Not even an extremely gifted communicator can rival experience as a teacher.
Truth must be experienced to take root.
Academia has begun to embrace experiential learning, but the church has remained hesitant. Professor and author Ishwar Puri writes:
In class, this method of learning means replacing chalk-and-talk pedagogy of the past with inquiry, problem-based and project-based learning, sometimes using the tools of what we call a maker space—an open, studio-like creative workshop. These methods recognize that lectures on complex, abstract subjects are difficult to comprehend, and that hands-on, minds-on learning by experience not only makes it easier to absorb complex material, it also makes it easier to remember.
Jesus created a virtual mobile lab that allowed disciples to observe, test, and practice the principles he shared with them. Further, he lived inside the lab as an example of how knowledge is turned into observable behaviors. Jesus advised that there needs to be a space where experience engages God’s truth.
The finest orator’s words are empty if there are no observable practices of the principles he or she eloquently proclaims. This means leaders must lead from the front by engaging truth in tangible and practical steps of obedience. How many church staff members practice biblical generosity with their finances? How many practice servanthood when they are not being paid to do so? How many church staff members, elders, or leaders live in authentic spiritual community?
It boils down to this: Do we want people to follow Jesus? Following Jesus is learned behavior based in the timeless truths of our Father’s love and action. We should create a “lab environment” so believers engage the truth, practice it, and even experience failure. What if this environment was a family-like space where people experience the practical application of truth through expressions of grace, forgiveness, faithfulness, and love? What if we equipped those whom we lead to be doers of the Word and not merely hearers?
On Sunday we hear of God’s love and are encouraged to go and love others. Where will we try it and test it? Where will we fail at loving another and be shown grace and be given the challenge to try again? Without practice, we will return week after week to store away great truths in a dusty file cabinet deep in our intellectual vault. If we do not practice it, we do not believe it. Our churches must have a practice field where disciples of Jesus learn to follow him.
Many churches have established environments but do not use them for application, practice, and learning. Consider that a small group (or whatever term you use) has the highest potential for faith development of anything the church does. The fact that the early church gathered in homes as extended families is an indicator of how people best learn to follow Jesus. We must stop treating groups as another place to pour truth into caged spiritual geese as they are prepared to become foie gras.
Groups should be a strategic partner with preaching, worship, and outreach. A healthy group that functions like an extended family will apply God’s Word and be the practical and critical learning environment that many churches are missing. The transformation that happens within the group will, in fact, enhance worship participation, impact outreach, and more effectively fulfill the Great Commission.
We must facilitate learning spaces to fulfill the mission of equipping “his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature” EPHESIANS 4:12, 13a.
As leaders in the body of Christ, we must set aside our egos and be the first ones in those spaces so we can model for others how to more fully understand our Father’s will through action and practice.
Wes Sebree | The Elemental Group
Wes is an Elemental Coach and Strategist with over 25 years' combined experience in the non-profit, academic, and business sectors. His roles included pastor, professor, business consultant, and church planter trainer. He holds two Master’s degrees and excels in system and workflow development, staff culture, and organizational alignment. His passion is the development and practice of integrated disciplemaking pathways within the local church.