Saturday, August 19, 2006

Models for Education in Local Churches

The Sunday morning sermon is foundational to the teaching program of the church, but it can't fill all the needs. Sometimes it is the meat of the word, and sometimes it is the milk. Sometimes it is evangelistic and sometimes it is exhortatory. Sometimes it is a missionary report, and sometimes it is the training ground for new preachers.

After the announcements and singing, perhaps there are 30 minutes left for the sermon. And let's assume half the sermons are of a teaching nature. During a one year period this amounts to 30 minutes x 52 weeks x 50% = 13 hours of Bible teaching each year. But maybe your church has longer sermons and more of a focus on teaching. Perhaps in a one year period you have 45 minutes x 52 weeks x 75% = 29.25 hours of Bible teaching each week. And lets remind ourselves that this is teaching at all levels, from milk to meat.

Let's compare the Sunday morning sermon to a course at university. At a university, a full course requires at least 100 hours of instruction, and a student typically takes 5 full courses each year. So the amount of concentrated instruction received in one year of university is the equivalent of about 38 years of Sunday morning sermons. Maybe your church also has a Sunday night sermon, which means it would only take 19 years of sermons to get the equivalent of 1 years worth of instruction at a university (even assuming that 19 years worth of instruction was all meat and little milk).

No wonder many denominations require their preachers to spend 3 years in seminary. But even among the denominations that require this for their pastoral staff, very few people can afford to take 3 years out of their lives to attend a seminary. And while a seminary might meet the needs of the few, it doesn't meet the needs of the many. So what other options are available?

Let's not ignore the importance of a program of self-study. Each Christian should be reading and studying the Bible for themselves. In addition, by listening to a single sermon each week on tape or over the Internet, the average Christian can double the amount of serious Bible teaching he or she receives. But many local churches have also developed programs for teaching and discipleship, and it may be worth while for each local church to consider whether a similar program may help them.

Some years ago Fairhaven Bible Chapel offered the Discipleship Intern Training Program. Under the guidance of some experienced Christian workers, a number of believers received instruction and personal discipleship. DITP is no longer running, but in New Testament assemblies in North America this program has become quite well known.

Other churches have followed a model which I believe was pioneered by “Spread the Word”. They have a one-a-month program that runs Friday night and Saturday morning. Local men and visiting speakers provide concentrated instruction. Billeting is available.

Capitol Hill Baptist Church ( runs an internship program. They pay interns a small stipend, and the pastoral staff of the church provides instruction and discipleship. CHBC is a medium sized church, and has made a considerable financial investment in training men for future ministry.

Stonebriar Community Church ( has started a Theology Program. Their goal is to help make everyone in the church theologically literate. They offer a number of courses taking their students through basic theology. They have also video recorded their sessions, and the sessions and training materials are available (some over the web and some for purchase). They provide instructions on how local churches can run these programs for themselves using Stonebriar's materials.

Of course, other churches do not adopt anything quite so formal. Mentoring and personal discipleship is done one-on-one. Younger believers are encouraged to study for themselves. This assumes there are men who are willing and able to do this type of discipleship. While many churches would claim to be doing this, most churches do it sporadically or not at all. Nevertheless, if it is actually done and done by some men (and women) who are really committed to this sort of work, it can be highly effective.

But regardless of what type of model or program your church chooses, it is vital that believers have the opportunity to get more than they are likely to get on a Sunday morning. Let's not give up on the Sunday morning sermon. It is foundational. But lets not assume the Sunday morning sermon is giving the church all the food it needs.


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