Pastor to Pastor

True Learning

True learning engages the whole person with Jesus.

Advice for Preachers and Teachers (7)

But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away! For of this sort are those who creep into households and make captives of gullible women loaded down with sins, led away by various lusts, always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth. 2 Timothy 3.1-7

“Therefore, when anyone knows the end of the commandment to be charity ‘from a pure heart, and a good conscience, and an unfeigned faith,’ and has related all his understanding of the Divine Scriptures to these three, he may approach the treatment of these books with security.”

  - Augustine, On Christian Doctrine

Called to learn
A disciple of Jesus Christ is essentially a learner. What disciples learn is Jesus (Eph. 4.17-24). They learn Him as the Spirit of God brings them into the Presence of Jesus, as they are reading or hearing the Word of God (2 Cor. 3.12-18). All believers are called to learn Jesus. To this end, God has given all believers His Word, and the duty of reading and searching the Scriptures daily. Further, He has appointed pastors and teachers in local churches to equip believers for sound learning through the faithful and thorough ministry of the Word.

We must preach and teach the true Word to enlighten the minds of those we serve. We must also confront the affections of the heart – the things they love, fear, delight in, and hope for – as well as the values and priorities that govern their consciences. And we must urge them to those good works of love which are the intended issue of all preaching and teaching. Preaching is not just imparting information with enthusiasm. Teaching is not merely providing detailed explanations of doctrines or books. Preaching and teaching are ministering the Word of God to the whole person, so that the whole person may be transformed into the image of Jesus Christ.

It is possible for people to be “always learning” new things – books of the Bible, doctrines, worldview perspectives, helpful how-tos, and the like – but never come to the knowledge of the truth that is in Jesus Christ. Such learning is incomplete, and therefore not true learning at all. The remedy for such merely intellectual acquisitiveness or sentimental enthusiasm is twofold. Preachers and teachers must direct their words to all aspects of the believer’s life; and believers must prepare themselves to receive such instruction, that they may be formed more completely into the image of Jesus Christ.

Let’s look at this second obligation first. 

The duty of learners
Stan Gale reminds us that “Our ministry to the whole person doesn’t just rely on our preaching. It involves also the hearer’s preparation.” Preparation for true learning involves more than merely making ourselves presentable and bringing our Bible to church or class. Stan points us to the Westminster Shorter Catechism for an overview of the disciple’s responsibility in preparing for the ministry of the Word:

  1. 90:How is the Word to be read and heard, that it may become effectual to salvation?

    A: That the Word may become effectual to salvation, we must attend thereunto with diligence, preparation, and prayer; receive it with faith and love, lay it up in our hearts, and practice it in our lives.

Stan comments: “A minister of the Word wants to prepare the meal; but he must also make sure the flock is prepared to feed. In both cases, whether speaker or hearer, it is the operation of the Holy Spirit to give power and effect to the preaching of the Word that will reach the whole person – a reality that will drive the preacher to prayer.”

Do we expect those we serve to be diligent, prepared, prayerful, eager to receive the Word and to lay it up in their hearts, and ready to carry it out in their lives? If we insist on this, and help the people we serve by every possible means, they will be more likely to come to the knowledge of truth through what they learn from us.

Giving people guidelines for prayer – how to clear the mind, cleanse the heart, and ready the conscience for God’s Word – can help them to fulfill this duty, whenever they are reading or hearing the Word. Teaching them what it means to receive the Word, and to lay it up in their hearts – to love the Word, settle belief in it in their minds, and root conviction of it in their consciences – is essential for them in learning Jesus. Giving people opportunities to share what they are learning, ask questions, explore topics together, talk with one another (Col. 3.16), and pray together for specific applications can help them internalize the Word, so that the Spirit can work it more completely into their lives.

And if we insist that daily reading and meditation are essential for true learning, those we teach may be more inclined to feed on the Word, and better able to benefit from the wholesome spiritual food it provides.

The duty of preachers and teachers
Besides the duties of careful preparation, clear exposition, and resolute aiming at Jesus, four other duties fall to those entrusted with preaching and teaching, if true learning is to result.

First, following the example of Jesus and Paul, we must pray for those we teach. Pray for them by name. Pray that the Spirit would work mightily in them, that they will take seriously their responsibilities as learners, and that they will come with readiness of mind, heart, and conscience to hear the preaching and teaching of the Word. Pray that they will immerse themselves in Scripture day by day, and that they will grow to delight in and love the Word as their most precious spiritual food.

Second, we need to aim at the whole person, and not just the mind. Good outlines and careful diction are important to effect understanding. But we must also appeal to the affections and values of those we teach, challenging them to consider the desires, hopes, values, and priorities that govern their lives, in the light of those the Scriptures teach.

Third, we must not fail to call for self-examination. By asking questions, posing scenarios, and offering next step applications of our preaching and teaching, we can lead the people of God to a fuller experience and firmer commitment to the Word of God, and thus to increased knowledge of the truth that is in Jesus.

Finally, we must integrate our preaching and teaching with the work of shepherding God’s flock, working through all the shepherds of the church to encourage and assist the people of God in regular and fruitful feeding on God’s Word – both their own reading and study and their attention to what is preached and taught in the church. We cannot lead people without being alongside them, to help them through the tight squeezes and rough patches of life, and to point out the best paths when they have stalled or become confused.

We are called to make disciples true learners – and not just people who are knowledgeable about the Bible or comfortable and content in their spiritual lives. In perilous times such as these, it is especially important that preachers and teachers aim at the whole person and work for true learning in those entrusted to their care, that we may together come to a greater knowledge of and love for the Lord Who saves us.

Let us seek him who is to be found, and in doing so let us seek him who has been found. He has been hidden so that he may be sought for and found. He is immeasurable so that, even though he has been found, he may still be sought for.… Therefore it was not thus said, “Seek his face always,” as about certain men: “always learning and never attaining to a knowledge of the truth,” but rather as that one says, “When a man ends, then he is beginning.”

  - Augustine, Tractates on John 63.1

For reflection

1. How would you explain what it means to learn Jesus to a new believer?

2. Why is it not enough merely to give people right information about Scripture and doctrine?

3. How can we know if those we teach are preparing adequately for the instruction of God’s Word?

T. M. Moore

For a cogent review and handbook for preparing to preach and teach, order a copy of our book,
Text to Transformation, by clicking here. Our book, The Joy and Rejoicing of My Heart, provides an overview of the whys, hows, and results of the ministry of the Word (click here). You can find books by Dr. Stan Gale at his online bookstore (click here). Helpful resources from Rusty Rabon can be purchased here.

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Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Unless otherwise indicated, quotes from Church fathers are from The Ancient Christian Commentary Series (InterVarsity Press).

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in Essex Junction, VT.
Books by T. M. Moore