Yesterday I discussed the importance of a focus on mission. I have noticed that in healthy churches I can ask just about any member what the mission of that congregation is and they’re able to tell me. They are all on board with one purpose. When the members aren’t sure, you can be confident that the church is in trouble.
In general, the function of education in the church is to equip members for ministry, as we noted last week. I’d like to bring one additional scripture to bear on this. We normally quote this as a proof text for biblical inspiration, but I want us to focus on the sense of purpose:
All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work. — 2 Timothy 3:16-17 (NRSV)
Notice some of the road signs in that verse: Teaching/training – equipped – good works. Again, our focus is on getting to the mission of the church.
There are two errors into which churches may fall. On the one hand, a church can have a program of small groups and education that simply has no focus or control at all. Such a church tends to be active, but often does not have a sense of direction, and over time does not grow. I know of a church in which the members were quite proud of the number of ministries and small groups, but over the years the church itself did not grow, and efforts at outreach were stifled. In another church, the week was filled with activities, but all of those activities focused on fulfilling the desires of the church members. In another, Sunday School classes take on secular topics without reference to ministry or their faith. Each of these churches has a potential problem of focus.
The other error is to control the curriculum too strictly. This error takes many forms:
- Limiting the curriculum to material printed by a particular denomination.
- Providing excessive doctrinal controls over the material studied. (I am not opposed to doctrinal standards but people should be exposed to more than their own position.)
- Using a repetitive indoctrination approach. An example of this is using material with the young people that simply repeats the things they should not do in many different ways: Don’t use drugs, no sex before marriage, obedience, and so forth. A more constructive approach is to provide these young people with a sense of mission and activities that helps them to a fulfilling life.
- Indoctrination rather than thinking. In order to fulfill their mission people need to be able to respond personally rather than just regurgitate prepared responses.
- Refusing to study material that doesn’t seem “spiritual” or “church-y” enough. Even some of those secular topics can be important in preparing to serve.
So how do we keep the focus without resorting to a form of tyranny? Again, we need to look back at the mission of the whole church. If the entire membership is involved, if the entire membership understands their mission and believes in it, then they are going to want to study and learn things that equip them to carry out that mission (good work!). Then all the leader has to do is present people with some options and explain why these options will help carry out the mission to which the members have already agreed. Mission must be everyone’s responsibility!
Educating a church that has not found a mission is going to be very difficult. Once the people have found their mission, the only problem will be to guide them and help them find the most effective way to fulfill it.
(Tomorrow I will continue by looking at some types of study that I believe are mission-oriented to equip people for the work of ministry.)