Evangelicals know that theology matters, and we're quick to remind others of this fact. What we're not so quick to acknowledge is the focus of this blogpost: we do a poor job of teaching the very theology we claim is so important. We think that our church members understand and believe our basic doctrine, even while those same members are learning their theology from TV talk show hosts, popular television preachers, or the latest religious novel. Do an anonymous survey of your congregation's beliefs, and see what you learn. If the majority knows and believes basic biblical doctrine, your church is more an exception than the norm.
Consider these steps for teaching theology in your church:
1. Don't assume that your church members don't care about beliefs. Too many church leaders give up on teaching theology before they even try. "Nobody cares about theology any more," they think. Not only does this thinking ultimately question the power of the Word, but it also denies reality. It is precisely because people do care about beliefs that they turn to places and people other than the church for their belief system. Where the church fails, somebody else fills the void.
2. Realize that attending worship and small groups does not automatically lead to doctrinal fidelity. Here, I am NOT suggesting that preaching and Bible study are unimportant to teaching doctrine; indeed, good doctrinal training does not happen apart from preaching and teaching the Word. I am simply arguing that our church members don't typically hear our teaching and automatically connect the dots to form a biblical theology. Teaching good theology must happen intentionally.
3. Include basic theology in a required membership class. In some ways, the best time to teach the basics is when a person first follows Christ or first joins the church-when he or she is most focused on a Christian commitment. Capitalize on that enthusiasm by teaching early the inerrancy and authority of the Bible. Show why the exclusivity of Christ is non-negotiable. Talk about the necessity of the death of Christ. Build the theological foundation early, and build it well.
4. Take advantage of doctrine studies. Churches don't need to "reinvent the wheel" to teach theology. Case in point, Lifeway Christian Resources has developed The Gospel Project (a journey through the basics of biblical and systematic theology over a three-year period), The God Who Speaks (a study of the doctrine of revelation), and Read the Bible for Life (a 9-session study that equips individuals and churches to understand the Bible better). If we believe that theology matters, why not take advantage of already-prepared material and teach a current study? Plan extensively, promote well, and prioritize this type of study.
5. Raise the bar for small group leaders who teach the Word. These leaders have a great opportunity-perhaps one of the best in the church-to influence lives through teaching small groups. Few other leaders have such a ready hearing. For that reason, we must hold group leaders accountable to holy living, sound doctrine, and good teaching. We should not be surprised when members view doctrine as boring after lackluster teachers have taught it. There is simply no excuse for allowing untrained, unfaithful, or boring teachers to drain the life out of Bible studies.
6. Begin in the home. Teach parents biblical doctrine, and then help them teach their own children accordingly. Because Deuteronomy 6:7 and Ephesians 6:4 demand nothing less from believing parents, our churches should work in cooperation with them-not replace them-in teaching theology to the next generation. Provide good resources that teach basic truths at a child's level without compromising scriptural teachings, but expect parents to do the teaching.
7. Be willing to start with the few. Just as Jesus did, focus on the few rather than the many. For example, invite a few men to join you in studying theology one morning each week. Give them the Bible and a basic theology textbook, and challenge them to study the week's lesson. If you prepare and teach well, you will likely be surprised at how interested the men are. Those men and their families will be stronger because they are learning the Word.
What other guidelines or methods do you recommend for teaching theology in the local church?
Adapted from the blog of Thom S. Rainer, president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources.