Posted by: Brian Musser | June 5, 2012

How the Church Teaches the Gospel Wrong

In the beginning, I need to apologize.  I have led you here under false pretenses.  Some helpful hints about blogging said that title should capture people’s attention.  I am guessing that this title caught yours (or your search engine’s).  So with my apologies, allow me a moment to clarify my meaning in the title.  It is not that the church is teaching the wrong Gospel, which may be what you thought you read.  It is that the church is teaching the Gospel in the wrong way.  We are teaching it in a way that is insufficient to produce learning.

There’s a difference between believing the Gospel and knowing the Gospel.

When it comes to evangelism, to sharing our faith, to communicating what we believe about Jesus to others, the first step in this process is believing the Gospel.  One of the very first Christian speakers, Paul, writes to the church in Rome, “that if confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that god raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”  Throughout the two millennium since Christ’s life, death and resurrection, billions from all over the world have heard that message and it has changed their lives.  The second step to sharing the Gospel is knowing the Gospel.  I am making a statement about learning in this distinction.  In order to share the Gospel you not only have to believe it you need to know it well enough to communicate it to others.  You need to be able to express what you believe in a clear and cohesive manner.  The transition from believing to knowing is one that requires learning.  Here’s a fun video that shows what it’s like to share your faith without knowing it.

The Church needs to measure if their members know the Gospel.

My life experiences have given me a unique perspective to be able to comment on this idea of teaching the Gospel.  I have had the unique opportunity to teach and to observe teaching on so many levels.  My mother is a lifelong teacher as an elementary school teacher and a substitute teacher.  She has volunteered extensively throughout her life as a Sunday school teacher at church.  At the moment she is an administrator for a church pre-school.  I learned a lot about watching her prepare to teach.  Somewhat inexplicably people have trusted me to teach others at every phase my life has passed through.  I blame it on my mother.  I taught English in Mexico and Spanish in America to every grade level from kindergarten to 12th grade.  The first time I spoke in a kindergarten class I made 3 students cry immediately.  I guess I was not supposed to project with my preaching voice like that.  I was a supplemental instructor for General Chemistry and Human Anatomy in college.  I taught Physics in a small Christian high school without a laboratory budget.  We took a field trip to the local highway to learn about the Doppler Effect.  I taught youth and college students throughout my ministry career.  I have been given opportunities to teach at Drexel in our leadership development program.  Sometimes when retreats and conferences cannot find anyone else they will call me.  As a 6th grader I even tried to teach my mother how to teach my class Algebra.  That did not go over so well.  The only thing I cannot teach is my father how to use the computer.  Although, I am not the best teacher, I have been paying attention to what is successful.  Working with Student Life at Drexel the conversation about teaching has taken a substantial shift.  We are now more interested in attempting to measure what is being learned by the students than what information is being said by the teachers.  There can be a significant difference between the two.  In our churches we concentrate on what is being said and we need to pay more attention to what people are actually learning.  We teach the Gospel but are people actually learning it?  Do you know Jesus?  Do you know that you are saved?  Do you know the Gospel?  Do you know the Gospel well enough to teach it to someone else?

Creating the “expert”

In Christianity the integrity of the Gospel is crucial.  We cannot change it.  We need to carefully monitor that the story of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection are being transmitted accurately throughout the centuries and across the world.  Guarding the integrity of the Gospel is important but it is also limiting.  It has limited us by creating at least two cultural norms that are counter-productive to learning the Gospel.  The first is that our primary education method is the lecture from the “expert.”  Whether this is through a sermon, Sunday school lesson, Bible study or Christian book, we often default to having an expert speak towards a rather docile audience.  This means that the information being share is controlled by the expert and we are guaranteed that it will be as orthodox as the expert is orthodox.  It is a great way to guard the integrity of the Gospel, however; it is the least effective way to learn.  The other side of the coin is also negative.  The expert will be the best communicator of the group.  The expert will be the most experienced of the group.  The expert will be the one of the group is most at home with sharing the Gospel.  The expert will create an unrealistic expectation of what it means to communicate your faith to others well.

Creating anxiety about being wrong

This directly connects with the second problematic cultural norm.  We have a general anxiety about saying the Gospel wrong.  We have a greater fear about being wrong than we do about being silent.  Our zeal for guarding the integrity of the Gospel has been created and reinforced by our continual parade of experts trained to communicate their faith.  With these cultural norms the church has produced numerous Christians who may have heard the Gospel multiple times per week every week of their lives but have never been given a chance to actually learn it.  We need teach our people how to express what they believe clearly and cohesively.  To accomplish this task we need to change our cultural norms.  We need to be serious about equipping every member of our churches with the ability to share their faith.  Here are five basic suggestions on where to start:

1)       When you are teaching the Gospel, the success of your teaching time should be measured by what is learned instead of what is said.  This can be evaluated through polling and/or quizzing the audience after the teaching.

2)      When you are teaching the Gospel, teaching preparations should be done with the end goals (or learning outcomes) in mind.  What does the audience need to learn?  How do I best facilitate their learning of that?  How do I know if they have learned it?  These should be questions that drive our preparations to teach the Gospel.

3)      When you are teaching the Gospel, you should look to highlight the voices of those who are not the greatest communicators but are still able to share their faith.  Show examples of good Gospel presenters that the audience can relate to.

4)      When you are teaching the Gospel, you should look for ways to get the audience to actively engage the learning the Gospel by requiring they say it out loud and or to write it down in their own words.  Learning is exponentially reinforced when we have to use our own words to express something.

5)      When teaching the Gospel, we need to create a safe environment in which to practice sharing the Gospel.  The word practice signifies that we sometimes get it wrong and have to try again.  We need to create a culture that facilitates learning the Gospel through practice.

The next time I write about evangelism, sharing your faith, I intend to help us learn what the Gospel is in such a way that facilitates our communication of it.  In preparation please try to write down on a piece of paper what are the critical pieces of information necessary to share with someone to be able to say that you have shared the Gospel?  In other words, what is the Gospel?  Try to write out the Gospel as clearly and cohesively as possible.  If you don’t have paper handy you can use the comment section below to share your answer to what is the Gospel.

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Responses

  1. […] developing them is an important part of the learning process.  (This is reminiscent of my post How the Church Teaches the Gospel Wrong.)  I also want to be of some use in this article as well.  I’ve seen some churches and […]


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