Is Your Church a Learning Community?

David Wells reflects on the fact that apostolic Christianity was shaped into a set of clear teachings and doctrines:

“Christianity, in these and texts like them, is described as the faith, the truth, the pattern of sound words, the traditions, the sound doctrine, and what was delivered in the beginning. This is what the apostles taught, it is what they believed, it is what they “delivered” to the church, it is what is “entrusted” to the church. Christians are those who “believe” this teaching, who “know” it, who “have” it, who “stand” in it, and who are “established” in it. The New Testament letters were written to remind believers about their responsibilities in relation to this teaching, this faith that has been delivered to the church in its final and completed form. The apostles, we read, write to “remind” them of it, urge them to “pay close attention” to it, to “stand firm” in it, to “follow” it, to “hold” onto it, to “guard” it as one might a precious jewel, and to contend earnestly for this truth.

Can we see the most basic point here? It is that the church in its earliest days was a learning community. What it was learning was the ways of God, his character, his acts, through the truth he had given and was giving them. This they knew was indispensable for a life of obedience in this world.

By contrast, all of this is conspicuous by its absence in much of the contemporary evangelical church. Knowledge of the Bible ranks low in how the born-again judge themselves. And the preaching of the Bible’s truth has all but disappeared from many churches. We are today walking away from what we see modelled for us in the book of Acts as God’s will for the church.”

- David Wells The Courage to Be Protestant, 84-85

(HT: Kevin DeYoung)

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3 comments

  1. Can preaching as we now encounter it in the 20-21st Century genres of sermons and expository preaching be a one-way learning process? The minister delivers his sermon. It is rather like a tube through which the speaker pours his words to the receptive listener. The listeners cannot ask questions, or engage in discussion or clarification. There can be a passive, receptive form of learning, with little constructive process, where the learner is actively engaged fitting this information, these concepts into what they already know, testing, evaluating, and applying whatsoever ever things are true..
    If a church is a ‘learning’ community where are the opportunities to address the learners’ mind and thought processes? How does the preacher know his congregation are learning?
    Would it be the case of further limited, or constrained learning where preaching is clothed with unchallengeable authority. If we slip between talking about The Word (meaning God’s revelation), to the preaching as The Word, then the listeners cannot interrogate the sermon or the truths it may contain. Thus can there be a danger of folks being less noble than those at Thessalonica, because they are not encouraged to search the Scriptures to see if these things are so?

    1. Creating a culture of learning in the the local church is imperative (e.g. for fulfilling the great commission) , and includes all that you say Brian. ‘Preaching the word’ with biblical authority and contextual sensitivity is no mean task! We should pray earnestly for those so called to expound the word of God through preaching. But, I think we’re agreed, this is not the only God-given method for shaping the congregation’s biblical world-view and equipping them for life and godliness etc. A church should be saturated with the word in all its official and unofficial fellowship. There’s plenty of room for creativity here. Not least exploring together the ways we learn and encouraging obedience. Thanks again for your stimulating thoughts.

      1. I came across this insightful analysis which illustrates different ways of teaching in the church http://www.actforhim.org.uk/resources/Emmaus_model_of_teaching_and_learning.pdf
        Your readers might also be interested in this months journal TRANSFORMATION where I have discussed A Christian Perspective on Mentoring. Transformation 29(4) 277-292. Sagepub.co.uk/journalsPermissions.nav.
        DOI:10.1177/0265378812457752 trn.sagepub.com.
        (If readers are interest in this paper, e,-mail
        bwakeman@OCMS.ac.uk
        The paper looks to the whole of the grand narrative of Scripture Creation-Fall-Redemption-Consumation to infer principles for mentoring in both the secular and church worlds.

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