What is the goal of the teaching ministry? Two goals. One is self-feeding. The second is discipleship.
4 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
We just covered this. The Word of God is as important to our spiritual lives as food is to our physical bodies. Church is not a seminary where you come to a professor (i.e. pastor) who unlocks the mysteries of Scripture and you accumulate facts and then only after 20 years you are finally ready to read the Bible for yourself. The Bible is food. If you only eat once a week, you’ll be starving. Your growth will be stunted. One goal of the teaching ministry is to teach you how to feed yourself daily.
What does it mean to be equipped as a believer for good works? It starts with learning to feed yourself with the Word of God. How can you have the strength to serve others unless you have the ability to feed yourself. If you have an infant, it’ll be a while before they can take care of themselves. You have to spoon feed them. Infants don’t know even how to chew so the consistency of the baby food is like food particles after it has been chewed in your mouth for a few minutes. The stuff looks like it has been pre-chewed and partially digested. Infants need that. They can’t even chew. All they can do is swallow. But as you mature, you expect your teenage son to be able to open up the refrigerator for themselves and make themselves a sandwich and not die of starvation. This is part of what it means to grow.
I don’t want to have to spoon feed a bunch of Sunday attendees for the next 40 years. That would be a disservice to you. I am not here to make you dependent on me. I am not here to make you loyal to our church. Our job is to equip servants to do good works.
Over time, this means learning how to feed oneself through the Word of God and developing a prayer life. These are the components of a personal relationship with God. If you are relying on a midweek Bible study or a Sunday service to sustain your spiritual life, then you will never grow beyond a certain point. Imagine if you just had 2 meals all week. You’d be starving all the time. And that 1 or 2 meal per week, you would gorge yourself. That’s not healthy. Your growth will be stunted. It’s like the weekend warriors. People who don’t exercise one bit all week and they go all out on a Saturday night. You can do that as a college student. But if you are middle age, your body will tell you, something is not right. We need to exercise a little bit every day, throughout the week and then work our way up for the epic Saturday battle. Little by little, we build up gradually our physical health. The same principle applies to spiritual life. You have to learn how to feed yourself daily bread. That’s why we call our devotions, daily devotions. It’s daily feeding time. That is one way we build up spiritual health.
On our website, we have a Devotional Text or DT that we have been using at our church for many years. It’s a 4 year Bible reading plan put out by the Scripture Union that jumps between OT and NT and in between there is Psalms and Proverbs. I know everybody has their own Bible reading devotional or schedule, but I want to ask all our members to do our church DT. Why? Because we want to be on the same page because it’s powerful when God can speak to us a word and address this congregation all at once.
It’s 10-15 verses and then you answer 2 basic questions: 1) What is God like? Then application. 2) What is the main lesson? Then application. End with prayer. It will take you 15-20 minutes. Start your day with the Word of God.
Also, share with others. When you eat good food, what do you do? You tell others. Same thing in spiritual life. You read the DT and you share it with a fellow brother or sister and the joy is multiplied because you are not keeping it to yourself. And because the person who receives your sharing also is familiar with the text, they, too, can share what they got out of the text and now you are able to mutually encourage one another through the Word of God and you can pray for one another based on the Word.
In addition, use your daily devotional time to review the sermons. The preachers here put a lot of time into the sermons and I appreciate their hard work and am confident that God is speaking a word to us each Sunday. But I bet if I asked some of you, what was the sermon last week, you’d be hard-pressed to remember? When it comes to spiritual growth, I’m a firm believer that applying a few messages deeply is far better for your soul than hearing a bunch of messages and not doing anything with them.
When you hear a lecture, do you grasp the concept right away? Maybe a few of you who are geniuses. Most of us don’t get it from hearing it the first time in lecture. You go home and you read the textbook and you do the problem set and you ask questions to your TA and over 10 weeks, hopefully, you know your stuff well enough to pass the exam.
In a typical year, at the Hill, you hear 52 sermons. On top of that, you hear a weekly or monthly Bible study. At Coffeetime, we spent the past year doing a study on marriage. Some of you stream podcasts of your favorite preachers. That’s easily well over 100 messages a year. How many of those do you remember? 1, 2, several at best. There were a few that probably made you think. And you struggled with the text after the sermon and you tried to live it out during the week. Those are the messages that had impact.
Take for example our Sunday service. Right after the sermon, there is no time to digest the message because we are rushing off for dinner. By the time you get to the fellowship hall, a significant portion of the message is forgotten. At our LCF bible studies this past year, we tried to do previews of the Sunday sermons. And at some of our prayer meetings, we tried to pray through some of the main points from the previous Sunday sermon. This was an attempt to create some breathing room so that we could apply the Word of God more deeply. Even if we took 52 sermons and a monthly member’s bible study, that’s plenty of material to chew on.
If we took what we already heard or what we already knew and struggled to obey it, that’s far better than just hearing more. Because if you hear the Word but you don’t struggle to obey it, the Word of God will become nothing more than information. And spiritually, that’s a dangerous place to be. Actually, hearing without obeying is not only neutral, it is harmful for your soul. Your heart will grow cold and calloused.
So for sermons and Bible studies like this, take notes. You take notes for school because it’s important to you and you plan to review your notes to get yourself ready for the exam. There is no exam in Christian life, but is this time less important than your chemistry class or physics lecture? No, for the believer, we say, this service, this study is the most important part of my week. If you believe that, then treat the Word of God with at least the same level of seriousness that you do for a college course.
Let’s commit to doing our church DT and reviewing the sermons. Be flexible. If the DT for that day is 1 Chronicles and you are reading a list of names and you are not being fed spiritually, then skip around and find something that feeds you for that day. I also recommend Henry Blackaby’s Experiencing God daily devotional.
The second goal of the teaching ministry is discipleship. We are all disciples. All Christians are, by definition, disciples of Jesus. There are not 2 different levels: the regular Joe Shmoe Christian who attends church and the really mature disciple of Christ who serves others. Likewise, there are not two levels of disciples: the disciples who take God seriously in terms of personal devotion and the super disciples who disciple others. There is only 1 kind of Christian and 1 kind of disciple and it is a disciple making disciple. Or a disciple who disciples others. More than that, a disciple whose goal in discipleship is to produce disciple makers.
The link between the Word of God and discipleship is undeniable. In the Great Commission, we have Jesus’ final charge to the believers.
18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
If you study these verses in the Greek, it becomes apparent that the verbs “go,” “baptize,” and “teach” are all participles which derive their force from the one controlling verb “make disciples.” This means that the Great Commission is not merely about being missionaries who go to the ends of the earth preaching the gospel. The Great Commission is not merely about holding huge evangelistic events where you baptize a lot of converts. Nor is it merely to teach others about the commandments of Christ lecture-style. Attending Bible study or even leading Bible study is not the goal. But the point of the Great Commission, the end game is to “make disciples.”
A key component of discipleship is teaching. Not just teaching in terms of information transfer so that you can feel good about your Bible knowledge at the end of the year. God wants more than information. He wants transformation. The Word of God means nothing unless you are willing to submit yourself under it and obey it and allow the Spirit to transform you through it.
What do you do when you have a bunch of people who are content just being passive listeners of the Word, who remain passive and unable to feed themselves and who are unable to see themselves as disciple makers? A more mature Christian needs to come alongside and disciple them.
Discipleship is where the Word of God meets our lives. Discipleship happens in the intersection between the Word of God and real life. Just teaching is not enough. We have to obey everything, everything Christ commanded. Not the easy teaching, not the teachings that fit us well, but everything Christ commanded. The problem is – we don’t like obedience. Or, we are very selective in our obedience. That’s why we need church. Other Christians need to come alongside of us to help us to obey what it says in God’s Word.
In school, you have the fast learners and slow learners. In work, you have the high performers and the low performers. The fast learners and high performers can excel with little or no supervision. The slow learners need a mentor to sit with them and explain everything step by step. Spiritually, most of us are slow learners and low performers, wouldn’t you say? We’re lazy, we’re distracted, we’re easily defeated and perpetually unmotivated. Does that pretty much sum it up?
I think no matter how long you’ve been a Christian, all of us should be in a relationship where we are being discipled by somebody more mature. And as I have been saying, we need to be in relationships where we are discipling others. I don’t think I will ever outgrow my need for mentors in my life. Pastor Daniel from WLA – I meet him every month or two and I call him whenever I am discouraged or in trouble. Pastor Don is another mentor. I see him every month or so. And there are others.
Examine your life. Are there people pouring into your life and helping you to obey everything Christ commanded? Are there people that you are pouring into? You need both.
So far, you might agree with me that all of us should be disciple makers. All of us need mentors and we need to mentor others. But the question is, how?