More on Teaching and Preaching -- Hindrance to Growth?
As I continue to look at the role of teaching and preaching in the church, I continue to wrestle with some thoughts about the role that these two activities hold, if any, in our church experience. I have not definitely proven anything in my previous posts, but I have headed in the direction of seeing preaching as more geared toward evangelistic purposes, and teaching toward discipleship. It doesn't bother me to admit that my study is inconclusive, at least as far as absolute principles being derived. And I don't want my continued use of as-yet unproven theories to be a hindrance to my readership's appreciation of these posts. But please understand that, for the time being, that is still my basic premise.
In this post, I want to examine a little more deeply the relationship of preaching (and certain types of teaching) in the church to the potential maturity of the listeners. A couple of days ago one of my dear friends, Raborn Johnson, wrote a post entitled "Who's the Priest?". In it, Raborn talks about the "clergy/laity" distinction, and the problems associated with such a distinction. A particular comment he made caught my eye. He wrote:
It seems to me that the role of a professional minister impedes the growth of the rest of the Body and contributes to many believers remaining in an infantile state of Christianity. Instead of letting God flow through me to others (and vice-versa), I pay someone to "do the work of the ministry" in my place.It is this hindrance to maturity that I believe expresses my biggest concern about the structure we often utilize in our institutional approach to church. And, like Raborn, it was this observation that led me to first question what we are attempting to accomplish in church. Let's unpack this whole thing a bit, and see what we can find.
For the purposes of this post, I am sort of muddying the waters between "preaching" and "teaching" because this is the current state of the institutional church. Much as I have tried to separate the two (and several commenters on my previous posts have agreed that there should be a distinction), the reality is that for the most part, they are used interchangeably in the context of the institutional church. And so, in the typical "Sunday morning sermon", the congregation believes that they are being "taught", and that this teaching is crucial to their sense of maturity in Christ. And, to be fair, many preachers do more "teaching" than "preaching" in their sermons.
However, what does the Scripture say about the role of teaching in the ongoing life of the believer? Let's look at two Scripture verses that mention this.
We have much to say about this, but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God's word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.There are a couple of things I want to point out about this analogy. First of all, the author of Hebrews seems to believe that maturity in Christ means that one is able to be a teacher of others. This is something that I rarely see emphasized in our churches today. We are told that we must evangelize others, but usually the emphasis is on getting them to come to church with us. In that sense, we fail to become teachers ourselves, but rather rely on the preacher teaching the newcomers or new converts.
Another thing to notice in this Hebrews passage is the progression from milk to solid food. I don't want to stretch the analogy too far here (or at least not further than is warranted by the text), but I do think that perhaps we can learn something from the analogy being used. When a baby is born, he is incapable of eating/digesting solid food. That baby requires milk. Everyone understands this part. As the child begins to grow, eventually his mother is able to feed him solid food, and the young child is capable of digesting it. Everyone understands this part, too. And I'm sure all of us agree on the need for Christians to move past being fed milk to being fed solid food.
However, this is where I want to point out something in the analogy. As a child continues to grow, he becomes (or should become) capable of feeding himself. Is that too much of a stretch for this analogy? Why else would the writer say that by this time his readers should be teachers?
Let's look at another verse that says something similar, but gives us even more insight. Here is 1 John 2:27:
As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit—just as it has taught you, remain in him.Again, we see the idea that we "do not need anyone to teach" us. John says that the anointing that we have received from Jesus will teach us all things. This sounds a lot like what John wrote in his gospel (John 16:13) when he wrote, "But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth." So, it seems to me that there should be a maturing process whereby the believer learns to receive teaching from the Holy Spirit and does not have to rely on teaching from a man in order to live life in Christ.
Teachers are originally taught by others, but there is a real point where a teacher needs to "own" the information himself before he is capable of effectively transmitting that information to others. Both of the passages being referenced here indicate a point of maturity where the one being taught begins to "own" the information, and is then able to teach others.
How would we view the maturity of someone who never completed their high school diploma, yet day after day attended high school classes and sat through the material being taught? Would we think of them as mature, simply because they were in their 20th year of going through the 12th grade? Hardly! Yet, we view Christians that way. They can sit in a pew for all their life, listening to the same sermons from the same preacher, over and over, and yet we will call them mature, just because they've been doing it a long time! They may be fully incapable of teaching others, though.
It is this true maturity (the ability to teach others and not require constant teaching themselves) that I believe is hindered when we operate within a system that emphasizes the word of one man (human preacher) and gives it center stage and full spotlight on a very regular basis. And it is the stunting of the growth of the individual believers that should cause us to question whether or not we should be highlighting such a practice as monologue-style preaching week in and week out.
Now, several of my regular commenters (and Gordon and Ray, you know I have a great deal of respect for both of you, and love you as my brothers) have said in past comments that they believe there is a place for this kind of preaching in the church. So let me open it up to you guys and anyone else who wants to answer. What is the place of preaching in the church, and how can we free people up to grow in maturity beyond the point of regularly sitting under someone's teaching? Or, for that matter, do you think I'm way off base in even implying that we should not be spending many years of our lives listening to another human teacher? Lengthy comments are not a problem, but if any of you would prefer to post a reply on your own blog, that's fine, too. Just post a link to your reply in one of the comments here so we all know to come read it!
Until next time,