Thursday, April 3, 2008

Teaching without Compromise

Currently at Memorial we are evaluating and discerning the needs and standards for children’s ministry workers and teachers. This has really forced me to think about the expectations for any teacher in the church- be it for a Sunday School class, in the pulpit, or for a Backyard Bible Club. Of course I have always been deeply burdened over the issue of teaching in the Church. There is a growing rash of poor or watered-down Biblical teaching and preaching that has spread in our North American churches. The epidemic is an approach to Bible teaching (sometimes even well-intentioned) that is potentially devastating. This approach either uses the Bible as a secondary source or misuses the Bible altogether. The Bible is living and life-transforming truth not fairy tales that simply teach good moral lessons to improve behavior. The Bible is God’s infallible Word that is meant to shape us for the praise of His glory not to be a how-to book at getting materially richer or more socially satisfied.

I heard a message a couple years back by Dr. Al Mohler of Southern Seminary. He said the culture we live in is a culture obsessed with the "project of the self". In other words, there is the cultural view that our lives are about building up and producing the best 'self' that there can be and this of course is an on-going work. It is accomplished through material success and riches, through physical appearance (which has been proliferated by tanning beds, plastic surgery, eating disorders, etc), and I see it especially in how parents can live vicariously and oft obsessively through the successes (athletically, musically, academically etc) of their kids. This view says that my life is all about produces a better 'self'. Pause for a moment and you will see this new dogma in the television shows and commercials, on magazine covers, in music, in schools, and most startling in some (maybe many) of the Bible study groups in the local churches. Jesus speaks counter to this worldview (Mark 8:34/ Luke 9:23), "If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me." Sadly, the Bible is often relegated to nothing more than the equivalent of Aesop's fables or a good quote that a 'moral of the story' can be drawn from to help in this project of the self. The problem of bad doctrine or bad theology is out there in and around churches but the greater problem seems to be simply the lack of doctrine or theology at all. As a former youth minister I was told on more than one occasion that kids "can't grasp doctrine and theological stuff" and that I needed to just teach what will "encourage them or challenge them in their daily lives". Well let me unpack that erroneous statement. First of all if kids can grasp Biology, Algebra, and Shakespeare in High School then they certainly have the capacity for understanding Biblical truths. Second, if anything should encourage or challenge children and youth it is knowing God more deeply and fully. This will transform and direct their daily lives. 1 Timothy 4 and 2 Timothy 2 are just a couple examples of the urgency to make sure our Bible classrooms are indeed instructing people and rooting people in the Word of God and not just feel-good moral lessons. Of course this should be happening in the home first but that's another issue altogether.

I’m thrilled that my church is hungry for the Word and comes every Sunday expecting to know God more from the study of the Bible. I pray that we would continue in that fervor, demand it from all our teachers- not matter what age-level they teach, and that we would pray this attitude would be infectious to other congregations. In the teaching ministry of the church we need to be diligent to ensure that we don’t just reference the Bible or belittle its content, but we unleash its powerful and penetrating truths.

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