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Does your church train you?

I grew up in a Midwestern church that cared about its people. I went to Bible studies and attended a good Christian college. If teaching were enough, I would have been an amazing Christian. But teaching only made me aware of the gap between how I should be living and my actual behavior. All those…
By Seth Barnes
I grew up in a Midwestern church that cared about its people. I went to Bible studies and attended a good Christian college. If teaching were enough, I would have been an amazing Christian. But teaching only made me aware of the gap between how I should be living and my actual behavior. All those years, no one ever showed me how to live. 
 
Churches in America are great at teaching. They’ve got that one down pat. Most churches have a professional teacher who practices his gift every Sunday morning. And people need good teaching. But they need a lot more if they are to grow in faith. 
 
The Bible gives a list of five things that help us grow in 2 Timothy (3:15-4:2): teaching, rebuking, correcting, training, encouragement. Teaching answers the questions, “why?” and “what?” But you know from your own experience, to learn how to actually do something, you need to be shown the mechanics of how. We learn by training and then, after we’ve been trained, by correcting, encouragement and if we make obvious, willful mistakes, by rebuking. 
 
This simple dynamic explains why polls show there is little practical difference between those inside our churches and those outside. If the divorce rate is the same, the number of abortions per capita is about the same, and the suicide rate is not appreciably different, what does that tell us? 
 
For one thing, non-Christians are right to point out our hypocrisy. Something is fundamentally broken. A generation of young people sees it and is leaving the church in droves. The thing that is broken is that we have equated the teaching gift with discipleship when, according the list from 2 Timothy, it is one of five things – just 20% of the equation.   
 
If you’ve lived your life making your own decisions, experience and empirical data show that you may want to change, but you’re going to need help in learning how to change. You need someone showing you how to listen to God’s voice and following his guidance if you are to change.
 
It’s like anything else you learned as a child, whether dinner table manners or riding a bike. First you watched someone model it, then they taught you how to do it, then they trained you – correcting and encouraging you until you mastered the behavior on your own. 
 
Christians have a word for the whole process – they call it “discipleship.” Because discipling a person requires time and discipline, it is rare in our microwave society. Ask for for a show of hands as to how many have been actually trained in the Christian life and you’ll see that it’s rare. Ask the same crowd if they’ve heard lots of teaching and you’ll see them raise their hands – they’ve been taught. 
 
What are we to do? I recommend a few modest changes for starters:
 
1. Change your expectation of your church. If your church teaches you, but doesn’t train you, make it a priority to find training somewhere (note – I’m not saying leave your church necessarily – that’s a different issue).
2. Ask: “Who can I help?” If you’ve got something to impart to newer believers, begin doing that. You be the change. Ask God, “Who can I reach out to help train?”
3. Ask God, “Who can help train me?” Go looking for someone who lives a grace-filled life. Get trained in how to live like that.
4. Pray about being a part of a church where training is given a higher priority than teaching. God may have you stay or he may have a change in mind for you of you’re open to it. 
5. Begin learning more about the four other discipling activities listed in 2 Timothy. I’ve written extensively about it. Check it out here and here.

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