Jesus left his followers with the commission to, “teach them to obey everything I have commanded you.” That’s a pretty tall order in itself. It’s even harder when you wrestle with the two parts that you need to get right. There’s teaching and there’s obeying (application).
Jesus says it another way in a parable:
“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”
Once again, there are two important parts to teaching and theology – the “hearing” and the “putting into practice.” You’re not built on a rock until you’ve done both with God’s words.
Here’s the dilemma for any pastor, teacher, or anyone who’s doing their best disciple others toward Jesus: where do you put the emphasis? Some fill heads well with Bible knowledge, but might not produce people who act more like Jesus at the end of the day. Others cut to the point of smiling more and being at peace, but it might not have much integrity in the gospel truths we find alone in Jesus. “Balance” sounds like the easy answer, but every time I prepare and share a message, I’m making intentional choices to emphasize the teaching to some extent and the application to another. Balance might not even be the right answer!
Think about this…
Packaging of the messages is a related consideration. Most boil the choice down to exegetical teaching or topical teaching. Some pick their favorite between these two and stay consistent to it. The next person may alternate between the two. Another may choose their packaging according to some sense of “seasons” in the life of the church. Another still may create a personal hybrid involving both.
Audience is another ingredient to be aware of. A teacher needs to know who they are speaking to. Do you speak slowly to the aspects that your audience will be slow to understand, or do you proceed with speed and efficiency through the parts they’ll readily get?
One final thought I’ll throw in pertains to ownership. Ephesians 4:12 says “Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.” The responsibility of any church isn’t to be the one-stop shop for teaching. At some point, responsible leadership in the church will have equipped large pockets of people to search the corners of scriptures for themselves, and for discipling the next person as well.
Try evaluating the health of your church’s teaching. Are people learning the word of God? Are people doing the word of God? You need both. If you’re getting heavy on one side over the other, then how do you bring the emphasis back to a more complete picture of discipleship?