Tag Archives: teaching

Disagreement is Essential to Teaching

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Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com/Snap2Art

Yesterday, I had a wonderful conversation with a nice couple who had some questions about our church, our beliefs and what I teach on various subjects. It was a pleasure to visit with them, to get to know them and to see how much we were in agreement. However, no matter how much we agreed, I warned them “Eventually, I am going to teach something that you will disagree with. It is inevitable and will happen. It is important how we handle that.”

Every church and every pastor faces such disagreements at one time or another. Of course, with many individual believers this problem never occurs because many Christians view church mostly from the aesthetic. The average Christian knows what they like and pick a church based on that. For some it’s a charismatic pastor, an exciting mixture of programs, or an energetic worship band.

Then there are Christians who find the teaching most important. These folks want to know what a church teaches, what a pastor believes. These are often the folks with the most to offer a church because they take the Word of God seriously enough to take time to study it. Conversations with such believers are usually the most constructive and, for me, the most enjoyable.

My thoughts this morning turned to my statement quoted above. It is true and inevitable that there will someday be disagreement between the one preaching/teaching the Word and the one hearing. This is actually a central tenet of teaching. If we both (teacher and student) agree on everything, then no actual teaching happens—at most you have reinforcement. Biblical teaching implies that the teacher holds a biblical view which he seeks to impart to another. This assumes disagreement—assuming the student lacks that view. The teacher must demonstrate why the listener should agree.

It’s less important in this setting that we start out agreeing on every point. It is most important that we start out agreeing to tolerate the difference and allow the person teaching to prove their point. Of course, it is then upon the teacher to do so. But the student should be able to look beyond the disagreement and fairly assess the teaching. If you hear your pastor say something you disagree with, and you shut down refusing to hear why he believes that, then you are not being a good disciple, but are being obstinate. If the pastor says, ‘This is what I believe and you must concur regardless of how weak my argument” then the pastor is a tyrant with more interest in indoctrination than teaching.

Does your pastor live a godly life? Does your pastor demonstrate the truth of the gospel and work hard to teach the Word honestly and correctly? Then give him the benefit of the doubt, listen to his teaching and then examine it in the light of the Word. The solution to differences is not division, but an examination of the Scriptures to find the truth.

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The Importance of Fellowship

fellowshipWe in the church are all disciples of Christ and, as such, we have been given the responsibility to take the good news to the world, sharing it with others. Too often we lose sight of the goal of this sharing. We don’t share merely to elicit agreement with our beliefs. While important, this is not the primary goal for which we strive. Neither is the physical response of baptism and church membership the actual goal. The goal of sharing the gospel is taking those who were once enemies of God and making them into mature disciples of Christ. Some will argue that assent to the gospel, baptism and church membership are the definition of discipleship, but I would argue this is only the beginning. Yes, at that point the responder has taken on the status of being a disciple.

There is far more to being a disciple than simply assenting to doctrines, being baptized in water and developing the habit of attending church. A mature disciple is one who exhibits the defining qualities of Christ in the flesh. Because this person has taken on the qualities of Christ, this person responds as Christ would to situations. This person lives as Christ would. The person desires what Christ desired. When one sees the mature disciple, one sees Christ. This is our goal.

Now, think about this definition of a mature believer and ask, “How much of what is done in church actually contributes to this goal?” How many of our programs actually encourage us to live like Christ? Then ask how many of those that encourage this sort of life actually empower us to do this? Think hard about it and I am sure you will notice that few of our most cherished programs actually qualify.

You may say, “Well, Sunday school does this.” You are partly right. Perhaps you will mention Bible Study or biblically focused sermons.  I would argue that very little disciplemaking is actually going on in these settings. Before you accuse me of downplaying the importance of preaching and teaching the Bible, allow me to explain. These educational programs are very useful in teaching what Jesus did. They are very useful in teaching what scripture commands us to do—when and where it commands. They teach us what scripture forbids—too often these even throw in a few things it actually does not forbid. But is this enough to learn how to live as Christ in the world? I would argue that it’s a good start, but only a start.

I have taught many people to drive. I’ve taught my wife, my three children and several immigrants how to drive. Let me use driver instruction as an illustration of disciplemaking. When you teach someone to drive, the goal is getting them to be able to safely, legally and responsibly handle a moving vehicle in a variety of situations. The possible situations one will face over a lifetime of driving are so numerous no one could predict all the possible scenarios. Now suppose I want to take someone who does not know how to operate an automobile and make them into a skilled driver. I could start with classes—and classes are important. We could teach them about the parts of the car; the way the parts work; the way to maintain them. When they understand these we might have a class on the laws of the road. Then we could teach them about what to do when the roads are slippery or when driving at night. We would, of course, want to teach them how to merge on to a highway (as one who lives in San Antonio, I can assure you many people need a refresher course on this one!). They need to learn how to change lanes safely (don’t get me started on this one!).

Suppose we sat our prospective new driver down, gave them classroom instructions in all of these and then simply threw them a license and a set of car keys, and cut them loose. You’d have chaos (something very close to Loop 1604 during San Antonio rush hour). You would have just guaranteed that person’s failure. What did we miss? We missed practical application. We missed road instruction. Someone learns to turn safely by actually turning a vehicle—they learn the feel of the car pulling to one side, the feel of the accelerator and the brake. They learn how to change lanes by actually doing it. They learn to merge on the highway by getting onto and off of the highway multiple times. They learn to drive at night by driving at night.

Learning to drive has a great deal in common with making disciples. We want people to live, walk, and talk like Christ. Sunday school and Bible Study lay a good foundation when done properly. Church programs can attract people in, and give them some instruction. However, those who come in will never really learn to be Christ in the assortment of situations life throws at them, unless they observe someone else living like Christ. This is why fellowship is so important—I define that here as the personal interaction between the present and the potential people of God (between those who have been reached, but also between us and those we strive to reach).

We make disciples by being disciples in the presence of those who are either non-disciples or who are immature disciples. We make disciples not merely by teaching what Christ did in the past, or what Christ has commanded. This is insufficient because life is full of decisions that Christ did not have an opportunity to model. This does not detract from him being tempted in every way as we are. However, it recognizes the difference between our world and theirs. Neither does scripture offer a black and white command for every possible decision we face. This was actually a major contributor to the strife between Jesus and the religious leaders of his day. Life was full of situations for which the scriptures gave no direct command so the rabbis had to interpret. They often decided a safe choice was to pile rules upon rules. Jesus showed a different way. He lived for years with his disciples modeling the right way to them. They saw how to live a righteous life through close proximity to one who was living a righteous life.

Disciplemaking must include practical field training. This means getting into the lives of other disciples. This requires us to spend time together—to visit with one another; to talk; to interact at various levels. The church has a long history of fellowship—usually defined as a Potluck meal. I would contend that biblical fellowship is far more than a meal, and that biblical fellowship is to be a primary activity of God’s people in church—not something relegated beneath the message, but an essential part of learning the lessons of the message. The church meeting (the service set aside for worship and the message) is the classroom. The world is where we practically apply what we learn. However, our preparation is not complete without the lab between the lesson and the application. Our fellowship is the lab where we learn to apply the things we learned from the message and the exposition of scripture. It is where we learn to interact in a godly way, to handle strife, to forgive, to bless, etc. Then, after we have not only absorbed the facts of the lesson, but have learned to apply them, we are prepared to go out into the world and live them out.

Biblical preaching and teaching are important. But fellowship between those so taught is equally important. We must build into our churches more opportunities to fellowship with one another. We must stop relegating these opportunities to the occasional second tier status to which such fellowship has for too long been exiled. The interaction of God’s people is just as important for making disciples as anything that will ever come from the pulpit.

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Courage to face the Word of God

courageCourage is an important virtue for the Christian. Courage to speak the Word is important. Many will attack you for your faith and it can take courage to share the truth. However, it’s not this courage I want to address. This courage is important. It is also something you often hear about.

The courage I want to address is courage in the face of the Word itself. The Word is probing. It can take a certain courage to look honestly at the Word when it convicts or condemns us for an action—especially a favorite sin, or besetting addiction. While we must have courage to face what the Word tells us about ourselves, this too is not exactly what I want to address.

The area of courage that I want to address is the courage to take what the Word tells us at face value and to actually accept it, even we would rather it say something else. The church is full of teachings that have nothing to do with the Word. Some speak in the areas of silence—where the scripture says nothing. These are fine. However, some actually contradict the very Word itself. This happens for various reasons—cherry picking, lack of context, misunderstanding about basic argument or the rules of hermeneutics, etc. However, when we discover that something is wrong, even if taught by a beloved teacher, then it must be jettisoned. Contradictions of the Word must not be tolerated, even from those we hold dear.

Many of us hear biblical truths taught that contradict these beloved teachers and we are wrongly tempted to reject the newly learned truth to protect the relationship with the teacher. This is especially hard when the teacher is a parent or a relative. I don’t have to cut off relationship with friends because they disagree with me on scripture. Neither do I have to end or repudiate a relationship with a beloved teacher because I discover that teacher erred on some detail. We must prefer the truth to the relationship, so if it is “accept the lie or lose the relationship,” then we courageously choose the truth.

This brings me to the other side to that coin of courage. We as teachers (and parents) should be able to celebrate when our people (and children) discover truths that we missed. If they are wrong, then stick to your guns, but have the courage to disagree while holding to the relationship. However, if they are right and show us from the Word that we too are in error, then we leaders should have the courage to accept that. One reason this is so hard, is the fear that such an admission will undermine our authority to speak. It should do no such thing. A quickness to accept correction and change with newly learned details will actually give you greater respect among those you lead. Holding to falsehood because of pride will undermine any respect your people may have for you.

Look into the Word of God with courage—courage to hear it; courage to bear what it says; courage to be changed by it; courage to stand upon it; courage to stand for it.

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