There’s a reason Jesus picked a select few to train for three years rather than simply preaching sermons to the masses over and over. Sermons and Bible classes have to be one size fits all, but disciple-making requires personalization. A sermon has to be preached to people of all levels of spiritual maturity and Biblical knowledge. Relational teaching is able to meet people where they are and answer their questions, correct them when needed, and challenge them to grow at their own level and pace.
There are all kinds of quotes from great men of the faith telling us how important the pulpit is and how the church’s well-being depends on what is said from the pulpit. In my experience, though, the kitchen table is just as valuable as the pulpit, if not more so. If your Christian life felt stagnant and you felt insufficient in your knowledge, which would help you more: one or two sermons or Bible classes, or an hour across the table from a couple of mature Christians who would be able to answer your questions and teach you what you need to know?
Jesus modeled an approach we would do well to emulate. While He preached messages to the masses (like the Sermon on the Mount), with His disciples He brought them up in their understanding and responsibility as one does a child. He showed them the truth and embodied a loving, serving ministry. Then, He did those things alongside them, sending 70 out on the limited commission and teaching them and answering their questions when they returned. Finally, after His resurrection He was ready to send them out on their own.
Leading, then working alongside, and finally sending. That process took three years of relational teaching, though. In those three years His apostles needed corrections, specifications, and answers to questions. The opportunity to tell Peter “get behind Me Satan” arose because He was spending time with Peter and regularly conversing with him. He set the apostles straight regarding who would be greatest in the kingdom by being around them and listening to their conversations.
Yes, Jesus’ ministry was public in many ways, but His most enduring work of training others was done through close relationships with a small group of followers. Similarly, most (if not all) of the strong Christians I know can point to a faithful disciple or two who took the time to build a relationship with them and teach them the faith.
Sermons and Bible classes have value, and we should continue to make use of them. But we must realize that in order to reach the final goal of bringing someone to maturity in Christ, it’s going to take more than one size fits all lessons. It’s going to take family relationships.
This article is an excerpt from Jack Wilkie’s new book, Church Reset. For more information, or to order a copy, go to focuspress.org/churchreset