Two and a half years ago, I wrote a post called “More Gospel, Community, and Sermons.” The post was actually a follow-up to another one called “Another Word About the Sermon.” Both posts were inspired by a conversation that I had with a friend about a certain book and about sermons. The point in this post is to encouraging teaching through life-example along with teaching through words.
Last week, I quoted Tim Chester and Steve Timmis’ book Total Church: A Radical Reshaping around Gospel and Community (see my post “Another Word About the Sermon“). When I found that quote, I also found that I had marked these two passages from the same book:
James says, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says” (James 1:22). We must not only listen to the word – we must put it into practice. Churches are full of people who love listening to sermons. But sermons count for nothing in God’s sight. We rate churches by whether they have good teaching or not. But James says great teaching counts for nothing. What counts is the practice of the word. What counts is teaching that leads to changed lives. We must never make good teaching an end in itself. Our aim must be good learning and good practice. And that is a radically different way of evaluating how word-centered we are. (pg. 116)
Let us make a bold statement: truth cannot be taught effectively outside of close relationships. The reason is that truth is not primarily formal; it is dynamic. The truth of the gospel becomes compelling as we see it transforming lives in the rub of daily, messy relationships. (pg. 188)
Think about it this way: our teaching by mouth (whether lecture, dialogue, discussion, or other method) is ineffective if it is not accompanied by teaching by example and practice. I can teach by mouth, “Love one another,” and I can even get everyone to memorize the command, “Love one another.” But, neither of these indicate that I have truly taught “Love one another” or that anyone has truly learned “Love one another.”
My words “Love one another” must be accompanied by real actions demonstrating “Love one another”. Note that when I said “teaching by example and practice” above, I did NOT mean giving verbal illustrations. Verbal illustrations are simply another way to teaching by mouth. Instead, I must teach people with my life. So, it is imperative that my teaching be done in the context of real, life-sharing relationships.
I’ve offered several examples from Paul in the past, particularly from 1 Thessalonians 2:8-10 and 2 Timothy 3:10-11. However, there is also a very powerful example from Jesus in the Gospel of John:
Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him… When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. (John 13:3-5, 12-15 ESV)
Jesus taught with his words and with his actions. We need to do likewise.
Remember that Chester and Timmis said, “Our aim must be good learning and good practice. And that is a radically different way of evaluating how word-centered we are.” How would we measure “good learning and good practice”?