Dante recently challenged me to express some of my frustrations in my dealings with the American Church and ministry. These thoughts were highlighted in the post Dear Church, Are We Off Course? Dante then followed up with his own post Why Do We Need The Church where he started unpacking these issues and possible solutions. This post will highlight one of the areas I believe we need to improve on in the American Church.
Early on in this ministry, I started teaching and leading conferences on parenting. These conferences were full of research, knowledge, and a framework for effective Christian parenting. I would spend two days and eight hours speaking and conveying these thoughts while the participants took copious notes. To my astonishment, when I would follow up with participants weeks later, many of them had not put any of the concepts into practice and simply reverted back to their same old patterns. It wasn't that all the research, knowledge, and ideas were wrong - it was that I was using the wrong format to help people grow and change.
As Christians, Pastors, and leaders, we tend to academize the faith making it a world of ideas to be mastered. We buy into the false narrative that precision of theological knowledge and biblical literacy equates to spiritual or biblical maturity. Seminary, Bible studies, and spiritual growth classes often focus on exegesis, parsing Greek, biblical illustrations, language syntax, and theological argument and debate. We could spend hours laboring over tenses, contexts, objects, connectors, and etymologies but in the end, people still miss the true meaning of the message.
Sadly (as I learned first hand) as a speaker/leader/Pastor, we can often spend large amounts of time on how we present a message...without ever being personally touched or convicted by the message itself. In our American Church today, we often have big theological brains but systematic heart disease. Spiritual maturity is less about theological expertise and more about how we live our lives and apply the message. It is absolutely possible to be theological astute and biblically literate but spiritually immature and lacking biblical application.
Recently, I had to learn about Andragogy or adult learning and the differences from Pedagogy or child learning. With adults, we learn most effectively from collaborative, goal oriented environments that focus on incorporating our life experiences to illustrate concepts that can be applied immediately to the relevancy of our daily lives. The best example of this environment would be a small group discussion where a leader facilitates (without dominating or preaching) using real life experiences and practical application of Scripture to our lives while holding everyone accountable through mentors/partners.
I know all my Baptist friends reading this think I just said that expository preaching is dead. No, expository preaching is not dead and I personally believe it is still effective in leading people to salvation and justification. However, the rest of us need sanctification and I believe the andragogy model is the best format to accomplish this. Like my early conferences, I was giving the expository preaching but was missing the interactive andragogy model, application, and accountability pieces.
The reason we need more application and accountability goes deep into the roots of grace and sin. First, we must understand that sin is not an intellectual problem and therefore cannot be solved intellectually. Sin is a moral problem and is about our rebellion against God and our efforts to bring glory to ourselves instead of God. Since this is a moral issue, it is not just my mind that needs sound biblical teaching but my heart that needs repentance and the grace of God, often on a weekly or sometimes daily basis.
"There is a huge difference between knowledge and wisdom. Knowledge is an accurate understanding of truth. Wisdom is understanding and living in the light of how that truth applies to the situations and relationships of our daily lives. Knowledge is an exercise of your brain. Wisdom is the commitment of your heart that leads to transformation in your life." - Paul David Tripp
Therefore, as leaders, we must convey knowledge through exposition but walk with people weekly and sometimes daily using andragogy to apply wisdom. This is where the rubber meets the road and ministry gets dirty. As Pastor Dan Hammer says "Sheep are dirty and messy and they sometimes bite us. But as leaders, we still have to walk with the flock and shepherd them in spite of the mess and pain."
What does our churches really need? Less head knowledge and more heart application. Less one way, expository preaching and more interactive, andragogy discussions.
Or as I have said for the past 12 years on this website - Esse Quam Videri - to be rather than to seem. To live out our faith transparently in our daily lives instead of spouting our theological head knowledge.