I read a book this past week that contains much wisdom about discipleship in the church. There was one particular passage in the book that spoke to me about the topic of spiritual formation and the role of teaching. The author, James Wilhoit, argues that there is a major difference between informational teaching and formational teaching. As teachers of God’s Word, you and I want to be formational teachers. Here is what Wilhoit says about this:
One of the most important steps in establishing a successful, educationally based spiritual formation strategy in a local church is to shift the emphasis from teaching to learning. It’s all too easy in a technology-saturated culture to begin to equate teaching with the efficient transmission or publication of material. Spiritual formation contends that there is a need for both informational teaching (teaching that helps ground one in the facts of the Christian story) and formational teaching (teaching that helps one live out the truth of the Christian gospel). An exclusive focus on teaching in many churches tends to give an overemphasis on informational presentations at the expense of those that are more formational (p.123).
Wilhoit’s point is that we can teach one of two ways – we can present information to our learners, or we can teach in such a way that helps people in the spiritual formation process. My fear is that many Sunday School teachers have comfortably settled in as “informational teachers.” They spend Sunday after Sunday transferring information from their mind to the mind of their learners. While some information transfer is necessary, there is more to helping people progress spiritually than filling their minds with facts and information.
How do we teach formationally? Wilhoite notes that spiritual formation is a process, and that it is a multidimensional ministry. Teaching is one thing that helps a person experience Christian formation, but it isn’t the only thing! Individuals must learn to be accountable to others, to participate in individual spiritual practices, and to be a part of a small group of believers who are on a journey to Christlikeness. As teachers, we must encourage those under our watchcare to do all of the above as they imitate Christ.