For decades we have assumed that any Christian growth of necessity has to be information based, intellectual and aimed at your head Think: classroom Bible study. But should it always be that way? Is that the best way to grow as a Christian?
On the one hand it sure makes sense. There is a lot about Jesus and Christianity that is counterintuitive and so literally needs to be taught. Our sinful nature is attracted toward works righteousness or earning our salvation by our good deeds. Yet the Bible says that is absolutely not the truth. The gospel clearly and counterintuitively says that salvation is by grace, for Christ’s sake, through faith and not through works that anyone can boast (Eph 2:8-9). It needs to be taught! What’s more, we believe that the Bible is God’s means of grace. So, “faith comes by hearing and that by the Word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). So it only follows that if you want more faith, you consume more of the Words of Christ which we conclude means reading the Bible more and going to worship and Bible classes. Sit in a classroom, listen, read, make notes, go home, repeat. Often. We understand that God’s Word will not return void or empty (Isaiah 55:10-11) as well, so it is never a waste of time going to such classes. It will produce its intended result. Fair enough. Aimed at your head. Got it.
But there is a problem. Classes and sermons are not the only way to experience God’s Word and truth. Moses encouraged training up children, not just in a classroom but when you sit, walk, lie down, rise and in fact it should be a part of you and everything you do and everywhere you go (Deut 6:4-8). In fact while Jesus taught in sermons and parables he also debriefed with his disciples constantly, as a result of what was happening as they followed Him. This happened day after day for years. Martin Luther famously advocated parents teaching their children in the home. It was closer to the action.
The point is that real behavioral change needs a more intentional intervention than just new information. The lesson of the classroom often evaporates through time and anxiety exactly when its lessons are most urgently needed. Christian growth requires a tour guide to show the way. We need to aim not only at the head but also at the hands. We need to be more of a parent and not just a classroom teacher. This means there will be personal follow through and “hand holding” and also debriefing how and why one is to do things. Isn’t that the way your parents taught you to tie your shoes, hold a pencil, wash your face and cross the street? It wasn’t in a book. It was in the moment, right when you needed it. It stuck. You learned. It was “hands on” behavior based but also knowledge based as your parents talked to you about it in the moment.
So number one, we need to understand and appreciate the power of doing Christian education on the fly, aimed at behavior, like a tour guide or a parent. We need to embrace the reality that people don’t experience life in the order of head, heart, hands but rather in the order of hands, heart and then head. Christian discipleship or behavioral transformation comes most powerfully during the debrief with the Word of God. It happens through a loving Christian “parent” or mentor after or even during the disappointment, the heartache and the ethical or moral wrestling. This is when it is relevant and the learning is most powerful and transformative.
Then number two, personal life transformation happens through relationships. Sitting in a classroom setting, while convenient for the teacher, (and under their control! Yes, you read that right) is often disconnected from the practical reality of relationships. Lessons become far more relevant and personal when the teaching happens in relationships as you experience life together. That means meeting with people where they live and work. Hanging out together. Debriefing the day and life’s challenges through the Word of God and the eyes of faith in Jesus. That is not a solo act. It best happens with a partner. This is where they “sit, walk, lie down and rise up” (Deut 6).
Thirdly and arguably the best way people are engaged to grow is when they are in a place of responsibility. In that place, miraculously they will be super motivated to learn. That’s why new Moms and Dads grow in their faith when they become parents and volunteer to be Sunday School teachers. They suddenly become aware of what they don’t know and are hungry to learn and grow for the sake of their children. This is true of a new leader on a board or committee or someone invited to help lead a small group or any other bite sized piece of responsibility. Now they feel a sense of ought. They are more motivated to learn and grow and be different. Then the more mature Christian can capitalize on that situation and intentionally walk beside the newer Christian and work with them. Even better if there is a relationship (see number two).
No, this is not convenient. It is one person at a time (see previous blog). It is labor intensive. It will stretch your own Christian maturity! But it is not arm wrestling them to a class that they may perceive as not very relevant. Personal Christian growth is joining relationships with service and behavior. It is now highly relevant. It is personal and will pay off in personal transformation and praise to God. It starts with the hands and moves to the head.
We are certainly not saying classroom or worship based teaching and preaching needs to cease. God forbid. May it indeed increase! We are however saying we need to embrace the classroom of life and intentionally mentor apprentice Christians for Christian transformation. This happens when the one more mature trains another through teaching, modeling and debriefing what that looks like. What’s more, this approach is far more transferable once someone experiences it themselves. They will more likely repeat the pattern and pay it forward with someone else. It is scalable. But it has to start somewhere. It has to be intentional. It may be new to you. So you have to model it and start the ball rolling.
This is why some small groups, outreach ministries and even churches flourish and others flop. Intuitively or otherwise the leaders model Christian behavior and just as importantly transfer it in bite sized pieces and debrief what those around them are going through. It is powerful. It is transformational. It is life changing. The truth of God’s Word is still at work. But it is in the moment, just in time, customized for the growing disciple. It is time to make the effort and make the shift. Aim at the hands first and then the head.
Scott Gress is called by Lutheran Counseling Services and partners with the FL-GA District of the Lutheran Church as an independent contractor. He specializes in Leadership Training, Consulting, Coaching and Coach Training. Check out his YouTube channel for more leadership and coaching information. Contact Scott to continue the conversation or experience a free sample coaching session. 561-542-4472, email@example.com or scottgress.com
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