the weblog of Alan Knox

Learning by Watching and Doing

Posted by on Mar 24, 2009 in discipleship | 7 comments

In yesterday’s post, “The inadequacy of seminars and conferences“, I copied an email from Art Mealer, a new friend. Art said that a seminar or conference (such as the one that put on last weekend) is inadequate – something is missing. What is missing? Art says that “Process” is missing. He says:

In your assembly, isn’t it in seeing the modeling day by day, the close interactions with one another, the personal experiences that forge and reinforce a more biblical way of being together that is the Process through which the Spirit works? It isn’t lecture alone that produces obedience and transformation; it isn’t even learning. It is being shown how to by example that births new behaviors and values. It is being held a mirror by the faithful wounds of brothers and sisters so we can see where we are off balance. It is being in a place where we are safe, accepted, for all of our flaws, that we can let go of defenses and face the fear of taking off masks. The place where we can admit sin and find help. Where we can take root in Him. Outside of being present at the birth of new life, nothing is more precious than seeing another man or woman as they learn to humble themselves under the Spirit in this moment and that, and be transformed bit by bit into an image of the Son, pure love beginning to work in and through them.

And, Art is correct! I struggled with doing a seminar for this very reason. While we made the seminar as relational as possible, and included as many people and examples as possible, something was still missing. The process of learning from one another by living with one another was missing.

Christianity today is infatuated with seminars and conferences. We travel long distances to learn from people that we don’t really know. We will listen to their words without knowing or seeing their lives. We read books by people that we’ve never met. We read their words without knowing or seeing their lives. And, we call this learning. This is not learning – at least, its not discipleship.

But, to be honest, we came to this point naturally. What do I mean? Well, for most Christians, week in and week out, we “learn” from people that we don’t really know. We listen to someone speak during our church meeting, but the only contact we have with this person is during our church meeting. (See my post “Learning from Strangers“.) Again, we call this learning and discipleship, but it is so far from what we see in Scripture.

Remember that when Paul wrote letters to churches, he primarily wrote to people who knew him and had met him and had seen his life. Or, in the case of the church in Rome, he was planning to go there soon. He did not write in a vacuum. He wrote in the context of his own living example. In fact, he would often point his readers to his manner of living (Philippians 4:9; 1 Thess 2:9; 2 Thess 3:7-8; 2 Tim 3:10-11; plus many others). He expected people to learn from the way he lived, not only from his words, either written or spoken.

We’ve lost this today, to some extent. We’ve forgotten that Peter told elders to be examples to others in the way that they live their lives (1 Peter 5:3). In fact, in his instructions to elders, Peter said nothing about the way they should speak, but he said alot about the way they should live – as examples to other believers.

Today, we want a leaders who is a fine speaker, and we often don’t expect to actually spend time with him – we don’t expect to learn from his example.

As Art says, we’re missing “Process”. We don’t have the benefit of learning from those who are more mature or who have lived through this. We only have words. What do we need? Yes, words are important, but we also need people to give us a living example and to walk through life with us. We need people who can show us by example what it means to be the church – the family of God.

Toward the end of his email, Art asked this question:

What if, for example, it would not be out of character for the Spirit to call one or two or three of the families at Messiah (etc.) and make them available to spend two months or eight months (whatever time it turns out to be), living among another assembly as they help them make the transition from a faulty church attendance model to becoming the family of God together?

What if? I would say, “Praise God!” Yes, we would be excited to send part of our group to help another group of believers learn what it’s like to live as family with one another. Why? Because we recognize that the church is more than us, and that we are here to help one another – anyone in the family actually – to grow in maturity toward Jesus Christ.

It’s time we started learning by watching and doing as much as we try to learn by listening and reading.


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

  1. 3-24-2009

    But I like going to conferences!

    There is a place for conferences and seminars, as long as we don’t expect them to replace fellowship. At Together for the Gospel, there were 5000 guys there. We were not in fellowship but we did get some pretty intense teaching. But the guys that I travelled with, we certainly were in fellowship, driving from northern Michigan to Louisville together, eating meals together, browsing the cavernous book hall together, talking about the prior lessons in-between sessions. I have actually gone to a conference by myself and it was a waste of time and money. The teaching was good but there was no fellowship with other believers. If we see conferences as a way to merely hear what a celebrity theologian has to say about a topic, well that is only somewhat useful. If these seminars are a time to get together with fellow believers, reconnect and learn at the same time? That is worthwhile in my eyes.

  2. 3-24-2009

    Good stuff Alan. For all the stuff we here it’s the demonstration by lifestyle that makes the difference. I see this in the light of something very simple that works for people in other areas. We say it, we show it, we share, we learn from it and grow from it. Which is why it’s such a challenge to live in that kinda way cos it goes beyond posturing and pontificating to humbly working through issues together. Which is cool with me.

  3. 3-24-2009

    There are certainly some good points in this post. I have been to many conferences in the past and have found that many are a waste of time unless you take what was presented and meditate and act on it.

    From my perspective coming to the seminar this past weekend was far from a waste of time. There was plenty of fellowship and discussion outside of the seminar itself.

    The seminar itself was as much a blessing as the fellowship, because there were seeds planted in my spirit that I believe God will nurture and grow. I don’t plan on filing this info, but begin practicing it and living it and sharing it.

    But I am probably not the norm. I used to go to a lot of seminars and conventions and seeing people getting all excited, but when they get home, nothing changes in their lives.

    I agree though, that a seminar, sermon or convention is not enough by itself. Life has to be modeled.

  4. 3-24-2009

    We do have different learning styles. While watching and doing reinforce and illustrate what I read or heard, I still learn by reading and listening.

    Traveling across the country to attend Alan’s seminar would have been a major hardship for us. My wife and I feel it has been very profitable for us to be able to listen to the on-line audio of the seminar. Sometimes it is just not possible to watch and be with those who are doing.

    On the other hand, attending seminars and conferences can make it seem like we are actually doing something when we’re not. If we don’t actually put into practice some of what we learned, then wasn’t it really a waste of time or worse if it took time that we would have otherwise used to serve others?

    Seminars and conferences can be two legs of a three-legged stool called “pretending we’re doing something”. The third leg can be meetings. All three can easily replace actually doing something.

    The city I live in hosts two major Christian conferences every year. Both are attended mostly by pastors. I have attended one of these conferences several times. I love the seminars, interaction with missional folks and so on.

    I always talk to people so I talk to some of the pastors. Most of them attend for two major reasons:
    1) Their church is not growing. They are desperately looking for new ideas to make it grow. Their leadership is putting pressure on them to turn things around.
    2) They need some time away from the pressures of pastoring and the “flock”. Some of them spend part of their time here “vacationing” with their spouse. Some of them spend a lot of time sleeping (if they turn off their cell phone).

    An aside – I have noticed, quite accidentally, how many of these pastors do not seem to know how to be friendly, even to each other. Perhaps they are shell-shocked by their years in ministry, or perhaps they need to develop their interpersonal skills. I’ve talked to some of them about it. They tell me that most of their time is spent preparing sermons, doing administrative stuff, in countless meetings and handling problems. There is little or no time left to just be family with the church.

    Perhaps it is not just the pastors/elders who need to watch and do, but the rest of the church also. My friend who grew up in a really unhealthy family said he had to spend time with several healthy families to understand how a real family should function. Otherwise, he never would have married or had children.

    Alan says the church is a family. That really weirds out those of us who have been part of one or more of these unhealthy “church” families. Many people I know who were (part of an unhealthy “church” family) solved the problem by moving out. That brings us back to Art’s comments. We need to spend time with several healthy families to understand how a real (church) family should function. This is the learning by watching and doing part.

  5. 3-24-2009


    It sounds like you enjoy interacting with your friends more than the conference itself. Are the conferences providing the topcs for interaction?


    I like this line: “We say it, we show it, we share, we learn from it and grow from it.”


    We tried to make the seminar are relational and interactive as possible, but there were still limitations. I think you will learn much more when you try to implement some of the new things you’re thinking about.


    Don’t you think you need your own blog? 🙂 Good comment.


  6. 3-25-2013

    I was just writing a blogpost on the same subject. Is it ok if I link this blogpost on my blog? I rally think this is so important. As a leader it is much easier to lead by telling people what to do than showing them. And I really believe in leading by showing.

  7. 3-25-2013


    You can link to or use anything on this site that you’d like to.