I was watching the clock in Sunday School. In this case, I was just a member of the class. It was about five minutes to quitting time. The conversation was interesting—even spirited—but I wasn’t sure exactly where we were going. So I raised my hand.
“In about five minutes, we’re all going to be walking out that door. What exactly do you want us to do about what we heard today?”
Aren’t you glad I don’t attend your group?
That line got to be the running joke in class for months to come. Whenever the conversation got the least bit off-subject, our teacher would say, “We need to get back on topic, because I know what Josh is thinking: When we walk out that door, what do you want us to do about what we heard today?”
The truth is, every one of your group members is thinking the same thing. Every week. All the time. They may not say it. They may not be as frank as I am (and my middle name is Frank). But they are thinking: What am I supposed to do with what we learned today? Every teacher, every week, ought to provide a clear answer to that question.
Practical teaching matters. It was the second most likely predictor of spiritual vibrancy. Those groups whose lessons focused on application were 125% more likely to be highly spiritually vibrant, compared to those whose teaching was only somewhat practical. Practical teaching, more times than not, produces spiritually vibrant people.
In some circles, practical, application-based teaching is contrasted with “deep teaching.” Deep teaching is spiritual and theological, and… well, deep. Practical teaching is seen as light and fluffy, shallow, and human-centered. In “deep” circles, how-to preaching and teaching doesn’t get a lot of respect.
Here’s the problem with that: How-to teaching is what Jesus did. Here’s one of my favorite examples. See if you can find the omission in this rendering of the Great Commission:
“Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age’” (Matthew 28:19-20).
Did you find it?
Let me quote it again, correctly. See if you find the difference:
“Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.’”
Find it? It’s in verse 20: “Teach them to obey.” The difference is crucial. Howard Hendricks used to say that the object of Christian teaching is not to make “smarter sinners.” It is not to create people who can quote the facts of the Bible but live like the devil. It is to create people who act like saints. We are out to create people who are a little more loving, a little more joyful, a little more kind, a little more at peace, a little less anxious, a little less angry, a little more like Jesus.
Practical teaching is not an add-on. Application is the purpose of teaching. We are to teach people how to—how to pray, how to know their spiritual gifts, how to serve, how to be a good dad or mom, how to give, how to control your tongue, how to beat bad habits. How to live the life.
Josh Hunt. (2010). Make Your Group Grow.