We’re slowly losing something.
I came to this realization while preaching to my youth group last night (it’s a risky thing to have such a weighty thought nagging on your mind while you’re trying to preach on a completely different subject). In fact, this post is the result of me sorting through it mentally this morning.
Last night, we were talking about being ready to meet Christ face to face. And I asked the teens to imagine Jesus coming into the room and taking over the lesson. My application was about readiness – were they ready to be presented to Christ, by Christ some day. But in my head, I got to thinking about how different the whole lesson might have been if Jesus had taught it instead of me. What would it be like if my group of teens could be taken back in time to sit on the hillside over the Sea of Galilee and we all sat in the grass while Christ sat on a large stone and taught us God’s will for our lives. What if we could have walked with him and lived with him for a few weeks and then come back to our lives today? How would it change us?
From the times of Jesus’ earthly ministry, through the first few decades of church planting under the apostles, people from various cultures had a sense of need for a master teacher and an intense desire to learn – yes, even teenagers! Knowledge was hard to come by, learning was expensive, and access to both was limited. So when a travelling teacher would come to town and begin teaching in public, people would stop what they were doing and crowd around him eager to learn. Whether the teacher was a false teacher or Christ Himself, people had a general thirst for learning. This cultural mindset – the high value of learning from a teacher – spans the centuries of old testament prophets in Israel all of the way up to the early 1900’s in the western church and most everywhere and every time in between, with some varying degrees of variation.
But then came the personal computer in the late 1970’s to early 80’s. The change wasn’t instant, but as the popularity and accessibility of computers spread, the internet of the 90’s was almost a foregone conclusion – of course all of these computers should be connected in some way to allow people to communicate with them and share information. Fast forward 20 more years and here we are, about to step into 2015 with our new iPhone 6’s or Samsung Galaxies in hand. We’ve gone from sitting at the feet of a master, to a quick question to Siri. And the pace of change is accelerating quickly.
It’s this easy access to information that is changing us, and most of us aren’t really aware that it’s happening.
Before you roll your eyes, let me quickly and clearly state that this post is NOT intended to bash the internet, access to information, or new technology. I’m not an old man shaking my finger at anything new. I love my iPhone, my Facebook newsfeed, and my Bible study apps. I’ve just been struck with how much things have changed how we learn, and I’m asking myself what parts of that are good and what parts are negative.
So, weighing the pros and cons, sitting at the feet of a master teacher was only as promising as the master teacher. And any of us who’ve been called of God into vocational ministry know that we teachers are far from perfect folk. The primary weakness of the master-teacher model of learning was the limits of information, and especially an ability to cross-reference what was taught to make sure it was accurate. There was a strong thirst to learn that necessitated a high level of trust. And sometimes men took advantage of people’s trust. The era of the Catholic Church, and its bad habit of hoarding knowledge away from commoners comes to mind. (They resisted an English translation, and insisted on church authority as being equal to biblical authority. Many people gave their lives merely for their desire to have and read an English translation of the Bible).
The information age has brought us the ability to access the results of the learning of a dozen highly skilled Ph.d.-level Bible scholars in a matter of seconds to use as a cross-reference for what our pastor just said in his sermon. The degree of accountability this brings to the pulpit can be a good thing. Curious about a controversial Bible issue? Just scan Grace to You, John MacArthur’s blog of literally thousands of Bible sermons, articles, topical essays, videos, and more. Or take a scroll through John Piper’s Desiring God Ministries website, the Ligonier Ministries website, Al Mohler’s Daily Briefing blog, Mark Dever’s 9 Marks ministry site, The Gospel Coalition’s online blogs and resources, Sermon Audio’s hundreds of thousands of sermons from pastors and scholars around the globe, and more!
How could this kind of access to Bible knowledge be a bad thing?
That brings us back to the opening statement of this post. We’re slowly losing something.
Human nature tends to value what it can’t have more highly than what it has. Any nursery worker had this one figured out already.
We have begun the slow process of letting go of the value of the knowledge of God. Why? Because it’s so easy to come by. Learning and understanding the God of the Bible has become so easy that it has started to become boring. I feel this pull in my own life too. Scripture memory? Why? I have a smart phone in my pocket constantly with 5 or 6 different English versions of the Bible on it. If I need something, I can just look it up in 15 seconds. That’s my go-to excuse. But I forget that scripture is a living word that, if hidden in my heart, will have a steering, cleansing effect on my daily habits and mindsets. The Christian life is more than knowing lots of stuff. But we’ve made the pursuit of the information side of the equation so easy, that the corresponding pursuit of developing character seems to be suffering. At least it is in my own life. Maybe it’s just me. But methinks not.
Is it possible, that in gaining so much, we’ve lost something of critical value and we don’t even realize it?
We’ve talked about the disadvantages of a master-teacher learning style. But what were the advantages?
Students sat at their master’s feet. I’m not referring to the exalting of a master – unless it’s Christ. It has always been a bad thing when people have exalted a human teacher. I’m referring to the organic, life-touching-life relationship between master and student that often existed back then. As the students spent time with their master and the learning unfolded slowly, they got a chance to observe how the master lived out the very truths he was teaching. The knowledge and the application to daily life came together along with the development of the character necessary to use the knowledge skillfully. We’ve even lost this educational dynamic in our “mass-production” school systems. But that’s another topic altogether.
No one disputes the gradual effects social-media and digital friendships are having on how we relate to one another. I see consistent articles on this topic on various news sites. The effects of an altered concept of relationships is starting to show up in the workplace, marriages, etc. And again, there are good and bad aspects to the changes.
But how central and critical to our Christian lives is our learning?
And how much are we losing if we let go of the master-teacher style of relationship-based learning? Ironic that I would ask these questions and express these thoughts through a blog post, I know. Perhaps I will use these thoughts as the seeds for a teaching session with my teens. I don’t know yet. There is the risk of it coming across to them as a slam on their love of technology, and I don’t want that because I want them to benefit from the hundreds of terabytes of info available to them.
But, as a teacher and a learner who feels the increasingly stale atmosphere in the North American church and the pressure to “compete” with what is available online instantly, I needed this reminder that this method of life-touching-life teaching that Christ practiced will always have an organic value that Siri can’t compete with. Not to pick on “her,” but she’s programmed to handle it. Siri isn’t indwelt with the Holy Spirit. Neither is the iPhone 6, despite what Apple’s marketing department might like to think. But God-ordained teachers and disciplers are!
And so I need to remember that the value in my ministry is not the information alone – if that were the case, I’d be losing the race quickly. What I have to offer is what has been offered to me – Christ in me, the hope of glory, and Christ through me organically impacting the hearts and opinions of those I interact with. The most important aspect of my teaching ministry is what happens privately in my learning from Christ. I can’t spread a fire horizontally if my vertical relationship with Christ is ice cold.
It seems to me that it would be better if Christ did enter the room and take over the lesson. But in that thought, I was forgetting something. Christ is in me, and is living through me, and has called me to shepherd those young lives on the basis of that reality. So in a very real and organic sense, Christ was in the room. That’s a humbling thought considering my sinful, self-focused heart. But it’s also an encouraging thought to those of us called to impact others for Christ. Which, by the way, we are all called to do.