Written by J.J. Turner, Ph.D.
Chancellor, World Bible Institute
A young graduate swaggered down the steps of the university with his BA degree under his arm, he was now educated and ready to change the world. A voice from heaven said, “Sit down, son, and I will teach you the rest of the alphabet.”
The alarm has been sounding for years relative to the dumbing down of students in the American education system. A nation that once ranked among the highest in education is on a rapid downward spiral toward the bottom.
In a recent set of street interviews of college students, the lack of knowledge and learning was obvious. One student was asked who won the Civil War, he answered, “England.” A woman was asked to define socialism, she replied that was when persons got together for a party.
“There is a growing and disturbing trend of anti-intellectual elitism in American culture. It’s the dismissal of science, the arts, and humanities and their replacement by entertainment, self-righteousness, ignorance, and deliberate gullibility (www.psychologytoday.com/basics/deception).
Before we think ignorance is the peculiar territory of young university students, how about in the church? A class of freshmen Bible majors was asked on a test, what is an epistle? Several answered an epistle was an apostle’s wife. It may amaze you to learn that on the same test some said Moses built the ark.
Hosea was also describing the condition of our day when he penned these words of the Lord: “My people are destroyed for a lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I also will reject you from being a priest for Me; because you have for-gotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children” (Hoses 4:6).
The trend in American education seems to be centered more on getting a job than getting a balanced education. This trend has made inroads into the church. Some training of preachers and leaders for serving churches centers more on maintaining the traditions, status quo, and keeping the members happy. Many graduate and never add the rest of the alphabet to their BA. There is much more to learn.
Years ago I saw a cartoon which depicted two older men leaving a church service. One was captioned as saying, “My, how things have changed in the church.” His friend replied, “What do you mean?” “Remember when you used to bring your Bible to church? Now you need to bring a dictionary.”
The growing anti-intellectualism to learning, scholarship, and education is seen in the dumbing down of secular approach-es to teaching and learning. We see this practice as well in some local congregations in the reduced emphasis on a “thus saith the Lord.”
A snapshot of a typical assembly will reveal a well-behaved, somewhat well-dressed group of people auditing what is being taught. Most will be forgotten once they are out the door, rushing to the restaurant or home to catch the game. Few are committed to being intentional learners by being “doers of the word” (James 1:22-26).
Check it out! If a teacher required taking notes, writing a brief paper, and taking a test in order to improve learning in a Bible class, next class period only the chairs would be present. The evidence seems to indicate that many Christians, leaders included, aren’t planning on doing in real learning.
What is learning? Learning: “The art, process, or experience of gaining KNOWLEDGE or SKILL.” It is the SKILL aspect of learning that is lacking in most church efforts to educate members. The Bible calls this “Being a DOER of the word and not just a hearer only” (James 1:22-26). Benjamin Franklin said:
Teach me and I will remember.
Involve me and I will learn.
“Leadership and learning,” said John F. Kennedy, “are indispensable to each other.” You didn’t learn to walk by hearing your parents read books of walking, telling you stories about walking, nor by showing you a video on walking. You learned to walk by seeing others walk and by taking action: crawling, standing, falling, wobbling, stepping, walking, and finally running.
One of the greatest pieces of advice every given on the subject of learning was written by King Solomon:
“To know wisdom and instruction,
To perceive the words of understanding,
To receive the instruction of wisdom,
Justice, judgment, and equity;
To give prudence to the simple,
To the young man knowledge
And discretion—A wise man will hear
And increase learning, and a man
of understanding will attain wise counsel.”
Every Christian but especially leaders need to memorize these Scriptures, place them on plaques and in frames in order to continually be reminded of how important continual learning and doing God’s word is to their spiritual life and service.
Leadership in the local churches of the 21st century is facing challenges no other generation has faced.
The influence of the world is rushing through a door opened wide by social media and entertainment media. It is not uncommon to see members in an assembly sending texts back and forth during services.
On a national level, as many as 50 to 55 percent of so-called evangelicals believe they can get as much out of a home devotional as attending an organized church service.
The congregations I have observed have from 25 to 30 percent of those in attendance on Sunday morning returning Sunday and Wednesday nights.
The moral and ethical issues that once rarely crept into the church family are now so common that they are acceptable as the new normal. Caesar, feelings, and humanistic rules and practices determine actions, etc.
It is not uncommon to see church leaders throwing up their hands and going with the flow. Why? They don’t know how to deal with the issues. They haven’t, and will not, learn how to handle conflict, etc. The sheep need biblical counseling but the shepherds haven’t learned how. Why?
There is no reason, much less excuse, for 21st-century church leaders not to learn the things they need to know to effectively lead God’s people. Learning can take place through an auto-didactic method or through an organized institution method. The dumbing down of church leaders needs to stop.
What are you going to intentionally do to learn a new skill that will help you be a more effective leader? What study have you been procrastinating relative to starting? Only YOU can learn for YOU.