Daily Archives: June 4, 2008

Intentional Mediocrity

It is interesting and quite sad to see how the church parallels the world. Of course, the church should not look like the world, but in many ways we do–to our shame. One such way we look like the world is our “education” system.

I have a Bachelor’s degree in education and I see many problems (and that’s putting it lightly) in the American education system. While I may not comment on all the problems, these are, in my estimation, the biggest ones and they also can be found in our churches.

(1) Indoctrination, not education.

The American education system gave up on true education decades ago. True education involves development of the processes related to thinking and self-education. The goal of true education is to be able to think–to know what you know, to know what you believe and to know why you know it and why you believe it.

The American education system is now fully dedicated to indoctrination. Take, for example, the recent squabbles over teaching intelligent design along with evolutionary theory. Now, in a system truly dedicated to education, the teaching of these two points of view would not be a problem. A system dedicated to education would be happy to juxtapose these two systems of thought in order to think through all the issues related to the question of creation vs. evolution. When this happens, the students are the big winners–they are taught to think and, ultimately, they will know why they believe what they believe.

It is incomprehensible and unconscionable for an educational system to willfully and systematically keep their students ignorant–depriving students of the opportunity to know of alternate points of view and alternate world views. To do so instills a one-viewpoint set of information, which is indoctrination. For the American education system to pursue this as a its practice of “education” is nothing less than chasing mediocrity.

(2) Students are not taught how to think.

This is closely related to point number one. When I was a kid, I hated the “just because” answer. I always wanted a reason. Today, most students cannot give a reason for anything they believe because they are told what to think, not taught how to think.

Thinking takes time and effort and it is dangerous–someone with the same set of facts can come to a different and disagreeable conclusion. Thinking is based on the evaluation of one or many truth claims and an evaluation of the claim (or claims) in light of all available evidence to see which truth claim is correct.

Of course this is hampered by the bent of postmodernism to eliminate all truth claims as false and oppressive. Modern education has bought into this lock-stock-and-barrel.

I have seen a bumper-sticker that has become one of my favorites, it says: “Give a man to fish and he’ll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he’ll eat for a lifetime.” Teaching someone to think is the same thing. If you teach someone to think you will equip them for a lifetime. To intentionally neglect teaching the process of thinking is to court mediocrity.

(3) Competition is not allowed.

You may have seen this for yourself. You go to a high school graduation and listed under “Valedictorian” are some ten names. Now, I’m not all that old, but I remember when there was one valedictorian–the one with the best grade point average (of course, in the case of a tie in GPA, there could and should be multiple winners). Second place was for the “Salutatorian.” At typical graduations these days, there is a cadre of valedictorians and salutatorians. The two have become many.

Why is this a problem? Without competition, the vast majority of students see no need to push themselves in order to better themselves. In this system there is no need to take responsibility for your actions, or lack thereof, to better your mind. If there are only winners, you cannot lose–no matter how stupid you actually are (Note: Stupid here means willingly throwing away a golden opportunity to learn or better one’s self).

Also, the education system seeks to spare the student the pain of losing, so competition is dumbed-down or eliminated altogether. This, of course, bears absolutely no resemblance to real life.

If one of the purposes of an educational system is to prepare its students for life in the real world (and it is), there must be winners and losers. Learning how to lose is as important as learning how to win and learning how to lose with dignity is as important as learning how to win with honor. Also, it is important to learn how to be tenacious in the face of overwhelming odds when a loss is all but guaranteed.

Here’s an example: When I was doing my student teaching, I was partnered with an amazing teacher who used the high school football team as an example. The football team was terrible. In fact, there were not enough people on the team to field an offense and a defense. There were only enough players to have the kids play both ways–offense and defense. I don’t think they won a game, but they never gave up. Their tenacity was phenomenal. As my cooperating teacher said (this is a paraphrase), “These kids are learning far more about life by getting their butts kicked week after week and still getting up, dusting themselves off and trying to make themselves better and win a game.”

Not quitting in the face of impossible odds is a virtue and it is one our schools have jettisoned by making competition a joke. A world without competition is, by definition, mediocre.

So, then, what does all of this have to do with the church? Plenty!

(1) Churches must educate their people in the knowledge and ways of God from the Bible

Like the world, the church spends its time indoctrinating people. If you look closely at much of what is called preaching and much of what passes as Sunday school material, it is easy to see that there is not much, if any, application. Sure, there may be a lot of information, but the preacher or the Sunday school lesson seldom tells us what to do with that information.

Biblical information without application leads to the false and deadly “internal versus external” dichotomy. Many people think (because of poor preaching and discipleship programs) that it doesn’t matter what you do, it only matters what you believe. Nothing could be further from the truth! Believing the right thing, the Bible, must show up in our actions. James 1:22 says, “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” James’ statement means that the connection between faith and the outworking of that faith is a non-negotiable. If we claim to be followers of Christ we must live our lives according to the Bible, not according to the world.

In a proper education program, churches will seek to instruct people in the doctrines of Christianity and how those doctrines are derived from the Bible. Equally important to this doctrinal instruction is the why–why we believe the doctrines. Doctrines alone do not define us because any true doctrine is, ultimately, biblical so the Bible is what defines doctrine and, therefore, the Bible ultimately defines us and our actions.

In this way, the church will instruct her people how to read, understand, and live the Bible.

(2) Churches must teach their people to think for themselves.

In high school, I had an amazing teacher for my British Literature class. He introduced us to the concept that a proper educational program will, by necessity, if the program does its job properly, eliminate the need for a teacher. The idea here is that a properly-educated person will be able to teach him or herself. Is that not the goal of teaching students to read? So they can read books and, thereby, educate themselves?

The goal of a church’s discipleship program must be about teaching the people to read, understand, and apply the Bible for themselves. This involves much effort to help people “Rightly handle the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).

A wide-spread, far-reaching, and well-educating education system is not optional. We are commanded (by inference) by God to love Him with our minds. (See Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and Matthew 22:37, which is Matthew’s exposition of the Deuteronomy passage)

The church must equip her people to do these things if we are to fulfill the Great Commission mandate to “Make Disciples.” Anything less is a sin.

(3) Churches must teach their people to better themselves by intentionally becoming more Christlike.

Suffering is not popular today. Whether it be the world trying to protect students from the suffering of losing or the church trying to preach and teach a suffering-free health and wealth gospel, suffering is off the table. So, it should not surprise us that at the first hint of suffering, church people head for the door.

If we take the life of Job and see what is being played out there we can learn that there is great potential in suffering. In his book of poetry on Job, John Piper rightly suggests Job, through his suffering, was given a great gift–to see God as He really is, in all of His magnificence. The title of Piper’s final chapter is “Unkindly you have kindly shown me God.” Job suffered greatly (at the hands of God, I might add) and he benefited greatly from his suffering.

Suffering is part of the Christian life. We only need look at Hebrews 12 to see that we are to “run with endurance the race that is set before us.” This means that we are not to quit–even in the face of tremendous and life-threatening opposition.

Furthermore, the church must teach her people to struggle to become more and more Christlike as they seek to live a rightly-discipled life. Paul writes of his struggle:

12 Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13 Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. 15 Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. 16 Only let us hold true to what we have attained.

As Paul struggled and pressed on, so we must struggle and press on. We must struggle and discipline ourselves to be more Christlike today than we were yesterday. We must live the Bible more today than yesterday.

We should not be surprised when people quit coming to church or leave our churches or when high school students completely reject the Christian faith when they get to college. We have not been diligent in equipping our people, and the statistics of decline and our living like the world show that.

Similarly, we should not be surprised when our churches or The Southern Baptist Convention struggles with certain issues like worship style, alcohol, and spiritual gifts. The main fight is between the Indoctrinated and the Educated. The educated are offending the indoctrinated with their biblical arguments and the indoctrinated offend the educated with their often-superficial proof-texting.

If we look at the history of higher education, we quickly and easily see the church led the way in education. After all, Harvard and Yale were originally chartered as schools to train ministers of the Gospel. The church once led the way and it must do so again. If we are to fulfill the imperative of the Great Commission to “make disciples,” we must be about the business of educating our church people, so that they become an army of lay-person scholars able to “rightly divide the word of truth”, enabling them to believe the right thing and live the right way–according to the scriptures.

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