the weblog of Alan Knox

Teaching the Church

Posted by on Apr 22, 2010 in discipleship | 8 comments

So, suppose that I want to teach the church about loving God and loving others. I tell everyone that Jesus said that the greatest commandment is to love God, and that the second (which is like the first) is to love your neighbor. Next, I get everyone to repeat, “Love God and love others. Love God and love others.” Finally, I go from person-to-person and ask them what Jesus said. Each one says, “Love God and love others.”

Everyone now knows and can repeat that Jesus said, “Love God and love others.” I have taught them, right?

No. At least, not in the scriptural sense of teaching. I may have transferred some information (i.e., educated) some people, but I have not taught them – not in the way that Jesus, or Paul, or Peter, or anyone else from that time period would have meant when they used the term “teach.”

In fact, in almost every subject area, we would never think that teaching is getting someone to remember a piece of information or repeat a fact. Not in art. Not in science (labs anyone?). Not in photography. Not in auto mechanics.

Why would we not call this teaching? Because we teach art by showing people how to paint/draw/sculpt/etc. and then leading them to doing it themselves. We teaching science by talking about the various subject matters and then showing them how it works in the lab. The same is true for photography, auto shop, etc. Even a subject like literature, which may begin with reading books, ends with the student writing for themselves.

Thus, in almost every other subject, we teach by telling the student, showing the student, and then helping the student do for herself. But, how do we teach the church? Mostly by telling only.

In fact, I’ve been trying to think of a subject matter that is taught only by telling, and the closest I could come to is history. (I think it is interesting – perhaps ironic – that we teach history like we teach the church.)

As I suggested in an earlier post (see “Teaching them… what?“), Jesus did not tell his followers to teach others what he commanded. No. He told them to teach others TO DO what he commanded. How do you teach someone to do something without doing it with them? Disciples need to be told, to be shown, and then to be helped to obey on their own.

The way we teach the church needs to change. Otherwise, we’re not truly teaching in the way that Jesus meant in the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20).


Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 4-22-2010

    Great post. Hebrew teaching always, always, involved teaching for life practice and character, never for information alone. This is so important that missing it is deadly to the practice of most churches in America.

  2. 4-22-2010

    “Disciples need to be told, to be shown, and then to be helped to obey on their own.”

    And, we can only do that by spending time with each other. An hour or two a week listening to a lecture doesn’t cut it.

  3. 4-22-2010


    Too often, the “showing and helping” part of teaching is left out and is replaced by “application”, which is simply another form of telling.


    You’re absolutely right.


  4. 4-22-2010

    God opened my eyes to this about 6 years ago and it has changed everything for me related to the Kingdom. Alan I believe this is the bottom line why church as we have known it must change. IT DOES NOT WORK! The way the church teaches would not work in making doctors, auto technicians, football players, chiefs, quilters or computer programmers. The typical approach to church is the worst of all possible teaching methods. Most people can’t even remember what the sermon was a week ago. This is a HUGE problem. Those who understand this and continue to do things as they have been must be warned…you will give account to the King.

    Here is an example of how my family of God will apply this today:

    Tonight we meet with part of God’s family. God has blessed us with some spiritual babies and brothers who have returned to following the King after wandering away from Him for a while. We have been learning about daily bible reading and spending time with the King every day. Tonight after we enjoy a meal together we are going to talk about one way to have some a quite time with the King. Then we will do what we learned individually and come back together to talk about what we did. During the following week we will be checking in with each other and asking how the time with God is going. Then next Thursday we will review how the week went and share what God blessed us with.

    More or less as the things we are learning lend themselves to this approach we try to do things in a similar way. As much as possible we want the people who need to learn something to do the teaching because they will learn the most. As much as possible we want specific application of what is learned that is measurable and we ask how the application went.

    We have learned that the more we can be together…doing anything the greater the learning and transformation.

    Thanks for writing about this Alan. In my opinion this is one of the most critical issues for the church to deal with today.

  5. 4-22-2010

    Great post and comments. There are plenty of examples of what teaching and discipleship are about. All we have to do is observe how Jesus discipled and you have the answer.

    I have used this example before about when I was a flight instructor. I spent a lot of one on one instruction with students that included discussion of regulations, techniques, and procedures. These were covered in preflight and postflight briefings.

    However, the most important aspect of the training came in the actual flight training portion. This was where I actually let the student handle the flight controls and put into practice all those things we had discussed and briefed. If I had used the same technique as the church typically uses I would have never let my students touch the controls. I love flying airplanes, but the students would never have become pilots. There was risk involved. It was not always smooth. Bounced landings, altitude and heading diversions. Many failures before success. You keep working until the student gets it.

    Here is an observation that I believe relates to discipleship and teaching. The only students that were successful in their quest to become pilots were those that were really hungry for it. In fact if a student did not show much interest or commitment I would not work with them.

    Does this same principle pertain to teaching and discipling believers?

  6. 4-22-2010


    Thanks for the example. I’m wondering if there aren’t ways that we could be even more “hands on” in the showing part of our discipleship and teaching. What do you think?


    Yes, I like your pilot training example, and I agree that we should spend most of our time and resources on those who are interested in being discipled.


  7. 4-22-2010


    Excellent words, from yourself and the comments.

    The old adage, “Caught rather than taught” certainly holds true when it comes to making disciples.

  8. 5-12-2010

    lol… you certainly haven’t been in my history classes!

    But right you are…. though actually an enormous amount of teaching in our educational institutions is far more on the “stuff in the information” side than the learn by doing side. And since our “church education systems” are largely modeled on the world’s education systems, its really not surprising that we “teach” that way.

    I taught in schools – both public and “Christian” (and Sunday Schools and Bible studies and so on) for years… and it was my disillusionment with the “education system” that led me to de-school … and eventually to “de-(traditional)-church” too, as I saw that the “church system” really wasn’t any different …