Life Is the Better Teacher

Originally published on The Timothy Network on January 26, 2020.

For a few years now, I have been listening to The Holy Post Podcast (which started out with the name The Phil Vischer Podcast) which features Phil Vischer of Veggie Tales and What’s In the Bible fame and author and former Christianity Today editor, Skye Jethani. On episode 378 released November 20, 2019, Vischer and Jethani discussed an article by Matt Till in Relevant Magazine from August 26, 2019.

The headline: “Why the Church Needs More Practitioners and Fewer Preachers.” The article compares the idea in James 3:1, not many should become teachers with the idea in James 3:13, those who are wise and understanding should show their good works. The article postulates that traditional teaching and preaching, while not outlawed, is not necessarily the method of truly making disciples as commanded in the great commission.

“Is it possible this is what Jesus Christ meant when He commissioned His disciples to ‘go and make disciples of all the nations’ (Matt. 28:19)? Is it possible that what Jesus intended by teaching “these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you” (Matt. 28:20) is far more practical than it is about Sunday morning lectures that are more capable of setting a forest on fire (3:5) and corrupting your entire body’ (3:6, NLT) than being ‘full of mercy and good deeds’ (3:17, NLT)? James seems to think so.”

In the course of Vischer and Jethani’s discussion on the article, Jethani had much to say about the insights and ideas of discipleship. “Pretty much every problem the church faces is solved by the same thing: discipleship, people actually learning to live like [Jesus],” Jethani starts.

Though a preacher himself, Jethani, who wrote an article entitled “The case against sermon-centric Sundays,” back in October of 2019 and at least as far back as October of 2017 has been questioning the idea of the effectiveness of teaching and preaching in the regular gathering of believers for awhile now.

He jumps to this idea in the course of the podcast. “The modern Western bias is that transformation happens through information…information alone.” Jethani goes onto give a hypothetical thought, “‘So, if I sit here long enough and listen to good teaching, my life will be transformed.’” He answers that statement: “That’s not how it happens.”

Jethani goes on to back up the Relevant article, “Information is not bad. We need it. And we need good teaching. But teaching and information alone does not make one a disciple.”

Vischer goes on to ask in the framework of the conversation, “So how do you make disciples?” In response, Jethani quickly references a few great verses backing up this idea of proclaiming the gospel through how we live our lives rather than through direct teaching.

Matthew 5:14-16 (ESV)

14 “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

John 13:34-35 (ESV)

34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

1 Peter 2:11-12 (ESV)

11 Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. 12 Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.

Jethani continues: “So again, it’s not about not preaching or not teaching. Those are all good things but not everyone is called to do that. And if we see that a primary vehicle of spreading the message of Jesus and his kingdom, then it’s limited to the few who are gifted that way and able to do it. Whereas what Scripture says over and over and over again is we are all to bear witness. And, we are all to give an answer for the hope that we have. And we are all to live good lives among the pagans. We are all to do these things in a way that brings glory to God, (emphasis added) but it’s more through character.”

There’s the key. It has to all start with living in a way that brings glory to God. We must be transformed and live as an extension of Jesus and his kingdom on Earth. Then, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer points out about Matthew 5:14-16 in his book The Cost of Discipleship, “Jesus does not say that men will see God; they will see the good works and glorify God for them.” What a strong and encouraging call! Through our walk with Jesus, we will encourage others to bring glory to God!