Many of our churches have a Sunday morning bible study, a sermon, a Sunday evening bible study or sermon, and a Wednesday (or midweek) bible study. Each year, that Christian sits through 50 weeks of 3 to 4 lessons each. Conservatively, over 10 years, that Christian sits through a minimum of 1500 bible studies and sermons!
Yet, in many churches, membership is declining, church leaders struggle to create and maintain programs, and members become religious shoppers, consuming goods offered by staff while being unwilling or unable to offer anything in return. (Quite the opposite of the vision of church and fellowship offered by Paul in 1 Cor. 14:26.)
I wonder how many who have consumed 1500 bible studies and sermons could teach a class or preach a sermon if called upon? I wonder how many who consume these lessons become a provider by serving others?
I'm only asking questions, not criticizing. Only you know if you are a consumer or not. My larger point is the ineffectiveness of many teaching/preaching programs. Are we really equipping people for works of ministry?
If we believe Eph. 4:7-16 then we will be building churches around the goal of maturity. Maturity is clearly not reached when people know things about the bible. But in the words of Paul, maturity is reached when we are equipped and actually live out lives of service. This is the purpose of the fivefold ministries--training and equipping in different parts of body life so that the whole body works together and grows up into the head, Christ.
So how does teaching fit in? Most teaching, mine included, appears designed to provide information. This isn't negative. But the quality of information can be misleading. For example, information for its own sake is pretty much useless. Information that corrects thinking and gets people on the right track is useful.
But it still comes up short. It's missing an ingredient, specifically a movement towards action. Many sermons or bible studies contain a "call to action" or an "application." But these things are often in the realm of personal repentance or left out as a concept or construct that doesn't really hit home.
What if, instead of forming bible studies, sermons/lessons moved people towards banding together into a service group? What if churches put their resources, time, and energy behind these service/mission groups? What if staff devoted more time to equipping these groups to find ways to serve rather than staying in an office studying and preparing.
What if fellowship happened not through a fellowship meeting or a small group, but in the actual practice of ministry? What if fellowship became real and not abstract?
What if teaching became less and less about production, length, and quality, and more targeted, laser-focused, and directed towards immediate application?
Such lessons could be tested by how well the congregation serves as a result. It requires much from the congregation: a movement away from consumerism, a commitment to live out the gospel, and an ability to stop looking at the preacher as a performer but as one with a specific ministry task given by Jesus himself (Eph. 4:7-16).
I don't know the answers to these questions, but I'd sure like to find them out.