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The Church’s Educational Ministry

Preaching.jpgIn a post last month I raised the issue of Third Way preaching, and this is what I said:

A genuine Third Way will get beyond the Sunday morning sermon as the primary form of spiritual formation and education in a local church, and neither Belcher nor Pagitt seem to approach preaching through the lens of a larger formational program with clearly defined outcomes. A genuine Third Way will form a well-rounded and adaptable formation program that guides all sermons, all teaching, and all activities in the church. Sermons will be seen as one part of the formational ministry of the church. In other words, Third Way preaching is rooted in the overall outcomes of the church.


I’d like to address this issue this month in a weekly series of outcome-based preaching. Today’s post addresses the big idea of outcome based education and how it can impact churches.

The focus shifts from what the pastor-teacher knows and what the pastor-teacher says and how the pastor-teacher performs and that the pastor-teacher informs the congregation to each person in the congregation being a learner whom the pastor is equipping for learning and living.


Let me make a point very clear: Third Way preaching shaped by outcome based theories is not an attempt to minimize the importance of preaching or of the gifts of pastor-teacher. Instead, it is an attempt to get pastors to shift self-perception from:

1. The one who knows, and sometimes perceived as the only one who knows.

2. The one who informs.

3. The one who thinks that teaching/informing on Sundays especially is magically absorbed (completely, or mostly completely) simply by listening to the pastor-teacher.


Instead, the pastor-teacher who knows his or her gifting to preach and teach and inform sees that gift as designed to:

1. Equip congregants to be learners and students; to be folks who also know.

2. Exhorts congregants to become better learners and students so they can acquire information themselves.

3. Educates congregants to live what is being learned by providing opportunities — or illustrations — for the congregant to “apply” or “discern” how to live out the information in this world. Instead of thinking what is said magically goes into other heads, the pastor-teacher “enables” congregants to work out the information into real life.

A question: Since we are talking about a shift in self-perception rather than a revolution of what is being done, what are the things that pastor-teachers can do to help this shift?
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posted November 5, 2009 at 7:02 am

What is one thing a pastor-teacher can do?
Hold office hours – in some fashion.
This might seem trite, but one of the things that I perceive in the church is a maintained distance between pastor and people. The pastor is often a mix of CEO and performer. The CEO mode requires interaction only with those who help run the business along with a welcoming presence for newcomers – interaction can be delegated to others. The performer mode puts emphasis on the show, not on the message.
A professor is required to be intentionally available for students to discuss and respond for a set amount of time each week. A professor must also be willing to help every student learn the material.
If the idea is to change the focus of pastor-teachers, broad availability for conversation on topic is essential.

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posted November 5, 2009 at 7:22 am

“The one who knows, and sometimes perceived as the only one who knows.”
I am hesitant to ask these questions, but how many pastors/teachers really want to give that up?
Likewise, do they really see the congregation as able to handle that responsibility?
I heard a recent interview in which the mega-church pastor mentioned addressing a group of church leaders. He told the leaders that they need to keep in mind that they are probably not the smartest people in the room when they are in their leadership roles.
The pastor expected to hear laughing at recognition of that truth. Instead, he heard gasps.

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posted November 5, 2009 at 7:55 am

Thanks for raising this, Scot. I plan on getting the Learner Centered Teaching book you’ve discussed here. We’re so steeped in the teacher-centered approach, I think it would be beyond my ability or the ability of all our elders to imagine a sufficient number of strategies for making this shift effectively all on our own.
That said, I know that for working with the Spirit for prophetic or healing gifts like I’ve discussed here, we usually do what would best be described as a workshop over an evening and morning session. A group experienced in that kind of ministry prays together a few days before the workshop, asks for insights and healing for those that will attend, which is often given. We usually start the workshop with some basic theology for these practices, then we invite anyone to receive prayer for any issue and the team with experience prays for folks and good things generally happen. The next morning we review what happened, how the ministers involved discerned and cooperated with what God was doing. We discuss things to expect and wise cautions and encouragements and tips, but the focus of the second session is to equip and invite those in attendance to now be the ministers and work with the Spirit to “do the stuff” but with experienced folks there to support. So on the end of the second day, everybody is free to serve and receive as they feel led, and, again, good things usually happen. We then encourage the new folks to do these things on their own and with some of the experienced folks as they have opportunity in church gatherings where this is practiced and beyond (home, work, wherever) to learn more through practice and exposure to others.
It’s just one area of “equipping” but it’s one of the few real examples I’ve seen in a church environment. It would also help if churches develop teams for every ministry in the church with the intent of continuing to incorporate others in the church with appropriate gifts into each work, with a missionary mind-set of wanting to train themselves out of every job.

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Don Heatley

posted November 5, 2009 at 8:28 am

I think one thing a preacher can do is to actually share in their messages that they don’t have it all figured out. It sounds obvious and I know many preachers think they do this. However, much of what I have heard in sermons is a pseudo-humble “I don’t know everything, but I don’t know this and you need to think this way too!” I have always tried to convey to my congregation that I am on the journey too. In fact, as I tell them often, some of them are probably better disciples than I am.
Although, some people have been uncomfortable with that approach and have since moved on to faith communities where the pastor is “the one who knows”, overall most people I have encountered have found it liberating. We have also tried to instill this approach in all those who lead ministries in our church. In order to become equipped as learners, people need to feel it is safe to actually learn and ask questions that don’t have predetermined answers.
Granted, some people get uncomfortable and fear that it may open the door to “wrong” teaching. Certainly, giving up the know-it-all role does present a church with challenges. However, basing our relationships in fear (i.e. the fear of being wrong) strikes me as unhealthy and contrary to the way of Jesus.

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posted November 5, 2009 at 8:35 am

I think it could be helpful to have some “mechanism” (for lack of a better term) that fosters practice. In our church, we have just started 3 member DNA groups modeled on Neil Cole’s LTG groups. Part of that entails reading scripture but as people who are being addressed by the word rather than as people who are only analyzing the word. (Under the word, rather than over the word.)
We have borrowed from Darrel Guder and created questions for the groups along the lines of “How did the Holy Spirit speak to you through the word in ways that question you, encourage/edify you, transform you, focus you and send you?”
This Sunday I will be preaching from Heb. 4:12-13. While I know, in this case, that “word” is not reducible to “Bible”, I will be exploring how that text teaches us to stand under rather than over the word and how we can actually practice that this week in our DNA groups.
The point is that we now in place a mechanism for practice. We are treating these DNA groups as the fundamental social unit of church life and trying to get way from equating “going to worship service” with “going to church”.

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Nancy Janisch

posted November 5, 2009 at 8:36 am

It seems to me that not only must some pastors change their perception, but congregations must as well. There is no shortage of congregations that are quite happy to have the pastor be the “one who knows” and themselve the ones who passively receive. I personally don’t know too many pastors who think of themselves in this way but who serve congregations that do. I hope at some point in this series you will address the difficult problem of changing the perceptions and expectations of congregations.

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Tripp Hudgins

posted November 5, 2009 at 8:43 am

I think that preachers/teachers can demonstrate how listening is a part of proclamation by listening in the service themselves. Make room for parishoners to speak. Invite others to share the pulpit. I try to encourage my people to preach a few times a year currently. I want to move to once a month. That may be too much though. Why?
Well, they pay me to preach. If there was ever a barrier in the way of sharing the pulpit it’s that. I am the “one with the training and the knowledge and the time” to preach every Sunday. It’s my job. There may be no other reason. All the clericalism is still there as you suggest, but when the rubber meets the road it’s simply that one thing that makes mutual sharing/learning/preaching so challenging.
I’m still doing it. We’ll see what I can get away with.

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posted November 5, 2009 at 8:50 am

I think there are many in congregations who don’t think the pastor is the “know-it-all”, but maybe final authority for church practice. I heard it said years ago that a pastor needs to “preach the announcments”, the things your church is doing, the ways that it expresses itself to the community need to line up with the the preaching teaching? How else do things become community values?
Also, coming from low church traditions, would something like holding to the Christian Calendar and a lectionary help with this. It put the congregation on the in, along with the pastor of what’s happening.
Just some thoughts.

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Wally Harrison

posted November 5, 2009 at 9:05 am

We took some time to re-create our creative team/teaching meeting AS the message in our gatherings. We taught while intentionally showing the congregation ways they can study, learn, and exercise what they are learning. We explained that while everyone is not gifted to be a teacher/preacher, we are all learners and givers of God’s love. So we practically, and in ways we found fun and creative, shared tools to living a life of communicating God’s story.

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Neil Carter

posted November 5, 2009 at 9:53 am

First and foremost, do the pastor-teachers themselves think this way? We won’t get very far at all until they themselves have this change of perception.
So my question is: What can we do to change THEIR minds?
It seems to me that the rest of the minds will follow.

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Carl Gregg

posted November 5, 2009 at 10:18 am

I agree, and it seems to me that we need a church-based version of book like “Developing Learner-Centered Teaching: A Practical Guide for Faculty” by Phyllis Blumberg — which might be called something like “Developing a Learner-Centered Church: A Practical Guide for Pastors.”

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posted November 5, 2009 at 10:21 am

so, who are the preacher teachers who are exemplifying this practice (preferably with a podcast)? :)

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Travis Greene

posted November 5, 2009 at 10:23 am

“What are the things that pastor-teachers can do to help this shift?”
Be ready to face the storms and earthquakes that will come. This is all great, Scot, but many will fight it tooth and nail (pastors and congregations).

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posted November 5, 2009 at 11:21 am

The paradigm shift has to occur (which you alluded to briefly) of moving from a teaching community to a learning community.
If churches can be open to the fact that we can learn from everyone in the community (adults and children, men and women, clergy and laity) then we are apt to be shaped and formed by each other through the working of the Spirit.
Therefore, the “sermons” being preached are communicated in big and small ways, in significant and subtle situations, on Sunday morning and Thursday evening, in the pulpit and in the boardroom, classroom, playroom and living room.

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Jason Coker

posted November 5, 2009 at 11:49 am

Wow Scot, this series couldn’t be more timely for me. I’ve been trying to live out this shift for the past 8 months with a new community of faith. I’d like to echo Travis’ comment above (#13): The biggest challenge I face is that most people want the information-giving, entertaining, engaging speaker. It’s just easier for everyone.
For example, one woman recently confided to my wife, “I know our group is being changed and shaped for the better when everyone contributes, but sometimes I have to admit I just wish everyone else would shut up and let Jason do all the talking. I really like what he has to say.”
Genuine learning is mostly hard, uncomfortable, and inconvenient work punctuated by brief moments of excitement and inspiration. It takes a real commitment on the part of everyone to walk through that. I hate to be so cynical, but I’m convinced that everyone wants “the answers” but hardly anyone wants to truly learn. The former represents ease while the latter represents work; the former represents immediacy while the latter represents a long investment of time; the former represents foolishness while the latter represents wisdom. I suspect the kind of preaching-teaching that is committed to cultivating learning communities will never attract many committed people even though they’ll likely attract a great deal of attention. I think Jesus’ ministry is an excellent example of that.
So,”What are the things that pastor-teachers can do to help this shift?”
Get a job. If you want to preach-teach this way, it’s going to be tough to pay the bills in the short-run.

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Justin Wise

posted November 5, 2009 at 12:14 pm

I posted on something similar this very morning. Your ideas are much appreciated. They’re a refreshing breath of life!
One of the main problems I see in Western Christianity is the notion that the “staff” are the “real church” and that they get paid to “make things happen.” That’s so dangerous for so many reasons and, frankly, it’s killing the staff in many, many churches.
On a separate but similar note, preaching is seen as “the magic pill” in most church contexts. What you’re suggesting doesn’t demote the role of teaching/the teacher, but enhances it. It says, “we value preaching enough to intentionally integrate this into the whole strategy of our church.”
Love it.

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Randy Mertes

posted November 5, 2009 at 1:26 pm

Interesting. I have thought this for some time. It seems to me that part of the problem lies with our MDiv programs. Religious education, in their view, involves children but when it comes to adults, well, homiletics is where it’s at.
It is interesting and instructive that when Jesus taught the Kingdom (ethics, judgement), he used parables. Parables required his listeners to think, something that is sadly lacking in the church.

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posted November 5, 2009 at 1:43 pm

I too think the issue is rooted in seminary development, our ecclesiology and our fears. To move to an equipping culture requires overcoming all three of these aspects. WE are afraid to equip because then it shifts power. Really, being the only one who is able to understand is about power. We need to address the cultural and personal power struggles within the church and ourselves to address this culture change. If our view of the church is attract and relay information, then that will need redeveloping as well. The move to join God’s mission and follow God into our communities requires equipping. These both and more contribute for the development of seminary cultures. Here is my biggest issue though. Why doesn’t the local church take the majority of responsibility for teaching teachers how to teach? There is something we need to explore about our perception of equipping which says that you send someone away to develop. One thing I am experimenting with is involving lay people with me as I write and wrestle with the scriptures. More than this though, how do we seek to make the worship gathering an expression of the community as much as possible. How can we make the corporate time the fullest expression of the community as possible…

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posted November 5, 2009 at 2:09 pm

The greatest barrier to this shift in perception is economic. Paid leaders have an inherent need to maintain the status quo, and would have to lead the charge by shifting where material resources are allocated. In my experience, personnel takes the cake in most church budgets. Form follows function!

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Your Name

posted November 5, 2009 at 2:33 pm

I think for spiritual formation purposes, it is very important for people to become their own knowers. And I talk about that from the pulpit. If I am their knower, then they are dependent and do not become mature for themselves. Dependent knowers are blown here and there and not anchored.
I also try to help them become interpreters by talking about the interpretive process, pointing out the literary devices, repeated phrases and words, images, historical and cultural contexts and other nuances as relevant. Instead of simply distilling it and spitting it out. I want them to become aware of the story in the text and what the author is trying to convey by using such literary features.
Finally, in applications, I invite them into to the story and ask them to find themselves. Which character do you identify with? how is God speaking to you in the story? where does your story intersect? Instead of me just applying it for them, i them to ask themselves the questions scripture is asking.
I did this in my last church and have begun in my new church. It’s very effective and the congregation learns to notice the interpretive process.
In the future, I would like to have a interpretive group to process the text together.

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posted November 5, 2009 at 2:34 pm

opps, above was me…. Joanne

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Travis Greene

posted November 5, 2009 at 4:39 pm

I understand what you’re getting at, but I don’t think the implication that we are “independent knowers” is good. The problem isn’t learning from others, it’s outsourcing all the learning to one person.

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posted November 5, 2009 at 7:17 pm

If the pastor/teacher is the lead pastor, he (generic “he”) could request that all Sunday school classes be centered around the message, but contextualized and strongly encourage people to find their niche and participate. So, if there’s a SS class for single adults, they could discuss the morning’s sermon within the context of single people, the seniors could do the same, youth, married couples, so forth and so on. Another option would be for the pastor to avail himself immediately after the service to an informal gathering of saints to more fully explore the topic. Also, if there’s a concrete way to live out some part of the message, give an assignment to the congregation with the expectation that testimonials will be taken the following week demonstrating the ways in which the sermon was lived out.

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Jim Martin

posted November 5, 2009 at 8:56 pm

I’m so glad you are doing a series on this, Scot. I am very interesting in learning. I read Maryellen Weimer’s book, LEARNER-CENTERED TEACHING and was fascinated by the possibilities. On Wednesday of this week, I had a very stimulating discussion with a great guy in our church who leads our adult education ministry. (He knew more than I did about this perspective.)
What can the pastor do? It is a little early for me to really be able to answer this. However, I am very open to learning how I might better facilitate this process. Thanks.

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posted November 5, 2009 at 9:38 pm

How many pastors actually view their job, or an important part of their job, as teaching? And if teaching is an important part – what is the subject matter being taught?
Proper behavior?
Life style?
What is the congregation supposed to learn?
(All questions – no answers)

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Scot McKnight

posted November 5, 2009 at 9:48 pm

I would hope that most pastors would see themselves as educators and not just as preachers or evangelists.
The most critical issue for pastors who see themselves as pastors-educators is to understand how education actually works. As pastors read books on leadership and motivation and the like, I would hope they would read books about education (and speaking and preaching etc). Books today on education clearly — very clearly in fact — reveal that education doesn’t happen when people sit and listen. For education to take root, “students” must be both exposed to new information and then be given the opportunity to “practice” what is being learnt — and that practice goes in all kinds of directions depending on the nature of the information.

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Scot McKnight

posted November 5, 2009 at 9:50 pm

And the fundamental question an educator asks before a class session is this one: What do I want the students to be able to “do” as a result of this class session? The question “What do I want them to know?” leads to the “What do I want them to be able to do?” question.

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posted November 6, 2009 at 2:29 am

Well, this is still adding to what I think is the major problem altogether!
We are trying to analyse and dissect everything down to an art form whereas Peter, Paul etc had nothing of the sort in their day and they seemed to do okay – turned the world upside down.
We have, and it seems like, we continue to want to turn everything professional.
The simple instruction to follow the example of Paul as he followed the example of Jesus is nothing more than just doing and saying what the Father told Him to!
It should be the same with preaching and teaching – a simple dialogue with the folk that God has asked you to lead that comes from saying and teaching what God wants you to.
Trying to impose the teaching of other people, who are thousands of miles away from your country or city is ludicrous. Their context is totally different and I firmly believe we should be seeking God for what He wants us to do in our community because that is what will work!
The time and money spent on trying to follow the latest fad is pathetic – since when did the Holy Spirit relegate His function to books, DVD’s and conferences?
Now, if ‘leaders’ who are nothing more than servants, started spending that time and effort in seeking God for what He wants taught, then, IMO, most of the hassles we have would fall away. Here we have to trust in the integrity of the leader to apply himself to this task.
Now, when he knows what God wants, which will invariably be worked out in his own life first, then he is leading and teaching by example.
But when ‘leaders’ spend most of their time and effort in bookstores or on the net tying to establish what the next ‘discovered secret’ thing is that God is apparently doing, so that he can mimic it in his area – well, Hello Dolly!
Shooe, hard to explain in such a short message, but I hope you get my drift.

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posted November 6, 2009 at 2:35 am

Sorry Scott, I got this link here from Randy Siever on Fcebook so I won’t be checking back here – if this turns into a converstaion do you perhaps wanna let me know via FB please?
God bless Bro!

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posted November 6, 2009 at 2:17 pm

RJS #25, I believe an important part of my role as a pastor is teaching. But I tend to view teaching as a tool for the primary task discipling. I am a discipler. So, as a discipler I think that all of the subjects listed are being taught and modeled over the course of time.
What is the congregation supposed to learn? Truthfully, the congregation is to learn to follow Jesus as His disciples. And that’s what makes this a challenge for me, and it is something that I am trying to find my way in personally. I am being challenged by the thinking of pastor as educator in what might be considered a more traditional sense.
My undergrad work was in Christian Education proper. I have now been pastoring about 25 years. I am part of a denomination with a long list of unwritten benchmarks, related to knowledge and experience from worked-out knowledge, that are required to be identified as a mature (or maturing) believer. My experience thus far would seem to point to a reasonable grasp of Biblical or Christian information by many (the result of education) but in many respects little to no transformation. Therefore, we’ve been teaching, but what we’re intending to teach isn’t being learned.
I have no settled conclusions in this, but since I am trying to find the transformative work of the Spirit as the primary outcome, I find perhaps more than challenge in this thinking. Of course, I am not opposed to education, and I am educated and continue on in my education. I agree with the first 1-3 in the post, it’s the second 1-3 list that I struggle with. The struggle is not in disagreement per se, but it’s a struggle nonetheless.

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