For two days last week, I attended an intensive seminar on the topic of teaching in higher education. This seminar covered many topics including preparing for academia, teaching and research, administration, teaching methods, and teaching philosophy and psychology.
One comment that the professor made was (paraphrasing), “Lecture is one of the least effective methods of teaching.” Even those who support and defend lecture usually include other teaching methods such as class participation, discussion, case studies, etc.
I think that an emphasis on lecture in preaching and teaching is one of the reasons that the church is filled with immature believers who have never grown beyond the “birth” stage in the life of Christ. I have found that people learn, understand, apply, and grow in maturity toward Christ much more when the “teaching” is more hands-on – living and learning together instead of lecturing someone.
In the introduction to Paul’s letter to the Philippians in The Message, Eugene Peterson says:
This is Paul’s happiest letter. And the happiness is infectious. Before we’ve read a dozen lines, we begin to feel the joy ourselves – the dance of words and the exclamations of delight have a way of getting inside us.
But happiness is not a word we can understand by looking it up in a dictionary. In fact, none of the qualities of the Christian life can be learned out of a book. Something more like apprenticeship is required, being around someone who out of years of devoted discipline shows us, by his or her entire behavior, what it is. Moments of verbal instruction will certainly occur, but mostly an apprentice acquires skill by daily and intimate association with a “master,” picking up subtle but absolutely essential things, such as timing and rhythm and “touch.”
I like the way that Peterson describes learning and discipleship in these two paragraphs. Following Christ does not come about through the sharing of information, but through the sharing of lives, much like a mentor shares his life with an apprentice. We cannot disciple through a series of lectures alone, whether those lectures last 30 minutes, 1 hour, or 4 hours.
I desire to live as an apprentice and a mentor. I desire to live with, learn from, and follow those who are more mature in Christ, just as I live with, teach, and lead those who are less mature in Christ. Of course, this works both ways. Mentors learn from apprentices. Certainly lecture can be part of this type of lifestyle, but it should not and cannot be the primary aspect of discipleship.
As we live with one another and learn from one another, our goal is not simply to make each other more knowledgeable about Scripture and about God. Instead, our goal is to see one another transformed through the work of the Spirit of God. If this is our goal, then our life and our methods should work toward that goal.