I've been involved in church in one way, shape or form for the last 28 years...basically, my entire life. I've had the chance to see a lot of traditions come and go, and other stay for one reason or another. Perhaps the most intriguing thoughts on church that captivate my heart and mind are the few accounts we have of what church looked like when it first began from the book of Acts.
In particular, Acts 2:42-47 is a favorite of mine. These few short verses contain an immense amount of depth in terms of vision and mission for church. There are four themes that are often taken from these verses: teaching, community (fellowship), breaking bread (generosity or hospitality) and prayer. The theme that I would like to share a thought on today is teaching.
Verse 42 says, "they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching." They refers to the fellowship of believers, or the early church. The apostles is a reference to Jesus' 12 disciples, those whom He walked the closest with while on earth. These twelve men included Matthias, who was added to their number to replace the fallen Judas after his betrayal of Christ.
What I am starting to believe more and more about this particular phrase is that the emphasis wasn't so much on the teaching as it was on the learning. Think about this for a minute. What makes a great teacher? Answer truthfully!! I'm sure each of us immediately thought of someone that may go easy on us and let us slide through their class, but in fact, a good teacher is someone that is able to help their students own what is being taught. So, what this verse is actually referring to is the early church valuing the opportunity to learn; the opportunity to hear the truth of Christ and have it shape the way that they live.
There is a new buzz word running around the educational system nowadays...it's called experiential learning. The basic presuppostion behind this premise is to allow each student or person learn in his or her own way, or how they learn best. For instance, if someone is more of a hands-on learner, they are referred to as a kinesthetic learner. For students that learn in this way, they learn best in an environment that fosters hands-on learning through group projects, activities and exercises. There are also people who learn best by listening. They are called auditory learners. The last group of learners are those who learn best by seeing, called visual learners. What these categories mean is that there are different ways people learn. This doesn't mean that an auditory learner cannot learn visually, it simply means that an auditory learner learns best by listening.
Here is what I believe makes the difference when reading this portion of scripture and understanding a little bit about different learning styles. Verse 42 begins with the statement of "they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching" followed by "and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer." The early church valued learning. They took what they heard, and began to live it out in a hands-on and visual way. The body of Christ found a way to engage every person in the way that he or she learned best. Those who were unsure of what the apostles' were saying learned more about it as they saw their friends and family begin to live differently. These people observed truth in action, and then were invited to be a part of the community of faith because of what they had experienced.
Imagine for a moment if church today really emphasized these basic principles? What would change? What would stay the same?
As someone who is charged with the task of teaching, I believe I will be held accountable for how I helped others learn. Therefore, my teaching approach must become increasingly more interactive and less directive if my true goal is for others to begin to learn and experience Christ at work in their own lives.