Several days ago, I had the opportunity to have lunch with a young, single guy who has been meeting with us on Sundays for a few weeks. In the course of the conversation, he said that he wanted to talk about ecclesiology. Even though I’m not really interested in that subject (ahem), I was cordial to his request.
He began to talk about the church that he had been part of. He was not talking negatively about the church – in fact, he praised the church for what it was trying to do, and he praised the pastors and leadership. He said that he really appreciated the main pastor’s preaching, and he usually agreed with him.
Then he said something that I’ve been thinking and writing about for some time, but it was encouraging hearing it from someone else. This young man said that while he enjoyed the pastor’s sermon, he did not have a context in which to understand what the man was trying to teach.
I asked my new friend what he meant. He said, “My only relationship with this pastor is through a 30 minute sermon on Sunday morning. I don’t know anything about his life, or his family, or the way he treats his neighbors, or anything else. I only know what he tells me during his sermons. There is no relational context for learning what he is trying to teach.”
As I continued to talk to this young man, and to hear his heart for learning through relationships as well as through the spoken message, I couldn’t help but think of the examples that we have in Scripture.
Notice, for example, what Paul tells the elders from Ephesus:
And when they came to him, he said to them: “You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia…” (Acts 20:18 ESV)
Also, this is what Paul reminds the believers in Thessalonika:
For you remember, brothers, our labor and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. You are witnesses, and God also, how holy and righteous and blameless was our conduct toward you believers. (1 Thessalonians 2:9-10 ESV)
He tells the Philippians:
What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me – practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. (Philippians 4:9 ESV)
The obvious exception to this pattern seems to be that when Paul wrote to the church in Rome, he had not been to Rome, although he seemed to know many of the believers there. However, even in this case, Paul later lived among the Roman believers for at least two years (Acts 28:30).
In other words, Paul did not intend for his words alone (neither his spoken words nor his written words) to make up the extent of his service to the people of God. He recognized the importance of living with the people as part of his work. He shared his life with them, and they shared their lives with him. Paul had much, much more than a “speaking ministry” among the people.
His words then often pointed back to his example of living and working among the people.
Today, too often, teachers spend very little time with the people they are attempting to teach. As my young friend said, there is no context for their teaching. This is not discipleship or teaching in the biblical sense, or in the sense that either Jesus or Paul modelled for us.
Instead, we need to live with the people that we hope to teach. Our teaching must be in the context of our living if we hope to see transformation – both our own transformation and transformation in the lives of others.