I was chatting with some English students about remedies to the problems child-brides and female infanticide in South Asia. The general consensus in the room was that people just need more education. If they knew the harm they’re doing to their children and society, they would stop and we could eradicate these horrible practices.
Ignoring for the moment the fact that female infanticide in South Asia actually happens more frequently among the wealthy and well-educated, I asked my students if they ever do something they know is wrong. They froze. I repeated the question and hastened to admit that I do things I know are wrong, I do things that are harmful to myself. My admission loosened their tongues just enough to get a sheepish admission of the same.
“So why,” I asked, “if we do things we know are wrong or harmful even though we’re educated, why do we think other people just need more education in order to stop doing wrong or harmful things?”
While sometimes more education is needed to help people make better decisions, other factors such as poverty, cultural forces, and downright human wickedness often play a part just as large as ignorance. We’re much too ready to hail knowledge as the panacea for evil. Nowhere is this extreme elevation of knowledge more prevalent than in church.
Nearly everything we do in church is geared towards giving people more information: 40-minute monologue sermons, Sunday School curriculum focused on delivering information about a piece of Scripture while asking basic comprehension questions to make sure the information has been understood. When we’re running short on time in Bible study group, the part of the discussion most likely to get cut are the three “application questions” tacked onto the end of each chapter. Usually the question, “How did last week go in applying what we talked about?” is met with awkward stares at the floor and nervous giggles until the leader gets the hint and tactfully moves on.
We’ve fallen into the same trap as my English students. We hope and believe that if only people knew more, then they’d change. If only we could increase knowledge, godly behavior would increase proportionally.
It seems we read the Great Commission as “Go into all the world and make disciples… teaching them all that I have commanded you”. We somehow forget that Jesus said to teach the new disciples “to obey” all that He commanded. He wasn’t looking for us to primarily pass along information. He wanted us to pass along obedience.
How in the world do you do that?
I started thinking about this during a recent training seminar. The trainers were there, in part, to help us think about how church meetings should look – particularly in new churches. They’re the ones who brought out our apparent misreading of Jesus’ intentions for how disciple-making should go. And they suggested a new, obedience-centric model for our meetings.
The first third of our time would be used for fellowship and accountability. How was your week? How did you obey what we talked about last time? Who did you tell about Jesus? What questions/concerns/problems did you run into?
The second third would be used for worship and new information – a new Bible story or new passage of Scripture. The conveyance of this new information would be discussion-based to facilitate the discovery of principles by group members. (Adults learn better when they’re discovering information for themselves rather than being told.)
The final third would be used for prayer and planning. What specific principle have you seen today (a sin you need to stop or a good work you need to start doing) that you’ll apply in the next week? Who will you tell this week what you’ve learned?
They placed the weight of the meeting directly opposite to what we give weight to in a Western church meeting. You probably won’t walk out of a meeting like this with exhaustive knowledge of the outline of 1 Corinthians 1-3 or how the Hebrew tense affects verse 2 of Psalm 108. However – you might just walk out of a meeting like that obeying and sharing the principles of the story of the Woman at the Well.
Jesus said it was a foolish person who heard His words and did nothing to build their life on the truth. I’m beginning to think our traditional model of church makes it much too easy for people to remain fools. People leave our meetings thinking they’ve done what’s necessary by learning information, when what is called for by wisdom is obedience.
Do you agree that our usual church model is too knowledge-heavy? Does the idea of a more obedience-centric model make you nervous (it does me!)? What do you think about the proposed different organization of a church meeting (Bible study/fellowship time/Sunday School)?