In yesterday’s post, “The inadequacy of seminars and conferences“, I copied an email from Art Mealer, a new friend. Art said that a seminar or conference (such as the one that put on last weekend) is inadequate – something is missing. What is missing? Art says that “Process” is missing. He says:
In your assembly, isn’t it in seeing the modeling day by day, the close interactions with one another, the personal experiences that forge and reinforce a more biblical way of being together that is the Process through which the Spirit works? It isn’t lecture alone that produces obedience and transformation; it isn’t even learning. It is being shown how to by example that births new behaviors and values. It is being held a mirror by the faithful wounds of brothers and sisters so we can see where we are off balance. It is being in a place where we are safe, accepted, for all of our flaws, that we can let go of defenses and face the fear of taking off masks. The place where we can admit sin and find help. Where we can take root in Him. Outside of being present at the birth of new life, nothing is more precious than seeing another man or woman as they learn to humble themselves under the Spirit in this moment and that, and be transformed bit by bit into an image of the Son, pure love beginning to work in and through them.
And, Art is correct! I struggled with doing a seminar for this very reason. While we made the seminar as relational as possible, and included as many people and examples as possible, something was still missing. The process of learning from one another by living with one another was missing.
Christianity today is infatuated with seminars and conferences. We travel long distances to learn from people that we don’t really know. We will listen to their words without knowing or seeing their lives. We read books by people that we’ve never met. We read their words without knowing or seeing their lives. And, we call this learning. This is not learning – at least, its not discipleship.
But, to be honest, we came to this point naturally. What do I mean? Well, for most Christians, week in and week out, we “learn” from people that we don’t really know. We listen to someone speak during our church meeting, but the only contact we have with this person is during our church meeting. (See my post “Learning from Strangers“.) Again, we call this learning and discipleship, but it is so far from what we see in Scripture.
Remember that when Paul wrote letters to churches, he primarily wrote to people who knew him and had met him and had seen his life. Or, in the case of the church in Rome, he was planning to go there soon. He did not write in a vacuum. He wrote in the context of his own living example. In fact, he would often point his readers to his manner of living (Philippians 4:9; 1 Thess 2:9; 2 Thess 3:7-8; 2 Tim 3:10-11; plus many others). He expected people to learn from the way he lived, not only from his words, either written or spoken.
We’ve lost this today, to some extent. We’ve forgotten that Peter told elders to be examples to others in the way that they live their lives (1 Peter 5:3). In fact, in his instructions to elders, Peter said nothing about the way they should speak, but he said alot about the way they should live – as examples to other believers.
Today, we want a leaders who is a fine speaker, and we often don’t expect to actually spend time with him – we don’t expect to learn from his example.
As Art says, we’re missing “Process”. We don’t have the benefit of learning from those who are more mature or who have lived through this. We only have words. What do we need? Yes, words are important, but we also need people to give us a living example and to walk through life with us. We need people who can show us by example what it means to be the church – the family of God.
Toward the end of his email, Art asked this question:
What if, for example, it would not be out of character for the Spirit to call one or two or three of the families at Messiah (etc.) and make them available to spend two months or eight months (whatever time it turns out to be), living among another assembly as they help them make the transition from a faulty church attendance model to becoming the family of God together?
What if? I would say, “Praise God!” Yes, we would be excited to send part of our group to help another group of believers learn what it’s like to live as family with one another. Why? Because we recognize that the church is more than us, and that we are here to help one another – anyone in the family actually – to grow in maturity toward Jesus Christ.
It’s time we started learning by watching and doing as much as we try to learn by listening and reading.