Teaching the Gospel doesn’t change lives, implementing the Gospel does.
It seems like a small point, but many churches are struggling because they haven't embraced this truth. As products of the Enlightenment, we have all been taught that education changes lives. It’s true that education is very important. In the realm of Christianity, or even basic morality, however, it’s not enough. Let’s face it, there are lots of smart, really mean people in the world. Some of them may even call themselves Christian.
When things go wrong, we lament as a society that the offending parties had not been educated properly. If they had a quality education, they would never have committed these crimes or have gotten themselves into financial or relational trouble. Even in the church we have adopted this mentality. When marriages are breaking down, or our kids aren’t behaving properly or our numbers are off, we seek out new teaching curricula. We set up new Bible study groups. We ask people to pray more. We work harder and beg others to work harder as well. But, it doesn’t work.
The educational material available in the last 20 years has been incredible. We have unparalleled access to books from every century. We have amazing video resources and podcasts from the greatest teachers on the planet. We can research anything we want on the internet. We can pull up info at our fingertips, that the most wealthy and educated people of the last century could never have dreamed of having. If teaching more often and effectively was the answer, we would have solved all of our problems long ago. Our problem is not a lack of teaching or poor teaching, it’s a lack of implementation.
I’m not saying that teaching isn’t important, of course it is. It’s just incomplete. So, why do we spend so much time teaching and so little time helping people implement what they already know?
Implementation Requires Relationship, Teaching Doesn’t
You can teach others without ever having a meaningful relationship with them. In the past, when Christian truths were taught to large groups, those people took what they learned and worked it out in the setting of their relationships at home. You can be taught by a complete stranger that you never see again, but implementation requires relationship. Real implementation of truth has to occur in and through our daily relationships. This creates a problem for many today. Most people aren’t investing time and energy into building and maintaining quality relationships. We are more relationally hungry than ever, and more disconnected than we’ve ever been. When people learn new things, they rarely work them out in relationships. Social media allows us to broadcast and receive pithy sayings, as if collecting a cool quote or principle were the end goal. Our new facts and theories collect in our brains like moldering books in a forgotten library. Knowing that Jesus taught us to forgive others in the same way that we have been forgiven is miles away from actually forgiving someone who has deeply hurt you. So, we learn more and practice less. It would be like showing kids a video about baseball, but then never heading to the field with a glove and ball to practice. It just doesn't work.
In the years ahead, I believe that churches who start more Bible studies while having fewer friendships will become weak and irrelevant. Another way to say this is that the Bible isn’t the point, how it leads us to live is.
So, if you feel stuck in place with your faith, I challenge you try a different approach. Don’t buy a new book or attend a new class. Find a friend. Forgive someone. Give to the poor. Sit by the bed of someone in the nursing home. It may be the breakthrough you need.
Photo Courtesy of Death To Stock Photo