Do Church-goers Really Get Salvation? – Education

In a previous post I made the point that major points of Christian faith and doctrine are going untaught in our churches. I asked the question of whether or not church goers today really understood what salvation was really all about. The post closed with these words about education,

“The only way people in the pew are going to get it is if we start to teach it. If we are going to teach it we have to get it first ourselves. This does not mean we discount repentance, baptism, etc but it does mean we also fully endorse many other biblical principles and teachings on salvation itself.”

I was reading up on some critiques of Christian education and found what Dan Edelen had to say about this very insightful. In his post How the Church Can Improve Christian Education, Part 1, he wrote:

Christian education suffers from its own, peculiar failures.
Here is my take on what is not working:

1. We’re not transmitting basic Christian doctrine to our people.
2. We’ve undervalued and stymied the talents of the more artistic members of our churches.
3. As a result, we don’t connect creative vision with the Gospel, nor do we allow that vision to inform the practice of our doctrine.
4. As a result, we’ve fallen into patterns of operation that no longer work within a changing culture.
5. Because our patterns of operation are less effective and are met with increasing hostility (because they are deficient), we’ve adopted a bunker mentality.
6. Our bunker mentality further alienates the culture at large.
7. That alienation results in a continued loss of existing churchgoers and potential converts, and the people we do manage to keep are less deep in the faith because no greater vision exists.

Let’s start with the most pressing problem: The people in the seats don’t know the basics of the Christian faith.

He says the typical church education program has a “throw it at the wall and see what sticks” mindset. I can’t tell you how many times and at how many churches I have witnessed this myself. In his second post he gives even more background to why we are in the mess we are in. He believes it boils down to the lack of combining wrote learning with experience and letting people express the creative ways in which they learn in any way remotely connected with the gospel. This takes getting to know each student, what gifts and abilities they have and what learning style they have so we can connect them with the Gospel effectively. The hard part about that is we are dealing with a volunteer army of teachers that may not be able to effectively to this in a class of more than 10 people and often our classes get over 50 at a time.

Dan is going to post a third part with what he believes are some practical solutions to the dilemma we have in Christianity in America today. I look forward to reading what he has to say.

About mattdabbs
I am a minister, husband, and father. My wife and I live and minister in Saint Petersburg, Florida. My primary ministry responsibilities include: small groups, 20s and 30s, involvement, and adult education.

11 Responses to Do Church-goers Really Get Salvation? – Education

  1. guy says:

    Matt,

    Do you think there is a de-emphasis on education in general among newer generations in our fellowship? My congregation is a blend of both conservatives and progressives. Most of the members close to my age are fairly progressive. And it seems like serious study of the text isn’t really a priority for them. Or studying the text should only be for the purposes of finding launching pads for topics we do want to discuss rather than investigating the message of the text itself. Is my experience a rarity? Or do you find that textual study becoming less important in the minds younger generations or progressives to be a trend?

    –guy

    • mattdabbs says:

      Most churches are teaching all kinds of Bible. The problem is there is no overarching structure to make sure the main things are kept the main things and to make sure people are actually developing a Christian worldview rather than just smattering verses on the wall and think that is biblical teaching. We need a plan in place to make sure people are understanding the core truths of the Christian faith. There is also a difference even between something being taught and something actually being understood. I think it is important for congregations to step back and evaluate what is being taught and what is not and not just assume that just because Bible classes are taking place that people are really getting it. Besides, usually only 50-60% or so of those attending worship attend Bible class so even if you are teaching things well in class you are still missing a large number of people.

  2. Tina says:

    Matt, your post begs the question: Then what ARE the basics of the Christian faith?

  3. brian says:

    if i may offer my opinion to Tina’s question,
    I suggest that the basics are in the book of Genesis
    God as Creator
    God’s relationship with man
    Covenants
    Faith

  4. JamesBrett says:

    matt, this is some interesting stuff, and i’m also excited to read dan’s practical advice on the subject. i didn’t bring this up after your last post because i didn’t want to seem critical. but now that we’re already going (at least toward) where i was leaning, i will. know that i type this in love — wanting also to be honest about what i believe. [and my feelings are rather strong.] you said in your last post (and in this one):

    “The only way people in the pew are going to get it is if we start to teach it.”

    i disagree. i believe a lot of the problem is that we are “teaching” it. we structure our classrooms, select our teachers, and outline our lessons in such a way as to merely pass on information. i fear that, at best, we pass on a lot of knowledge with a little bit of encouragement or inspiration. at worst, we make christianity into knowing and agreeing to believe a prescribed set of ideas about God.

    it’s not that i’m against knowledge altogether; i just believe we’ve already educated ourselves beyond our commitments. we possess way more information and knowledge than action and love. and we’re far too intelligent to be so disobedient. i don’t think knowledge is itself the problem, but neither is it the answer.

    i think the answer is discipleship. passing information on should not be the goal — and our education systems shouldn’t be structured as traditional vehicles for acquiring knowledge. the goal should be to model for one another chistlikeness in everyday life. young christians should live their lives among mature christians. we should see one another making godly decisions and serving others. Jesus taught in the context of life, and i think our learning experiences should at least be similar. every christian should have both a mentor and someone they’re mentoring. we should be sharing our lives, not coffee and small talk before a bible lecture.

    i don’t know exactly how this will look in our large churches. and i’m not saying we can’t have any more traditional classroom lectures. but i am saying that if a christian “goes” to church 3 hours a week these days, 2 1/4 of those hours are spent in a classroom/lecture situation. i think that’s a huge mistake. and many are participating in 1 or 2 other bible studies outside those church building walls. is a lack of knowledge really what they’re lacking? and has our constant addition of more bible studies gotten us anywhere in the grand scheme of God’s mission and his intention for our lives?

    so i don’t know if we do a lot more community service together… or if we just spend more time in one another’s homes talking about life… or if we assign mentors and disciples… or what? i can honestly say that i don’t have any idea what it will look like for churches who currently have classroom lectures with 50+ people. [i’m not a part of one of those churches, but that doesn’t excuse me from thinking through this with my brothers and sisters.]

    but i am certain that teaching (the way we’ve done it at least) is not the only answer. i don’t believe it’s even an answer.

    • mattdabbs says:

      James,

      Here you had me ready for something far more in my face than that! I didn’t catch any criticism there, just some solid reasons why you disagree. You make a lot of really good points. We certainly do need more discipleship. I completely agree and that is what it boils down to. Discipleship does involve teaching. You just can’t get away from it, even if that teaching is not about head knowledge but about the heart it still must be taught, right?

      Second, you wrote,

      “I just believe we’ve already educated ourselves beyond our commitments. we possess way more information and knowledge than action and love. and we’re far too intelligent to be so disobedient. i don’t think knowledge is itself the problem, but neither is it the answer.”

      I think we are over educated in many of the wrong things and undereducated in some of the most important things. So I don’t think you can make a case for needing less education unless by less education you mean teaching less of the random and less important portions of scripture. I do think we need more education on the core aspects of our faith and in doing that not getting into crazy denominational turf wars or toe the line CofC teaching…rather getting back to the heart and sole of the text and how it practically changes our lives. We are dying for more teaching like that. We also have to learn to live outside of ourselves through serving others. But my point is, unless we take this up and teach and then implement the implications of our teaching through practical outreach and service then nothing will change. So my whole point is that we don’t need more teaching if it is just more of the same old impractical and un-life changing stuff. But we do need more teaching on what is most important and unless elderships, ministers, classroom teachers and small group leaders get this and get on board then where will it come from?

      • JamesBrett says:

        i think i’m right alongside you on most of this. i really like what you say about implementing our teaching through outreach and service.

        you also said, “I do think we need more education on the core aspects of our faith.”

        i think this part confuses me a little. i guess i’m not sure what core aspects of our faith we aren’t educated on? i may be oversimplifying these basic and core ideas of christianity, and this is by no means a complete list… but it seems like they go something like this:

        – God deserves all praise and glory.
        – God loves us, despite the fact that we miss his intentions for us — and sin.
        – Jesus was God in the flesh, and died to give us access to his kingdom, by conquering death and bringing forgiveness for our sins.
        – Our broken relationship with God can now be mended, and this new and right relationship with him is our salvation.
        – Life in the kingdom is true life, as God intended. Grace and love are the rules in the kingdom of God.
        – The Holy Spirit is God living in us, and he empowers us to live life as God desires.
        – God is glorified when we love him, and our love is demonstrated by our obedience to him.
        – Our changed lives and love will encourage others to glorify God and love.

        so i guess i don’t understand what we mean by saying we need more education in these areas? i suppose i would agree that, if we’ve not taught these things (and probably a few other ideas?) in our churches, we should. but knowledge of these core ideas doesn’t, to me, seem to be the problem. surely most christians in our churches know all these things… and believe them.

        when i think of what holds most of us back from living as God wants us to live, it’s not a lack of knowledge or understanding of christian principles, core or not. it’s a love of self and the things of this world — and an unwillingness to give those things up. combine that with the fact that all they’ve ever had demonstrated for them is education and knowledge in the lives of others who are unwilling to give up self and world… and we’ve got a big mess.

        seeing changed lives seems to me to be the answer. and, frankly, i don’t know how many of our lives have truly changed. experiencing life alongside believers who are living for God’s glory seems to be the answer. but most of us experience little more than sitting on a pew with someone who’s agreed to believe these core ideas and sing about them for a couple of hours a week. i’m fairly critical and pessimistic when it comes to all this, but i can’t help but think that Jesus would be right here with me. [i hope that doesn’t sound arrogant; i just can’t see Jesus thinking all this head knowledge and trying to fix spiritual problems with intellectual solutions is a good idea.]

    • mattdabbs says:

      We are all speaking from our own experiences and ministerial contexts. I am coming from a place where we have many new and first generation Christians mixed into a church with lots of people who are multi-generational Christians who are the most likely people teaching the classes of those younger in the faith than themselves. The problem often is these older and more mature Christians assume people know the basics and what is core when often they don’t. That is not true everywhere but it is true here.

      Often what we have termed the basics in the past tended to be more about lines of distinction with the denominations – weekly observance of the Lord’s Supper, baptism, instrumental music, etc.

      • JamesBrett says:

        that makes sense, matt. we were thinking of different groups. i’ve never been a part of a large or american church with a high percentage of new or 1st generation christians. and i can definitely understand the others assuming the young ones already know the basics of the faith.

        i guess that’s where/why many churches have “new christian” classes? it seems we could — intellectually at least — cover the core ideas and principles easily in a quarter or two. all the while, trying to encourage life together with the more mature christians. that’s where they’ll really come to understand what those core teachings mean. because without the modeling and discipling, i don’t know that knowledge will get them much of anywhere.

  5. I tend to agree.

    I’m curious if the way we teach and mentor is helpful for encouraging the sacrifice, suffering, and risk involved in living out a Christian life.

    I think that ongoing class-based service groups/projects (educational not economic class) is an interesting way to increase relationships and service beyond the walls of church. The young adult class that I attend has a service group that meets bi-weekly (unfortunately.this is more managerial than activity, but the ownership and accountability involved is helpful).

    And well run small groups can certainly help break some of the norms of traditional education.

    • Wendy says:

      Small groups is where service and discipleship can happen. We don’t have Bible classes at my current church, nor did we have them at my previous church. But both churches have very active small groups (about 80% of the members are in small goups)

      Teaching is least effective (IMNSHO as an ex-teacher) when it takes the form of a lecture. So perhaps both the nature of the method of teaching employed and what is being taught is responsible.

      If the basics are taught in the sermons, don’t they “get it”? They seem to in the churches I have been in.

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