9 Jun 2009

Stuck on Study

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I was recently reading in Glenn McDonald’s book, The Disciple-making Church, a chapter on having a mind transformed by the Word of God.  Glenn made the statement,

“Our aim, however, is not complete mastery.  Few people in history have mastered the Bible’s contents.  The issue isn’t knowledge as much as transformation–the recasting of our minds according to a perspective that is consistent with the mind of God.” (McDonald, page 148)

Many people study scripture faithfully but without growing significantly spiritually.  How is that possible?  How can someone attend Sunday School for 6 months, 6 years or  16 years and accumulate heaps of knowledge only to maintain a spiritual status quo?  Over a series of posts I will be offering some thoughts on this dilemma and some practical tools that lead toward transformation not just accumulation of knowledge.

Today’s post will be a bit uncharacteristic for my site in that I am not handing you any tangible tool.  Instead we are going to consider the problem so we can get at the tools necessary for transformation in future posts.  Following are several forces that influence us to study in ways that do not lead to transformation of our minds.  

  • We are use to education that is about amassing knowledge rather than aiding transformation.  I can’t speak for other places, but here in the United States an overwhelming percentage of our education is focused upon the consumption of facts.  Students are tested on their ability to absorb and regurgitate information.  That’s not a bad thing and part of christian education should be the teaching of doctrines, biblical stories, theology, etc.  We definitely need to know some things as Christians.  Unfortunately, we are conditioned to feel as if we have completed our job in Christian education once certain knowledge has been passed on.  Similarly, as students we may think of ourselves as done just because we learned certain facts about the Bible or can quote and defend particular doctrine.  Once again knowing these things isn’t a bad thing, it’s just only part of the journey toward maturity.
  • We are conditioned in our culture to constantly seek newness.  Go into any American supermarket and you will find countless varieties of dish soap, with nearly every one of them boasting a new feature.  Seriously, how “new and improved” can soap actually get. I have been scrubbing for 40 years or so, and I am not sure I can tell you any appreciable difference in the soap.  In the church we are prone to be always on the search for a new insight, a new study, a new lesson, regardless of what we may have applied out of the last one.  I once heard a story about a new pastor who preached an amazing sermon his first Sunday.  The next week people couldn’t wait to hear what he had to say.  They were a bit taken aback when he preached the exact same ‘amazing’ sermon.  No one quite new what to say following worship.  A week later everyone came to worship a bit curious if they would hear the same sermon again.  Sure enough, he repeated the sermon from the prior week word for word.  The elders, a bit distressed, came to him and voiced their concern that he was preaching the same sermon over and over.  They asked, “Why do you keep give us the same sermon?  When are you going to preach something different?”  He replied, “When you start doing this sermon I will give you a new one.”  Part of why we study but do not grow is our constant search for newness, with a distinct lack of application of what we know.  Paul encourage the Phillipians to apply what they knew saying, “The thing you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.”  Phillippians 4:9
  • We are prone to the path of least resistance.  Let us face the facts.  Transformation means change and change is often painful.  People are inherently prone to avoid discomfort.  Too often this translates into knowing a biblical truth, but not applying it to our lives if it means giving up who we are and what we are doing now.
  • We lack mentors/disciplers.  We have many educators but not necessarily mentors.  We have many people who are sharing knowledge or facilitating discussions that help us encounter the Word.  However, how many people do we have in our lives who are simultaneously supporting us and holding us accountable?  How many people are role models that walk along side us and help us implement what we are learning in our lives?

These are just a few of the cultural forces that invisibly support a system of education that allows for study, but doesn’t necessarily prompt transformation.  Here are a few questions for you to consider:

  • What have I most recently studied?  What lesson did I learn?  What principle did I identify?  How have I applied that knowledge in my life?  If not, how could I apply it?
  • Do I have a history of hopping from class to class, book to book, or church to church?  Am I constantly looking for new workshops or the next latest ‘best’ thing?  Am I perpetually buying the newest christian bestselling item?  Note:  This isn’t of itself a bad thing, but if you are making yourself busy with these pursuits as a substitute for actually living into lessons learned, then you are stunting your spiritual growth.
  • How do I tend to avoid discomfort?  What do I do in order to avoid change?  If you are uncertain about how to answer these questions then take a quick look at the post, 10 Signs that you are resisting change.
  • Do I have mentors?  Who is helping me grow spiritually?  Whose example am I trying to follow?  If I want to grow in prayer, whom could I talk to or pray with that would help me in that pursuit?  Who is the most Christ-like person I know?  How can I follow his or her example?  What would I ask them that would help me grow? 

Consider these things.  In the next post, I will begin to reveal some of the principles and strategies that help us move beyond study into transformation.  Until then may God renew your mind that you might live in Christ Jesus more fully.

3 Responses

  1. Pingback : Moving beyond Study - The Practical Disciple

  2. Laurie

    IMHO the biggest opsticle has been a lack of a mentor. I have always wanted one but have never come across anyone I felt would welcome the invite.

  3. Laurie

    OK I’m being laughed at for misspelling obstacle! I really do know there is no p in that word but I will accept credit for the other poor choices of letters.

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