What about Teaching?

Charles Kiser —  March 25, 2009 — 18 Comments

askWe talk often about translating more established, institutional ways of being church into more grassroots, decentralized expressions.

One topic that I’ve been struggling to translate is the role of preaching/teaching in the grassroots paradigm.

I’m wrestling with two points of tension.

On one hand, I have some level of dissatisfaction with the way church participants in more established contexts are overly dependent upon a teacher for their Bible study.

In many institutional contexts, the Senior Pastor/Preaching Minister is the fountainhead of biblical knowledge and truth and parishioners attend services to hear his (or her) words of wisdom. Many church members leave worship services believing they have had their dose of the Bible for the week.

The Barna Group has conducted some incisive research that demonstrates the growing levels of biblical illiteracy among American Christians. I wonder if this is partly because of an unhealthy dependence on teacher figures in the church.

Organic church leaders like Cole rail against teacher overdependence in favor of a more egalitarian, everyone-can-hear-from-God-through-Scripture approach. They also downplay the role of seminary experiences and highly cognitive theological education.

Yet, on the other hand, I’ve been part of less than stellar small group experiences that weren’t much more than sessions for pooling ignorance (not with Storyline, of course – all of our house church gatherings are awesome!). Even when Scripture was the center of discussion the group was somehow able to override the message of the text in favor of its preexisting assumptions.

There are other times when there is so much distance between the culture of a Scriptural text and contemporary culture that a group of people reading the Scripture can badly appropriate it because the text’s import is lost on them. For example, I know women who cover their heads in worship gatherings because they think it is required of them from texts like 1 Corinthians 11.

Moreover, I do think there is a place for a teaching gift in the church. Paul, after all, mentioned teachers among the big five equipping gifts in Ephesians 4. He also encourages teaching responsibilities for some of his apprentices like Timothy.

Up to this point, this is the role teaching has played in the Storyline Community: 1) I teach once a month in our community worship gatherings; 2) I share a teaching role in our formation retreats (like Marvelous Light and City on a Hill).

I also write the curriculum that frames up conversations for our house church gatherings. But these are not teaching opportunities. There are no podiums. There are no dry erase boards. The Holy Spirit teaches house churches as they listen to Scripture together.

Perhaps a fundamental issue in this conversation is how one defines teaching. In many established churches, teaching is provision of information about the Bible. In many organic approaches, teaching is less about information more about obedience and life change.

I much prefer the latter definition. It’s the reason my teaching and our house church conversations move from observation of Scripture (what’s going on), to interpretation of Scripture (what it means), to application (how it changes us).

To restate the tension, many traditional paradigms of teaching get stuck on observation and interpretation and almost completely neglect application. Such observation and interpretation often comes from a highly trained, highly paid leader. At the same time, I fear that some organic approaches move so quickly/poorly through observation and interpretation that application is shallow or just misguided.

I don’t want Storyline’s spiritual health to be overly dependent on me as a teacher. I also don’t want Storyline’s spiritual health to be shallow or misguided because it doesn’t have good frameworks for understanding Scripture.

How do you / would you navigate this tension?

Charles Kiser

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Dallas, TX. Church Planter with Storyline Christian Community. Equipper and Coach with Mission Alive.

18 responses to What about Teaching?

  1. 

    You’ve done well to point to both sides of the coin. On one hand you have people who look for too much (depend on for everything) out of their teachers/preachers/ministers/pastors and on the other you have people who are flatly ignorant because they just have no clue what the Bible(God) is saying to them. The egalitarian approach usually begets the latter.

    Let’s not forget what Jesus said in what we call the great commission. For one, He said to teach. Any debate over that should be ended immediately.

    I guess I just don’t understand why there has to be tension here. It sounds like this tension is created only when one aspect is “railed” against. This is silly; and I honestly don’t get the militant style some opiners are taking.

    Here is a wonderful example of how untension-like it can be. I do find it encouraging that a place like The Village Church ( http://hv.thevillagechurch.net/ – which I believe is just NW of you all), with Matt Chandler as its lead teacher has seen tremendous growth. They carry many of the elements that should appeal to all Christians such as community, service, church planting, and they do so from the foundation of his God-centered, Bible, doctrine, and theological instruction. In 6 years they have grown from 160 to 6,000 of mostly 20 and 30-year-olds. I understand the rarity of such a thing but it only proves that you don’t have to have one without the other and he (among others) has proven that. There is no tension unless you make it tension. [I think the tension lies in what is being taught; but that is another issue which I am showing serious restraint in not addressing.] 🙂

  2. 

    The Village is a great church. I’m nourished often by Chandler’s preaching.

    But, as you noted, The Village is very dependent on Chandler’s “God-centered, Bible, doctrine and theological instruction.” Chandler also has a very charismatic personality. What happens to The Village without the charisma and teaching of Chandler? Maybe nothing. But that’s a question I have.

    I guess I’m wondering if it’s healthy for churches to be as dependent on a teacher/pastor figure, of which even The Village Church would be an example.

    There IS tension there for me.

  3. 

    There is an interesting tension here. I often wonder if it is a question of what we are teaching. I have struggled with this same question (and still do) and can only add what I am currently content with. If we are teaching the living breathing word of God, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the message of the kingdom of Heaven has come near then I think we sometimes lose sight of this message for the sake of a Bible study. We forget that the primary mode of Jesus’ teachings, even the Sermon on the Mount did not come from Matthew, but from the mouth of God in flesh moved by the Spirit of His Father within Him. Closely, the Bible was not even a source to teach until long after the writers and/or sources delivered it.

    Now I am not trying to overstate the mystical side of this argument but I also can not discount the HS as I have all to often done for the sake of my (always) brilliant theological points. Yet, I think we are sorely lacking in our understanding of what it means to teach and that more teaching ought to be done on what Jesus, Paul, Peter, etc was really teaching, both stylistically and for what purpose. Moreover, a comparison of these methods ought to be compared to what the Pharisees and Teachers of the Law were teaching and their style and purpose for teaching. I wonder where we land in style and purpose.

    In any case, all aspects of the churches life that Paul and others refer to (i.e. apostleship, prophetic speech, teaching and dare I say prayer) were meant for one thing (in my current and humble opinion, this could change tomorrow but not likely), orientation to the Father, Son and Spirit and this kingdom come. In this way, a teacher is not simply one who is theologically trained but instead it is one who is closely connected with the new creation, the kingdom and our Father, Brother and Counselor.

    But I really don’t have an opinion on the matter. ;D

  4. 
    Kasey McCollum March 25, 2009 at 7:11 pm

    I just finished “Fidelity of Betrayal” by Peter Rollins and he has an approach to leadership that I find compelling. He states (my brief summary) that the role of the leader is to refuse leadership. The role of the priest is to refuse priesthood, forcing the priesthood of all believers. In my opinion is takes a skilled person to do just that. That is skill is not solely acquired by one mean such as education but through many. My personal approach seeks to value what ever person brings to the table. Some people bring seminary education, some bring engineering education, some bring elementary education, and we all bring various experiences that inform our working theology as well.

  5. 

    I’d demand a seven-figure salary, start two weekly preaching services, shut down the house churches, and tell your people that your the stinkin bomb.

    Not really. But it sounded funny in my head.

    I preach every week with the same tension. Frank Viola’s little book, Pagan Christianity, especially the chapters on pastors and why they preach a sermon every week, haunt me to my core. So, I’ve been intentional about reminding the church nearly every week that Scripture is nothing more than a religious plaything if not applied to everyday life. Jesus communicates this message quite effectively in his conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount. James 1:22-25 says the same thing another way.

    Nothing can replace the teaching of the Scriptures. But if the teacher or the teaching environment doesn’t lend itself to equipping people to be doers of the Word, then it’s futile in my book. It seems to me that effective, application-heavy teaching can happen in several venues.

  6. 

    Charles,

    You are right on the money. I think it is essential to move toward application. Paul thought that was important in many of his letters including Romans (where he moves more solidly toward application in chs 12ff of the principles he has laid out in the first 11 chapters. He does that in Ephesians as well with the well known indicative/imperative split in the letter.

    I have outlined a few thoughts on moving from the details to the application in a couple of posts (here come some shameless yet helpful plugs):

    http://mattdabbs.wordpress.com/2008/06/12/moving-from-contemplating-the-biblical-navel-to-real-application/

    http://mattdabbs.wordpress.com/2008/05/18/five-characteristics-of-a-good-teacher/

    http://mattdabbs.wordpress.com/2009/02/13/ten-tips-knowg-what-type-of-bible-class-to-teach/

  7. 

    Hi. I came here through Matt’s blog.

    I would suggest one other aspect of teaching (besides application) that is often lost or missing in the church today. That is, modeling. Most teaching is done through speaking only, but this is not what we see in Scripture. For example, Paul wrote spoke and wrote letters, but he also pointed people to his life – his way of living. As some people have told me recently, they often have no context for understanding what a preacher is saying because they do not know anything about him as a person. Thus, there should be a relational aspect of teaching – a sharing of life and life experiences that must go along with the words that we speak.

    -Alan

  8. 

    I would hope that The Village is not dependent upon Chandler in the form that we are talking about here. One would have to know the hearts of the congregants to know whether or not it would carry on as strongly as it is now if Chandler were to depart. I don’t think we can make that determination (and I certainly hope it would not be the case). But I do find hope for our age-group (20s/30s) when action (community/life change/service/etc.) happens in conjunction with unapologetic “God-centered, Bible, doctrine, and theological instruction.”

    I believe the early churches were dependent on Paul for accurate instruction all the time. Letters were written to the churches after he had received letters (or word) from them regarding issues and doctrinal matters. Paul also left people in place who would then be in charge of this teaching and leading. I see nothing wrong with this and it brings up the need for authoritative and knowledgeable teaching/teachers. Leaving babies to their own devices with Scripture/doctrine is harmful and unloving. The god of this world loves easy targets.

    In regards to the teaching elements you bring up, I do think we can get application from observation and interpretation in probably 90% of the Bible. I fear too much application (at the expense of the others) only feeds what American Christianity (mega- and mini-church) and my own modern/post-modern generation have become; focused on the self and the what-about-me frame of mind (What can God do for me/how can church make me feel/etc.)
    I do NOT dismiss application in the slightest, but motivations matter in this regard.

    I’m curious as to how a “small-group/community-group” focus in a bigger church differs from the organic focus.

    Amen to the relational aspect of a teacher with those he is teaching as well as modeling behavior Alan brought up. Mark Dever in his book “Deliberate Church: Building Your Ministry on the Gospel” points to the 4-Ps that carry his ministry – Prayer, Preaching, Personal Relationships, and Patience. One can find much in each of those elements that pertain to this discussion.

  9. 

    As far as modeling goes, I try really hard to practice confession in small doses through teaching. That might sound kind of weird but think about it. First of all we are told it is important to confess our sins with one another. Second, I am asking the class to apply this material personally and in the process I am asking them to deal with sin in their life. So I feel I have to be very upfront with the fact that I don’t have it all together and that I am not perfect. So, I have found that if I model confession for a Bible class or small group the other people in the class are more likely to do so and all of a sudden we have a safe environment to share deeper things and real life struggles because the teacher is even telling on himself! That has to be done carefully, though – http://mattdabbs.wordpress.com/2009/03/09/ten-dangers-of-authenticity/

  10. 

    Good points, JR.

    And good technique on modeling confession, Dabbs.

    I’ve been chewing on Paul’s statement to Timothy in 2 Timothy 2 about entrusting the gospel to others who would be reliable to teach others.

    Teachers who reproduce teachers is an inherent idea in this text.

    Maybe that’s part of my frustration in the teaching conversation. We don’t reproduce teachers in the same way. Sure we reproduce teachers in seminary contexts, but what about at the congregational level?

    (A whole other question is whether seminaries should even be the ones training teachers, or whether it should be more congregationally-based–seminaries are part of the institutionalization of the church, after all.)

    We get a gifted teacher/preacher and we want to listen to him forever. I don’t think most teachers think that reproducing themselves in the lives of others is their end goal.

    But that very goal — of equipping — is also the central idea of Ephesians 4:11-13 with the big 5 gifts. Teachers exist to equip the church to serve, one element of which would be teaching.

    It challenges me, too. I am currently equipping no one to teach, preach at gatherings, or help write curriculum.

    Reproducing myself in others helps to keep the church from being dependent upon me as a teacher. Instead they depend on others who are reproducing themselves in still others. It seems that churches could grow and multiply much more quickly in this kind of paradigm than in the one teacher/pastor/minister paradigm.

  11. 

    One of the things I set out to do at Northwest from the beginning was to help people get into pseudo-leadership roles. We figured out what we needed and then we got people to sign on. I figured if it all depends on me being here then things might not go so well if something ever happened to me or if for some reason I had to leave. You would like to have a ministry that could carry on with or without you and the only way to do that is through a conscious effort to equip others as you go along the way.

    You are throwing some great thoughts our way. Thanks for writing about this.

  12. 

    Charles,

    I think you are hitting on some points that need to be heard, not just in the new church plants but also in the existing churches. I have spent the last three years serving as a traditional preacher/pastor and generally the only transformation I see taking place are in the lives of those who have already learned not to be dependent upon the weekly sermon for their growth in the faith (and those that are, seem to only hold on to that which they already like while dismissing what they don’t like).

    I believe there is a place for an evangelist, teacher, etc… to help communicate (preach, teach, and more) the scriptures in a way so that Christians grow in a knowledge of scripture rather than a “pooling of ignorance” as well as apply the scriptures in a way that leads to mature transformation. Yet, I am with you. It is time that we explore other grassroot ways of doing this, for the seed of the gospel is a grassroots growth.

    Thanks for the post!

    Grace and peace,

    Rex

  13. 

    Good back and forth of thoughts here. Charles wrote, “A whole other question is whether seminaries should even be the ones training teachers, or whether it should be more congregationally-based–seminaries are part of the institutionalization of the church, after all.”

    Why not both? I see nothing wrong with advanced theological degrees (heck, I’m getting one right now!) – but what if those who were the learned teachers (whether by seminary or not) who are within the body of congregants taught seminary-type (for lack of a better term) courses (i.e. more rigorous and meaty) – whether that be on Sunday mornings or within their small/community groups/house churches throughout the week? When is the last time you’ve seen a Sunday morning class come out of Grudem’s Systematic Theology book? (just an example) Maybe it is out there more than I realize; but this type of thing could lead to equipping of dozens of people at a time; and if teaching/leading is a gift held by those in the class – then they could be groomed in those areas of leadership then pass along that knowledge of the Scriptures and doctrine and leadership skills to others – bringing a stable and firm foundational message to more and more people outside the “church sphere.” And for those who are truly born again, action will follow that demonstrates their newness. But the lessons to live like Jesus must accompany the rest of the Gospel elements (DeYoung demonstrates how Paul saw it this way here: http://www.revkevindeyoung.com/2009/03/truths-that-transform-doctrines-that_20.html)

    Finally, I think it is also important to remember that the Scriptures tell us the Gospel just won’t get to some people no matter how much they hear it. It can be frustrating for teachers/preachers/pastors; but for some the veil remains.

    Grace, mercy and peace –

  14. 

    I’m a bit late to this discussion, which looks to have been a great one.

    I just wanted say that I have been witness to and transformed through a move away from the traditional teacher/student model of Bible study.

    Without a doubt, we desire to learn more about God’s story and applying it to our lives when we enter into such a study, however, in an “organic” or “grassroots” type environment the objective isn’t to understand the Hebrew root of the original text as much as it is allowing God to reveal what it means to us individually.

    I still get embarrassed when I think of my initial experience with leading a House Church gathering. Approaching it in a way that duplicated (poorly, might I add) what I had experienced almost entirely to that point, just flipping the table and placing myself in the “teacher” position. I studied, read commentary, planned, and ultimately looked like a fool at best & an arrogant fool at worst. Even with the best of intentions, one sided teaching seems arrogant when the “teacher” is looking for the same answers as everyone else.

    Charles, you along with countless others, have played a part in my view of the teacher/student relationship. Because of great teachers, admitting they are still (& desire to be) students, I have been able to be a student who is open to God’s living Word and whatever He reveals through it. As we gather in His name, stripped, through transparency, of whatever titles are placed on us, each person can become the teacher and/or the student as He allows it to unfold.

    Just as He did in our formation group two summers ago, when He controls the gathering, there’s no need to worry about balance. We were all seeking the same thing, understanding. Your theological background allowed you to share things that the rest of us needed, and soaked up. Likewise, everyone else offered the same value in another area. I walked away with a deeper “foundational” knowledge, and you walked away with a better view of the “organic” setting and what may be useful in developing things like the discussions you do now. What I know we all saw though, was that when God is working, we realize we are all students. He just has the ability to make a student the teacher with the perfect timing only He has.

    May God continue to bless Storyline and the Kingdom work done in Dallas through you all.

  15. 

    Great comments, Steve. Thanks for sharing.

  16. 

    Greetings from the southwest side. I’m sorry you didn’t get to see me yesterday morning, but don’t worry, May 5 is coming.

    Two (and a half) Questions:

    1) Do you utilize informal settings for teaching within the Storyline Community? If so, what does that look like?

    2) Describe the role and tasks of your house church leaders.

    I must beat you in racquetball…soon.

    • 

      1) To the extent that living life on mission and in relationship to God is the best teaching, yes. This kind of teaching happens as I hang out in non-church spaces with emerging disciples in the Storyline Community, as the see me live my life as a husband and father, as I confess my brokenness and strive for holiness. All this assumes that I am actually sharing life in that way with others in the community.

      2) House church leaders are first of all people who have committed to living life with Jesus. Secondarily they are pastors of a flock, facilitators of conversation, organizers for justice, and hospitality planners. Given #1, they aren’t teachers in the normal sense of the word, but they do teach others as they model living a life on mission for others to see.

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