Pastor’s School – May 2013
J. Oliver Jones
Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. 2 Tim 2:15 KJV
Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth. 2 Tim 2:15 NASB
The word translated study or be diligent is defined as “to hasten, make haste, to exert one’s self, to endeavor, give diligence.” You might say it means to apply oneself wholly to something.
- Christian Education – definition
There are many ways to define Christian Education, but to me Christian Education includes helping people to be biblically informed, to be mentally transformed, and to be spiritually conformed. Now, while I used the term ‘mentally’ transformed (Romans 12:2), the term transformation is used by most today to include the entire process of change from a depraved sinner into the image of Christ.
Note that George Barna defines “transformation” as the process that enables us to gradually die to sin, self, and society in order to fully and profoundly love God and people – sounds Wesleyan to me!
- Continuing Education – definition
1 – lifelong adult education: adult education, usually in the form of short or part-time courses, continuing throughout a person’s life. 2 – specialized courses to update professionals: regular courses or training designed to bring professionals up to date with the latest developments in their particular field.
- Continuing Christian Education – My Definition:
So when we speak of Continuing Christian Education our meaning must be understood as the involvement in the lifelong process of transformation of believers (both laity and clergy) from wherever they are in their spiritual journey forward to the very likeness of Christ by increasing their knowledge of the Bible, changing the worldliness of their thinking, and restoring in them the functional image of God so that they are able to think, feel, and act in a way pleasing unto God.
If we view Continuing Christian Education as simply the imparting of more Bible knowledge, our efforts will have little effect on the person or on the world. But as I have said before,
Christian Education and Discipleship are, for the most part, identical. It is only when we see Christian Education as knowledge alone, separated from life, that an improper distinction is made. The Great Commission says, “Teach them to observe…” It is not to teach them just so they may know! For a believer to grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ without sound Biblical teaching is, simply – impossible. Likewise, Biblical teaching without the expectation of proper life application for the believer serves, at best, little purpose. But the willful, determined, “faith” action of a believer based squarely upon sound Biblical knowledge can, and will, change the world!
So the question must rightly be asked, “Is there a need for the Christian to be involved in an active Continuing Education program?” The answer is “Only if he or she desires to continue growing in the grace and knowledge of Christ.” To be blunt, there are many so called believers attending church most Sundays who have no such desire. They are spiritually complacent, morally corrupt, and intellectually confined to the drinking of milk. Allow me to back up this conclusion with a few statistics.
I would imagine that most here are familiar with George Barna and Barna Research Group, a private, non-partisan organization that conducts primary research, especially in the area of America’s religious beliefs and practices. The results of their research has been used by most of us to reveal the truth about American Christian beliefs since their founding in 1984. Let me share just a few interesting statistics with you.
From research conducted by Barna in 2006 we have this finding:
Although large majorities of the public claim to be “deeply spiritual” and say that their religious faith is “very important” in their life, only 15% of those who regularly attend a Christian church ranked their relationship with God as the top priority in their life. As alarming as that finding was, its significance was magnified by research showing that on average pastors believe that 70% of the adults in their congregation consider their relationship with God to be their highest priority in life.
This was followed by another survey in 2010 that found while some 2/3 of Americans claim to be very spiritual or religious, fewer than 1 in 5 (18%) claim to be totally committed to engaging in personal spiritual development. Further, of those who profess to be a Christian only 1 out of every 7 (14%) say that their faith in and relationship with God is the highest priority in their life.
In the same survey it is noted that while 80% (4 in 5) of adults claim they are Christian, only 20% (1 in 5) contend that the most important decision they have ever made was to invite Jesus Christ to be their Savior and forgive their sins.
In 2011 George Barna released a book titles Maximum Faith. In it he maps the ten stops along the path toward what he calls “wholeness,” or what Wesleyans would call Perfect Love or Christian Perfection. Here are the results of American adults in their so-called ‘faith journey.’
Note that the percentages indicate the number who have not yet progressed to the next stop.
Stop 1. Ignorance of the concept or existence of sin. 1%
Stop 2. Aware of and indifferent to sin. 16%
Stop 3. Concerned about the implications of personal sin. 39%
Stop 4. Confess sins and ask Jesus Christ to be their Savior. 9%
Stop 5. Commitment to faith activities. 24%
Stop 6. Experience a prolonged period of spiritual discontent. 6%
Stop 7. Experiencing personal brokenness. 3%
Stop 8. Choosing to surrender and submit fully to God: radical dependence. 1%
Stop 9. Enjoying a profound intimacy with and love for God. 0.5%
Stop10. Experiencing a profound compassion and love for humanity. 0.5%
Now let’s talk for just a moment about “Worldview.” Dr. Beaver in his 2011 class on Apologetics at Southern Methodist College spent much time talking about the importance of one’s worldview. As part of an assignment we had to come up with a “Class Worldview” in as few words as possible. He suggested 50 words, but as I was asked to write it using the student’s input, it wound up being 125 words (read it). But just to prove it could be done, I did turn in my personal worldview in 50 words (read it or show PowerPoint). Then we have the 50 words presented in 25 statements (read or show PowerPoint). But those of you who know me well will appreciate that my final submission to Dr. Beaver was my worldview in exactly 1000 words. Don’t worry; I am not going to read it!!!
Here is the point about Worldviews – In a 2009 Barna survey it was found that only 9% (that is 9 out of 100) of Americans had a Biblical Worldview. A Biblical Worldview is defined as,
… that absolute moral truth exists; the Bible is totally accurate in all of the principles it teaches; Satan is considered to be a real being or force, not merely symbolic; a person cannot earn their way into Heaven by trying to be good or do good works; Jesus Christ lived a sinless life on earth; and God is the all-knowing, all-powerful Creator of the world who still rules the universe today.
While this is sad, it is even worse that only 19% (less than 1 in 5) of those classified as “born again” Christians held to a Biblical Worldview. And perhaps worse of all is the fact that of the “mosaics” (18 to 25 years of age), only ½ of 1%, that’s 1 out of 200, held to a Biblical Worldview. It does not take a nuclear physicist (sorry about that Brother Philip) to understand where that statistic will take us in the years to come!
George Barna wrote, “The Christian body in America is immersed in a crisis of biblical illiteracy. How else can you describe matters when most churchgoing adults reject the accuracy of the Bible, reject the existence of Satan, claim that Jesus sinned, see no need to evangelize, believe that good works are one of the keys to persuading God to forgive their sins and describe their commitment to Christianity as moderate or even less?”
I wish we had time to review even more research on topics like why young people are leaving church, how the digital age is changing the dynamics of family and relationships, why “House Churches” ranked higher in meeting spiritual needs than most traditional churches, etc. But our time is coming to a close.
Now, some of you are thinking that all of these statistics are about other groups – not our people! After all, we are all conservative, Bible believing, evangelical (in the sense of the 8% of true evangelicals – see notes below), Wesleyan Arminians. Our folks would blow the top off their surveys. But such is not the case. First, our people, for the most part, are not that far removed from the statistics we have been reviewing. And second, have you looked at the numbers we consider “our people” lately? It is obvious that we are not getting the job done. So we must ask ourselves three very important questions:
Why is what we are doing not working?
What must we change to become more effective?
When are we going to start?
My topic for this Ministry Retreat / Pastors’ School is Continuing Education for the Local Church. This is my topic, but also my heart. I have already stated and confirmed that I do not believe ‘education’ in the sole sense of ‘knowledge’ will make much difference in the transformation of people until we also provide the means for that knowledge to be applied and lived. Having said this, however, it is ridiculous to expect people to live out what they do not know. So teaching must be a vital part of one’s transformation into the image of Christ. But as Wesley so adamantly believed and practiced, it requires personal discipleship and accountability before a person will apply knowledge and mature spiritually. Christian Education and Discipleship must go hand in hand. Neither will work without the other! So to answer the first question, I believe one of the reasons that what we are doing is not working effectively is simply because in most cases we are doing the first, Christian education, sporadically, and the second, personal discipleship, not at all.
To answer the second question, at least from my topic’s perspective, we must do a better job in teaching Biblical basics, spiritual suppositions, doctrinal distinctives, and practical applications.
Thirty minutes on Sunday mornings is not going to do the job. Along with the education we must get serious about real discipleship. I already know what you are thinking, “I can’t even get my people to church every Sunday, much less get them into Bible studies and discipleship classes.” Pastors, I understand the difficulties. The job of a Shepherd is not an easy one. And you are right – I am not a pastor. I filled the role for some fifteen years, but concluded I did not have the gift of shepherding. My heart is closer to that of a rancher – remember the song to the old TV show “Rawhide?” Well I have modified the words slightly.
Move ‘em on, head ‘em up, head ‘em up, move ‘em on, move ‘em on, head ‘em up Rawhide . . . . don’t try to understand ‘em, just rope, and throw, and brand ‘em; soon we’ll be living life on high; no time for hesitatin’, our true love will be waitin’, waitin’ at the end of our drive.
But seriously, if God has called you and gifted you to pastor, he has placed in your care the spiritual well being of His sheep. Somehow we must teach them to follow as you “lead them beside the still waters that their souls may be refreshed.” They need consistent, systematic, and progressive Christian education; and they need strong, competent, and caring disciplers in their lives. This may not be what they want, but it is most definitely what they need.
The answer to the third question, “When are we going to start?” is up to you. I believe The Wesley Institute program can definitely meet the need of Christian education in the local church. Most of you already know at least the basics about the program. Through the Wesley Institute you will have the opportunity to teach your laity and lay ministers studies written from some fourteen Wesleyan educators, most of whom are here in this room right now. These studies are from our men, holding to our beliefs, teaching our doctrines, presenting our distinctives, and applying our principles. Why would we not use them. Yet I am sorry to say that less than 15% of our active churches are enrolled in the Wesley Institute program.
As for discipleship, I pray that God will grant to me the desire of my heart in this area. Yet, I myself find it hard to implement what I know is needed in my own life – as I have said, I am still working on adopting my own program. We all have so much to do; so many responsibilities, so many people looking to us for answers. Where do we find time for these things ourselves, much less expect our people to ‘sign on’ so to speak.
In two weeks I will turn sixty. Some of you are thinking, “He’s just a child.” Others are wondering why God allows people to live to be so old. Our years are in His hands, but life choices are in ours. If you will pray for me to make good choices, I will do the same for you. But let’s not be like one of my young granddaughters, who while making a choice she knew was not good, and already crying because she anticipated her parent’s reaction, all the while was shouting, “I want to make good choices!”
I hope we will all make good choices for ourselves and for our people in this area of Continuing Christian Education. Thank you and God Bless.
Note 1: “Born again Christians” are defined as people who said they have made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important in their life today and who also indicated they believe that when they die they will go to Heaven because they had confessed their sins and had accepted Jesus Christ as their savior. Respondents are not asked to describe themselves as “born again.” (There are 43% – 44% who fit this ‘descriptive’ category which is far different than those who are truly born again by the Spirit of God)
“Evangelicals” meet the born again criteria (described above) plus seven other conditions. Those include saying their faith is very important in their life today; believing they have a personal responsibility to share their religious beliefs about Christ with non-Christians; believing that Satan exists; believing that eternal salvation is possible only through grace, not works; believing that Jesus Christ lived a sinless life on earth; asserting that the Bible is accurate in all that it teaches; and describing God as the all-knowing, all-powerful, perfect deity who created the universe and still rules it today. Being classified as an evangelical is not dependent upon church attendance or the denominational affiliation of the church attended. Respondents were not asked to describe themselves as “evangelical.” (While some 38% of Adult Americans claim to be evangelical, only some 8% meet the nine listed criteria to be truly evangelical)
Note 2: When seven theological perspectives (foundational questions) were combined to determine the overall purity of people’s biblical perspectives, the ranking of twelve different denominations shows three groups far outpacing the rest of the pack, with two far below all others. At the top of the list were people who attend Pentecostal and Assemblies of God churches (who had a firm biblical view on the seven items 72% of the time), and non-denominational Protestant churches (65% of the time). The next echelon included people who attend Baptist (57% accuracy) and Church of Christ (54% accuracy) churches. In the lower portion of the standings were those aligned with Mormon (49%) Adventist (48%), Presbyterian (43%), Methodist (38%), and Lutheran (37%) churches. Lowest on the continuum were people affiliated with Catholic (28%) and Episcopal (28%) churches.