Have you ever sat through a church service and then thought to yourself as you got in your car to drive home, “So what? The sermon was nice, but it had absolutely nothing to do with real life.”
I have and I know what it feels like to go to church and hear the preacher give little more than an uninspiring theological lecture or moralistic pep talk, only to head back to work on Monday morning like nothing ever happened. Unfortunately, I’m afraid that’s an all too common experience in many churches today.
Don’t get me wrong - I LOVE theology. If you were to peer into my house late on any given summer evening, there’s a pretty good chance you’d find me sitting in my chair with a Christian book in my hands, a cup of coffee nearby, and a baseball game playing in the background. As A.W. Tozer said, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” If we as Christians don’t have a strong theological base and aren’t extremely serious about studying God’s Word in order to know Him better, something is very wrong.
At the same time, Bible knowledge that does not change us through the power of the Holy Spirit and drive how we live our lives is just as dangerous. Sermons, books, and Bible studies that don’t meet us where we are, lift our eyes towards Jesus in worship, and challenge us to make disciples are little more than… interesting.
I was raised in a Christian home and placed my faith in Jesus at an early age, but didn’t find myself outside of the “Christian bubble” until after high school. Before God called me to be a pastor, I began a career in public safety. Every single day, I had a front row seat to brokenness and the effects of sin in this world. But then I would go to church on Sunday and wonder if the people sitting around me in the pews were aware of the brokenness in their communities, their workplaces, and even sometimes at their own dinner tables. I wondered if they were listening to the same sermon I was and if they knew and really believed that the God of the Bible was powerful enough to change hard hearts, save people, and radically transform lives even today. I wondered if they understood that Jesus made it clear in the Great Commission that His followers had an important part to play in that task.
I had been one of those people and, to be entirely honest, sometimes I still am. It had only been a couple of years since God used the wise counsel of a friend and a couple of sermon CD’s given to me by my sister to ignite in me a passion for His Word that would change the trajectory of my life. I wrestled with the fact that I knew God was calling me away from my childhood dream, but I also knew that anything other than dying to myself and following Jesus into pastoral ministry would be nothing but outright disobedience. That was in 2013. The next few years saw me working full time while pouring myself into serving our church any way I could, going to Bible college, leaving my job, and going to seminary as Jesus was growing in me a love for His church every step of the way.
As I look back, I think what was missing as I grew up and as I sat in those pews was an understanding of where theology intersects with everyday life. What was missing was discipleship. One of my favorite verses is Ezra 7:10 (ESV) which says, “For Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of the LORD, and to do it, and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel.” I think that verse captures the essence of discipleship – study, do, and teach.
As followers of Jesus, we need to study God’s word, to know and understand who God is and what He expects of us. But we can’t stop there. That knowledge must inform and drive how we live as spouses, parents, children, neighbors, and employees in a world that doesn’t know Him, in a world that is broken and desperately in need of a Savior. But still that’s not enough. Even once we’ve studied God’s Word and started owning and doing what is expected of us, we still need to teach others to do the same if we’re really going to fulfill the Great Commission. In the life of a church, that involves more than just a single person standing up to preach or teach. It also involves believers gathering in small groups to do life together in authentic, transparent relationships and then heading out into the real world confident in who Jesus is, what He’s done, and what He can still do as they take the gospel to the unsaved people God has already placed in their lives.
Real life doesn’t happen in a classroom. Discipleship doesn’t happen in hypothetical conversations with imaginary people. It happens when individual followers of Jesus set in their hearts to study, do, and teach the Word of God to the people around them and a church that’s serious about doing that has an opportunity to watch God at work in amazing ways.