For much of the last 500 years, education has been focused on information. People sit in classrooms and learn, primarily by receiving ideas from a person with more knowledge than they have. In the process, if it goes well, the student gains information and also learns how to do certain things as a result.
Perhaps no place exemplifies this pattern more than the traditional catechism class. Students would receive a catechism and sit through classes about the catechism. Then, in order to demonstrate that they were ready to be confirmed and accept adult membership in the church, they would show their competence by standing in front of the congregation to be questioned. Success was reciting the correct answer, word for word, while everyone watched you sweat!
While there is surely value in this, it is also clear that high percentages of the people who participated in this never deepened their faith or matured as disciples. The hoop had been jumped through and that was enough. Studies show that over half of the people in most congregations have done little to move beyond the level of knowledge that got them through middle school church life.
But the Bible seems to use another model – one that perhaps we should be using as well. In Ephesians 4 we see a more complex model. There is a concern for good content (the author hopes people will know enough to “not be blown about by every wind of doctrine”) but also a clear sense that the real goal of all of this was “to equip the saints for the work of ministry.” In other words, we need both knowledge and practice if we are to mature into the people God has called us in Christ to be.
For too long, church life has over-focused on information and under-focused on transformative participation. If we want people, youth and adults alike, to mature in their faith and faithfulness, then we need to adopt much more servant-based models and spend as much or more time equipping people and putting them to work as we do instructing people and sitting them in classes. More interactive classroom instruction may be an improvement, but it is no replacement for the laboratory of the Christian life. Help people grow by serving and we may see a whole different kind of church.