The Theology of Training

Imagine you are attending a meeting of the Christian education board at an average church. As the board prepares to address the topic of training, the pastor asks how plans for next year's efforts are coming along. These are the responses:

"Well, we haven't given it much thought. Training isn't one of our priorities."

"It's worship this church needs. We want the teachers to worship more instead of getting so bogged down in training."

"You know, this church can't tolerate one more program. Why don't we just let training die for a while?"

"Teachers don't need training. They just need to rely on the Holy Spirit. He will give them all the training they need!"

 

Does that scenario seem unrealistic? Actually, statements like these have dismantled training ministries in many churches. They not only reflect poor wisdom and logic but also a serious failure to understand the theological foundation of training.

Defining terms

In its strictest sense, theology means the study of God.

For this discussion, a better definition says that Christian theology has to do with the nature, history, validity, and application of the Christian faith. Theology includes four broad areas of study: (1) biblical studies, (2) systematic theology, (3) church history, and (4) practical theology or application.

Training in the church has relationship to every area of theology mentioned above and is necessary if those who serve in the church are to do their jobs well.

Training in the Bible

The Bible offers a comprehensive presentation of training.

 

We can divide the related Bible content into three areas: examples, instruction, and models.

* Examples

Here are a few examples that reflect a continuing biblical pattern of training: Moses in Pharaoh's court, Samuel in Eli's house, Elisha's in-service training with Elijah, and Paul's training young Timothy and Titus.

No one valued training more than Jesus did. He took 12 unlikely men and invested His life in theirs for three years. He taught them in multiple ways with the goal of preparing them to carry on His work.

However, He did not limit His training to the disciples. He taught thousands of people wherever He went. In fact, the Gospel of Mark uses an interesting phrase to symbolize Jesus' commitment to training: "As was his custom, he [Jesus] taught them" (Mark 10:1). Jesus trained the masses as well as those who would become trainers themselves.

* Instruction

The Bible contains countless admonitions to train and teach. For example, the Old Testament instructs fathers to train their children as God intended (Deuteronomy 6:7; Proverbs 22:6). Kings and priests are admonished to teach the people to obey.

Proverbs 19:20 expresses a training theme: "Listen to advice and accept instruction, and in the end you will be wise."

Second Timothy teaches Christians to study to gain divine approval, and the ability to train and teach is listed as a prerequisite for leadership in the church (2:15,24,25).

Jesus challenged His followers with what has come to be called the Great Commission: "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you" (Matthew 28:19,20).

Two important words in this passage are didasko and tereo. Didasko calls the reader to the deliberate, continual instruction that must take place in the kingdom of God. Tereo is the object of the teaching: obedience.

The Bible does not encourage training without a practical purpose. We are training people to obey in the broadest sense; that is, not just keeping a set of rules but following Christ's guiding principles which result in successful Christian living. In fact, the purpose of biblical training is not so much knowing as it is doing. Thus training has a discipling motive.

The Implications for the church

Based on this discussion, we can offer the following statements about training and its relationships to theology (the study of God):

  1. God considers training vitally important in His kingdom.
  2. Training is a spiritual, theological, biblically mandated endeavor.
  3. God has assisted us in establishing our training program by gifting people to be trainers, providing models, and offering biblical information.
  4. God's people–the church of Jesus Christ–will function as they were intended only when attention is given to training.

 

Training not only provides skills instruction but also helps people serve Christ better. It not only has to do with what a Christian knows but also with what he feels and does. When the church neglects training, the quality of discipleship suffers, and the church's impact in the world diminishes.

The original language for this text uses the participial form for go. "Go ye therefore" is not actually an imperative statement, as many translations indicate. It is most accurately translated, "As you are going."

What does that mean? Jesus assumed His followers would be going. It was not a matter of choice, as the imperative form allows. He assumed evangelism, incorporation into the church, teaching, and training would all be happening in the context of active ministry. He believed His followers would be learning in the context of doing. Their training would come as they acted.

Theologically, training is accomplished by precept and example. Its goal is to effect life changes, bringing Christians into conformity to God's will. Another important passage is 2 Timothy 2:2, for it adds a necessary dimension to training: "And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others." Paul added the admonition to train in perpetuity–those things he taught were to be passed on from one generation to the next.

* Models

In the Old Testament, the family formed the basic unit of society. Instruction and training were to begin there. Later in Jewish history, the synagogue became both a center of worship and training.

The Early Church adopted that model. The Book of Acts indicates that training was taking place wherever Christians were meeting–their homes, the temple courts, and so on (Acts 2:42-47). Later, as the church became more established, it became the focus for Christian training. In fact, the church became such an established center of training that for hundreds of years it was the only place formal education took place.

Who is responsible for training?

The Bible identifies those who bear ultimate responsibility for training. Within the family unit, the father is responsible. Within the church, responsibility lies with those who have been gifted by Christ for that purpose: "It was he [Christ] who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up" (Ephesians 4:11,12).

The church's goal is to prepare God's people for works of service. That is also the training goal. The church that does so will grow and be edified.

God has chosen to give certain people spiritual gifts that enable them to be trainers, and this includes training other trainers. If the church's training program is weak, those leaders whom God has gifted must assume responsibility for improving it.

Training is a theological idea. It is not optional in the church; rather, it is a vital part of what it means to be truly the church. The church that ignores or depreciates training ministries does so at its own risk.

The church offers training to be faithful and obedient to God.

 

Clancy Hayes is training coordinator and district liaison for the Sunday School Department, Springfield, Missouri. Sunday School. All rights reserved. Used with permission.