We 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?