Despite being called “Teacher” and having a robust teaching ministry, Jesus desired us to become a learning community. “It is enough for the student to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master.” Notice he did not say, “It is enough for the student to know what the teacher knows.”
“The one who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is a wise person who builds a house on the rock.” (Matthew 7:25) It is not enough that we teach and preach. We are called – commanded – to make a community of learner-followers: disciples. What does this look like? First, here is what it is not.
A learning Community is NOT just a teaching community. Pastors and teachers spend countless hours prepping sermons and classes, yet most admit only half jokingly that “ten minutes after I am finished no one remembers what I said.”
Why spend so much time on a form of “teaching” that seems to produce so little learning?
Ok, before you delete my blog post let me be clear. Preaching and teaching are essential; both are commanded and practiced in the Bible. But are obsessed with content and believe that our teaching automatically produces learning, or that “I teach and the Holy Spirit does the rest.” That’s poor theology.
Maybe it all comes down to what is at the center.
In the Old Testament era worship, prayer and the sacramental presentation of offerings were at the center of the service. Later, in some traditions, the Eucharist was at the center (as for many Anglicans and Catholics today). During the Reformation Calvin and others moved preaching to the center, and the message became the centerpiece of the service.
This move to a word-centered church was largely in response to gross doctrinal error and disregard for Scripture. In a reactionary move that pushed the pendulum to an extreme, Calvin even demanded that neither music nor art be present in the church building. Roman Catholics placed too much prominence on these, and they were distractions from a focus on the Word proclaimed from the podium. For centuries now many traditions have become pulpit-centered.
The result is an emphasis on 1-way communication without participation.
In the early church, community was at the center—and it was truly a learning community. Teaching, communal meals and discussions, prayers and service were part of an integrated life. Acts 2 followers devoted themselves to the teaching not just “listened” to teaching. This devotion was clearly a communal act of dialogue, engagement and obedience.
How many times do you hear or say, “Pastor was strong today,” or “Wasn’t that a great message?” versus “What a great learning experience! Let’s help one another practice that.”
Briefly, here are 2 more “NOTS.”
A Learning Community is NOT simply a talking community. Talking, arguing and debating is cheap (1 Tim. 1:6-7). Late night cable TV is plagued with people talking at one another. How much learning is taking place? Groups and classes can talk about the Bible, about the church, about themselves. But are we learning?
A Learning Community is NOT simply a studying community. “You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you have eternal life,” said Jesus, “yet you refuse to come to me to have life.” (John 5:39-40). Bible learning is relational and transformational, not just informational. The religious elite of Jesus’ day were experts at Bible Study. (Miraculously they accomplished this without colored highlighters and diagramming sentences.)
Should we start more Bible Practices instead of Bible Studies? What about some new ministries like Bible Practice Fellowship, or Learn Thru the Bible, or The Bible Practice Hour, or a seminary course on Bible Practice Methods?
Ok, just pullin’ a few chains. But I hope it makes you think. Learners or listeners?
How do we help one another become a learning community? See my next post.