the weblog of Alan Knox

Teaching in the context of living

Posted by on Jan 26, 2009 in community, discipleship, fellowship | 7 comments

Several days ago, I had the opportunity to have lunch with a young, single guy who has been meeting with us on Sundays for a few weeks. In the course of the conversation, he said that he wanted to talk about ecclesiology. Even though I’m not really interested in that subject (ahem), I was cordial to his request.

He began to talk about the church that he had been part of. He was not talking negatively about the church – in fact, he praised the church for what it was trying to do, and he praised the pastors and leadership. He said that he really appreciated the main pastor’s preaching, and he usually agreed with him.

Then he said something that I’ve been thinking and writing about for some time, but it was encouraging hearing it from someone else. This young man said that while he enjoyed the pastor’s sermon, he did not have a context in which to understand what the man was trying to teach.

I asked my new friend what he meant. He said, “My only relationship with this pastor is through a 30 minute sermon on Sunday morning. I don’t know anything about his life, or his family, or the way he treats his neighbors, or anything else. I only know what he tells me during his sermons. There is no relational context for learning what he is trying to teach.”

As I continued to talk to this young man, and to hear his heart for learning through relationships as well as through the spoken message, I couldn’t help but think of the examples that we have in Scripture.

Notice, for example, what Paul tells the elders from Ephesus:

And when they came to him, he said to them: “You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia…” (Acts 20:18 ESV)

Also, this is what Paul reminds the believers in Thessalonika:

For you remember, brothers, our labor and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. You are witnesses, and God also, how holy and righteous and blameless was our conduct toward you believers. (1 Thessalonians 2:9-10 ESV)

He tells the Philippians:

What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me – practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. (Philippians 4:9 ESV)

The obvious exception to this pattern seems to be that when Paul wrote to the church in Rome, he had not been to Rome, although he seemed to know many of the believers there. However, even in this case, Paul later lived among the Roman believers for at least two years (Acts 28:30).

In other words, Paul did not intend for his words alone (neither his spoken words nor his written words) to make up the extent of his service to the people of God. He recognized the importance of living with the people as part of his work. He shared his life with them, and they shared their lives with him. Paul had much, much more than a “speaking ministry” among the people.

His words then often pointed back to his example of living and working among the people.

Today, too often, teachers spend very little time with the people they are attempting to teach. As my young friend said, there is no context for their teaching. This is not discipleship or teaching in the biblical sense, or in the sense that either Jesus or Paul modelled for us.

Instead, we need to live with the people that we hope to teach. Our teaching must be in the context of our living if we hope to see transformation – both our own transformation and transformation in the lives of others.


Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 1-26-2009

    Well said! Most of us have heard it said that our children learn more from what we do than from what we say. If we teach them to be honest, but are untruthful about their age to save a little money on their admission to a museum or their meal at the restaurant, what lesson did they learn? So does this same principle not apply to all teachers and the ones being taught?

    Perhaps you can comment further on your comment “we need to live with the people that we hope to teach.” Some pastors/teachers literally live in the neighborhood or perhaps just down the street from those they are trying to teach, and yet barely know them.

    Is not the key here that we must spend time with the people we are trying to teach, getting to know them and allowing them to get to know us well enough that they will invite us into their lives?

  2. 1-26-2009

    I agree. The pastor of our ch back in the West is certainly not a great preacher, but he is a caring man and a good leader.

    I wonder though if there is a deeper structural problem: the way churches are run these days requires so much time from pastors that it is very difficult for them to spend any significant time with more than a couple people a week.

    Would you agree?

  3. 1-26-2009

    I have thought about this, too. I grew up in a small church then spent 12 years in a megachurch and now pastor a small church and I have found that, while the megachurch has much to offer and will be able to do much that the small church will never be able to do, the type of pastoral ministry laid out in the NT is almost impossible in a large church (much less a megachurch).

    I asked a few large- and megachurch pastors I know and they agreed with that assessment, but were willing to forgo that to “reach more people.” (I add this so that you will know I am not simply bashing large churches for being large.)

    Because of this, my philosophy of ministry emphasizes starting many churches rather than growing this one to a large size.

  4. 1-26-2009


    Yes. When I say “in the context of living”, I mean actually sharing our lives with one another, not just being in the same vicinity or neighborhood.

    Abu Daoud,

    I do agree that structure hinders these kinds of relationships. Many times, as you suggested, these structure place unwarranted and man-made requirements on pastors and other leaders.


    If we truly share our lives with other people, there will be a limit on the number of people with which we are involved. I would disagree that “megachurches” can “reach more people”. I know that you didn’t say that, but just wanted to point out that this statement – while often made – is not necessarily true.


  5. 1-26-2009

    Alan, you will drop into South Australia if you ever do a “Knox Worldwide Speaking Tour”, wont you…?

    I like it, you’re drawing out some really important points about discipleship. With the hypothetical assumption that pastors are the best examples of the faith, then by trapping them in a pulpit, we are impeding the discipleship of people who desperately need it.

  6. 1-26-2009


    I doubt there will ever be a “Knox Worldwide Speaking Tour”, but maybe one day I’ll have the opportunity to hang out with and learn from believers in South Australia.


  7. 7-15-2011

    Great thoughts, Alex, and very instructive.

    Re: Romans, however, chapter 16 makes clear that Paul knew many people in that gathering, even though he had never been to Rome, and therefore also had shared his life with many of them. Romans 16 indicates that they had come from gatherings in cities where Paul had lived previously, especially Antioch and Jerusalem, I think.