. There was little resolution in the last article, and that was because I had hoped you would consider ways in which you would change (if needed). This article will focus on the concept of how we teach. An honest evaluation of your current situation will do well before you delve deeper into this post.
We observed the common methodology for teaching in the last article, known as the "Sunday school" platform. In academia, this method is commonly referred to as a "religious instructional" model. In sum, the classes are formatted to provide instruction of some fashion, generally established by reading some parts of scripture. The class setting is generally in a school-like formation, with chairs all in a row, people awkwardly not sitting at the front, and an instructor as the head of the teaching. If you walked into a high school, middle, or elementary school, the classes would probably look the same as the classes using the religious instructional model.
What we usually find in this model is that people come to hear, not to participate. Material is presented to be memorized, not learned. Dogma is taught from the person who is trusted by the leadership to not go outside the traditional understanding. Teachers generally use a guide (given by someone in the church) to help them along in their studies. The students do not typically join the conversation, at least partly, due to a lack of confidence or lack of welcoming atmosphere (e.g. the one teaching knows the only "right" answer). Rarely will a question surface that challenges the current understanding or tradition because the setting does not promote a question-centered class. Keep doing self-evaluation here...
Moreover, the stress of learning the material before the class does, puts weight heavily on the teacher and holds the class to little, if any, accountability. Often, people will show up to bible class without the slightest clue as to what was discussed last week. There is generally no carry over or instruction for them throughout the week, resulting in a lack of understanding and forgetting what was taught. What we are stuck with is an enormous amount of preparation put in by the teacher, only to notice very little growth or impact for the effort.
So, what is the answer?
The fact is that there is no "one size fits all" method to this problem. Some churches are the rarity and are thriving in this setting. With others, that is not the case. In future articles, I will touch on other models, such as "faith community" and "transformation." On the scale of teaching models, the one that is on the far opposite of religious instruction is transformation (we will talk about it another day). For now, I want to focus on the middle-of-the-road model called the "spiritual development" model. In a model like this, discussion is the central focus for the time spent together. It would look more along the lines of a people around a camp fire holding bibles, asking deep questions, and coming up with scripture-based resolutions. Christians learning from Christians! What a marvelous idea!
There would be a facilitator for driving discussion and gearing the conversation toward something that can be practically implemented and learned, but the weight of meaningful learning is shifted from the teacher to the whole class. It is scripturally based, just not in a classroom row setting. (Note--the campfire example was only to paint an image of the formation, not the actual suggestion. The church wouldn't take kindly to a fire being held in the gym...Instead of meeting in a class, it would be in an open area where people could situate themselves like they would around a fire.) Fostering relationships and spiritual growth are the desired outcomes, and the learning is geared toward living by the Spirit, not simply memorizing verses or contexts about the Spirit, though each has its place.
In a situation like this, people would be encouraged to bring their coffee, their problems, and their questions. The pressure to know all the right answers is gone, and the members of the church are comfortable sharing differing opinions on what the bible is, what it says, how to live, what church is, and the list goes on and on. These are the kinds of meetings we should desire as the church; meetings like this can change lives.
Why Wouldn't People Want This?
One of the more troubling things I've considered while deciding what to write is what reasons people would have for objecting to a change in the current setting. I believe people come from good places. Their intentions are pure, and they may not necessarily see an issue with the current format. I am not oblivious to the idea that people do not like change. The church is at the heart of one of the especially off limits areas where people welcome changes. Presenting this option certainly has the propensity of bringing about immediate rejection, and that is something I want you to be aware of.
People that have been doing the same thing for a number of years tend to not see the other things that are happening. This is not to say they are purposefully doing this. Rather, the method has become routine, almost a natural part of their life. On the other hand, there are leaders who are aware of the problems but would forego creating more issues in order to keep the peace. So, I would recommend understanding that people may not welcome this idea, lest one be considered too "liberal". I do, however, believe the facts need to be confronted. There are two choices we have: (1) Face the fact that our churches are getting smaller because they provide little benefit/relevance, and change something (2) Face the fact that the churches are getting smaller, and continue sticking to your guns. Whatever the choice, I simply hope you consider the impact of both options on you, your family, and your congregation (present and future).
I certainly hope the church is around when my kids are parents. I hope someone, somewhere decides that staying in the past is not the way to move into the future. I hope members of the church realize that change is not always bad. I mean, show me a church that right now, today looks like the church in ancient Ephesus, Corinth, Rome, Philippi, or Thessaloniki. If we don't look like them, then someone changed something. I hope people can bear with one another for the furthering of the gospel. Finally, I hope that we would all recognize and acknowledge the importance that the teaching ministry of the church has on its future.
I am excited for the upcoming articles, and I hope you have learned something. I received some great feedback from the last article, and fully welcome more of your comments and experiences.
As always, if there is anything I can do to help you, please do not hesitate to reach out.
Until next time...