Sunday, December 4, 2022
Home Building Leaders A Church Led By Scholars

A Church Led By Scholars

A group of church leaders are dynamically impacting a hostile tribe of eight million people in northeast India. They are putting their lives on the line every day as they proclaim and demonstrate the Gospel. And most of them cannot read.

Sound familiar?

Two thousand years ago, the first apostles were former fishermen, tax collectors, and at least one Zealot. We don’t know the occupation of all the others, but certainly Jesus did not entrust the future of the church exclusively to scholars. Blue-collar workers led powerful faith communities.

So why is the church today led primarily by scholars? The main reason is the printing press. The government once controlled the church, but that ended when the printing press was invented and people could read the Bible for themselves. Since scholars were the only people who could read, they got the job of church leadership by default. Church leadership went from fishermen, to government workers, to scholars.

In today’s western church, if you want to grow in Christ, you are typically directed to study more. Christian growth is tied to an academic path. The only difference between the church and other educational institutions is that nobody graduates from the church. We just keep going to school.

Don Miller, author of bestsellers like Blue Like Jazz, drew criticism when he wrote, “The church in America is led by scholars . . . . Because we’ve been led by scholars for so long, we have slightly distorted ideas about Christian discipleship.”

I have more academic degrees than should be allowed by law. And I have great respect for the rigorous pursuit of Truth. When Jesus selected his first students, He took them to school; He taught them for three years. But He taught them by doing, in action, with people, by touching stuff. When they graduated, Jesus pushed them into the world and said, “You don’t know everything, but you know enough. You’ll have a Guide, and I’ll be with you always. So go and teach others to obey my commands” (my translation). They went and did it.

So my bet is on the Indian leaders. They cannot read the Bible for themselves, but they can quote long passages of Scripture by memory. They are doing it and they are changing their tribe.

Are you a carpenter or a plumber or a homemaker? The church needs leaders who don’t write and speak and teach for a living to step up and put some action to their faith. So go ahead, lead. You’re qualified. Christ said He would be with you. And He promised you a great Guide.

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Rick Sessoms
Rick Sessomshttp://www.freedomtolead.net/
Rick has been a missionary, pastor, educator, and mission executive. He holds a Master of Divinity, Doctor of Ministry, and a Ph.D. in Organizational Leadership. He has provided organizational consulting and leadership coaching throughout Asia, Africa, the Americas, and Europe. Rick and his wife Tina have two grown children and live in North Carolina.

4 COMMENTS

  1. We have accepted the Greek understanding of knowledge ( the more my mind has in it the more knowledge I have ). The Hebrew understanding is application . Jesus model of discipleship was to be with His men, model the doing for them, do it with them, send them to do it , then release them to go. There was no sitting in a classroom for 4 years, graduate without any application, and think we have knowledge. Jesus use of withness ( being with His men ) enabled His men to experience by observation and application not by taking notes and tests in a typical school classroom setting. The teaching has relevance because it is done with the application. We have changed the Masters methods while expecting His results.

  2. I, too, have more degrees than I ever required, both secular and theological. My secular study required me to apply scientific rigour to test theories and to evaluate outcomes. However, my theological work was mostly one of gaining familiarity with a host of divergent ideas, a little bit of exegesis, and writing papers that my instructors sometimes did not read.

    My years in West Africa and South Asia required spiritual power that my systematic theology hardly recognised as allowable. Now, back home and too old and ugly to be listened to, I feel sad for church leaders caught up in their systematic theology, “maintaining a form of godliness while denying the power thereof.”

    It seems that in the West, our schools have infused scholars with a conviction that well honed propositions and well-behaved congregations please God more than messy obedience and carelessly applied spiritual gifts. As immigrants stay away by the millions, their churches grow stuffy and moldy.

  3. God has placed the office of “teacher” within the church. We need to value that office and respect the need for scholarly understanding of scripture and life. The problem is that there is an imbalance. Rick seems to be asserting (and I agree) that “teacher” is but one of the leadership offices, and most people cannot and should not be teachers. We need leaders who are evangelists, some who are pastoral, some who are good administrators, etc… There needs to be a balance, but in the traditional western model, there was an imbalance in that there were too many teachers and not enough other gifts and abilities functioning in the churches. I have also witnessed the negative results when a church has no scholar or teacher to disciple a church. Over a period of time, unhealthy doctrine, unbiblical practices and immorality creep into such a church due to its imbalance in the other direction.

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