” …though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you … all over again. ” (Hebrews 5:12)
I have often wondered what period of time the write to the Hebrews was referring to when he said ‘by this time’ you ought to be teachers. Was it 5 months, 5 years, 15 years or (for somechurch goers) 50 years? And was he seriously referring to all those he was addressing (as it seems he is) or just those ‘called’ to be teachers.
At the same time I have wondered whether there is a connect here with the Willow Creek discovery that the longer a person was attending the church the more disgruntled or dissatisfied many became with the church.
Could it be that there is a ‘use by’ date on what we absorb through our teachers and, if we don’t get out and teach it ourselves, we have to go through the same stuff “… all over again.” (Hebrews 5:12), a process which puts many teachers and preachers (especially those that get a buzz out of the weekly delivery of “a good word this week, Pastor”) into the position of being what I call ‘Colgate preachers’. Let me explain.
The basics of the Gospel, like a toothbrush, is really very simple. However in order to keep people buying toothbrushes Colgate have to cleverly reinventing the thing. Again, and again, and again. A new bump here or flexible twist there, new colours and bristle arrangements and new marketing techniques, all designed to keep customers coming and keep them happy.
And unfortunately many pastors are caught up in a similar pattern. A new twist here and a fresh revelation there, hang the message on Abraham this week then next month use Paul, all brought to a consumer driven congregation with a clever use of PowerPoint and the latest gadgetry. The same basic message but redesigned to keep them engaged and keep them coming. Even the Pastor can be fooled into thinking he has something new.
The writer to the Hebrews seems to suggest, however, that the teacher’s objective should be less about keeping them coming and more about getting them going! In fact he gives us a warning of what will happen if they do not become fruitful. In chapter 6 verse 7 he writes:
‘Land that drinks in the rain often falling on it and that produces a crop useful to those for whom it is farmed receives the blessing of God. But land that produces thorns and thistles is worthless and is in danger of being cursed. In the end it will be burned.’ (Hebrews 6:7-8)
What are the thorns and thistles other than the whinges and dissatisfactions that are often rife in our churches, usually coming from folk who have sat under a steady diet of ‘colgate’ teaching for years. And the blessing of God? Perhaps the greater revelation of Christ that the writer longs to bring?
Unfortunately those of us in ‘ministry’ often only have ourselves to blame.
- We have fostered a preaching style and a meeting style that only makes room for a few rather gifted members to teach anyway. As opposed to the New Testament pattern of a proliferation of home based opportunities for every believer to receive ‘a word of instruction, a revelation… all … for the strengthening of the church’. Offering the microphone to anyone who has something to say will never produce that kind of participation.
- We have assumed and subliminally taught people that unless they sit under a weekly dose of ‘the word’ they will not grow. But, as I have suggested, there are many that would be better staying away on a Sunday morning and instead taking what they already have and sharing it with a friend over coffee or a fishing line. Rather than fall apart, every sermon they’ve ever heard would come to life as the Holy Spirit opened up opportunties for them to become teachers of the word themselves.
- We have failed to take note of the purpose of the the ‘five fold’ gifts of Christ to the church, which is to prepare God’s people for ministry. The church is meant to be a people movement with each believer equipped to give an account of the hope they have within them and experience the joy of walking with someone on their journey into faith.
- Perhaps a bit of a reality check might be in order as well. I don’t mind admitting that I get a buzz out of preaching and teaching. It was often the highlight of my week, especially if it received a bit of praise (see my previous post on preaching). This can however blind us to the danger of (1) making people reliant on us and (2) believing that we (and our gifting) are indispensable.
As Willow Creek discovered, sitting under a weekly dose of the word may be healthy for new believers but maintaining that healthy smile comes about by learning to brush daily with Jesus rather than waiting for the weekly Colgate sermon. Walking in daily obedience to the promptings of His spirit will brighten anyone’s smile.