Education or formation?

What’s the point of reading your bible? Or listening to podcasts? Or sermons? Or reading Christian books? What’s the point of bible study or even attending training at any level within the church or outside of the church on the various courses that are run training people for ministry? What one word would you use to sum up their aim?

Preacher what is it we aim for as we preach? Bible study leaders what is it we aim for as we prepare and craft questions and lead groups into the Bible? Personally what is I’m aiming to do as I read and study the bible devotionally?

There are lots of ways we could answer that question. Ephesians 4v16 – equip and train would be a good one. There are lots of others. But I’ve been really struck by Paul’s aim with the Galatians 4v19 “My children, I am again suffering labour pains for you until Christ is formed in you.” Paul is pursing them, teaching them, writing to them not just to pass on information, not just to educate, but to see Christ formed in them. He is labouring, suffering, because he wants not just to see them have the correct doctrine and avoid being led away from the gospel but because he wants to see them take on the shape of Christ, to be moulded into his image more and more closely. That is a staggering thing to write.

That’s what training does, training shapes us so that we respond in certain ways, so that we learn certain habits and ways of acting and reacting. Training and equipping shapes us to be like Jesus, it forms us so we take on his image, or it should.

What will it change if we make that our goal in every situation? How will that change our approach to preaching and teaching and listening and reading and studying and learning. None of those things are the end goal. they achieve little or nothing until we have gone a stage further and applied them, taking on the shape of Christ, being formed more closely into his image.

There been a few blog posts I’ve read which have been really helpful in challenging us about application or the lack of it in so much contemporary preaching. So much of it stops short of Paul’s goal of longing to see Christ formed in us as we behold him and apply what we learn of him to our lives together by the Spirit. It merely aims to educate, and so stops short of this goal and that is joyless and woefully inadequate.

That can be true of our training courses, which aim to educate but not form. That teach us facts and skills and means and techniques. All of which are very helpful but without leading us to love and behold and become like the glorious Lord Jesus Christ we behold in the scriptures we are learning to study and teach that falls short. We should be being formed into Christ’s image even as we are learning how to teach others with that goal in mind, after all we can’t give to others what we don’t possess.

Imagine what it would look like to see your church family becoming more like Christ, to be being formed more and more closely into his image, to see them grow to be compassionate like he is, holy like he is, to love and serve God as he did. To love and serve one another as he did and do it all as winsomely as he did, even facing opposition and hatred or misunderstanding as graciously as he did. And imagine yourself being formed more and more like Jesus along with them as you play your part in that growth.

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