Preaching the Bible’s Transformative Intent: The What and the How

Preaching the Transformational Intent of the Bible / Authorial Intent

If you have been around Leadership Resources’ people or training for more than a little while, you probably have heard us talk about the transformational intent of the Scriptures, which is foundational for our ministry and all transformational word ministry.

LRI’s Kevin Halloran recently talked with Tim Sattler, LRI’s International Training Director, on preaching the Bible’s transformational intent. Listen to the audio of our conversation below (or through this link) or read the transcript. Subscribe to our YouTube channel for future interviews.

What is the transformational intent and how does it relate to authorial intent?

Tim Sattler: Intent is connected to our view of inspiration. If we believe in divine inspiration, we need to think about it the way Peter thinks about it in 2 Peter 1:16–21.

The intent of the way they proclaim the gospel message is to not by following “cleverly devised myths when they made known to you the power and coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. And He received glory and honor from God the Father and the voice was born to Him by the majestic glory, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased,’ we ourselves heard this voice from heaven for we have heard him from the holy mountain…” And he goes on to talk about the prophetic word being fully confirmed and to pay attention to it “as a lamp shining in a dark place until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts. Knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from one’s own interpretation for no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”

And he goes on to talk about the prophetic word being fully confirmed and to pay attention to it, “as a lamp shining in a dark place until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts. Knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from one’s own interpretation for no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”

Part of his argument here is that it’s not human intention, it’s God’s intention and God’s Spirit moving the authors of Scripture to write with a purpose—what we believe is a transformational purpose.

Every time God proclaims His Word, it has an intended response.

God wants people to respond to His gospel call in all of the Scriptures. Right from the very beginning when you see Him pursue Adam and Eve, He wants them to respond to what He is saying. When Moses went to Pharaoh, we see a response that is given. Every time God proclaims His Word, it has an intended response. We call it “transformational intent” because we believe that God gave the gospel to transform hearts and lives, hopefully into the image of Christ and not a hardening like Pharaoh. One of those things is going to happen. It is the authorial intent. Our goal is not just communicating information but bringing about transformation.

Our goal is not just communicating information but bringing about transformation.

I’ve asked a lot of pastors when we first start our work with them, “What the goal is of preaching out of any passage?” Most guys who have been exposed to exposition (about 90%) say, “To clearly express or explain what God has said.” If that’s the goal on a Sunday morning, all you will give is information. But if your goal is transformation, the explanation of God’s Word becomes the process, not the goal. If transformation is your goal, that process will always be driven to how the author is intending people to respond.

Paul said in Colossians 1:28, “We proclaim Christ that we might present every man complete in Christ.” He gives the goal of apostolic preaching as being, “to be transformed into the image of Christ” every time the gospel is being proclaimed.

An Example from Ephesians 1

Let’s look at an example from Ephesians 1, where Paul starts his great doxology that goes for verse after verse, a long run-on sentence, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.” Then he goes on pouring out all of the blessings we find in Christ.

I remember as a young man hearing sermon after sermon on Ephesians 1 and hearing a doctrinal defense of election or something like that, really not in line with the intention Paul has here. His intention is that we would praise God with Him. Multiple times he says, “To the praise of His glory” and “to the praise of His glorious grace.” He’s wanting the Ephesian heart to enter into the praise and worship of Christ that he’s expressing himself. It’s far different than a doctrinal examination of election.

There is a building in that passage—all of the blessings we have heard about in the Old Testament, through Abraham, that were promised very early in the book have now been fulfilled in Christ—and they’re ours, as Gentiles! Paul’s intention is that we would walk away with this same doxology in our hearts.

Kevin: What happens if we don’t preach the transformational intent?

Tim: We preach content. We preach a lot of information and wonder why lives are not being changed. We will wonder why they are falling asleep. We will wonder why their hearts aren’t being captured in our preaching.

Eventually, I think, if we are not thinking through transformational intent, we might rely on human emotion to drive transformation. We might make great emotional appeals and make sure our voice and theatrics are going. We try and force the transformation ourselves, instead of expressing it as God has expressed it.

We have simple principles that help get to the transformational intent, here are a few. (Browse our Dig & Discover Hermeneutical Principle booklet for more.)

Hermeneutical Principle #1: Asking Good Questions

There are a lot of good questions we can ask of any passage. There are a lot of questions we need to ask. These questions help us get to the intent. There are basically six investigative questions you can ask: who, what, where, when, why, and how.

The questions, “Who”, “What”, “When”, or “Where” need to be answered to explain the text, but the majority of the answers will be content. The “Why” question is what gets you to the reasoning or the intention or the transformation idea in a text:

  • Why does he say it here?
  • Why in this way?
  • What’s surprising about this?
  • How did he want his readers to respond to what’s being said?

These questions will help us with the reasoning of the passage and help us get to the author’s transformative intention. We need content, but we need to go deeper to get to the “Why” questions.

Hermeneutical Principle #2: Structure

Structure is not just an outline. We think of structure as helping us see the direction of the author. We use the illustration of a bridge. The most important part of the bridge is the roadway getting you from one place to another. While there’s a lot of structural pieces that uphold that, the real goal when you come to the bridge is know where you will come to on the other side.

People think of structure like an outline or just dividing verses. But when you see the end from the beginning, understanding where the author is headed, you begin to see his intention. Structure will help you see how the message unfolds in a book or passage. Knowing the author’s conclusions are helps you get to intent.

Hermeneutical Principle #3: Traveling Instructions

God is speaking to us, but he has already spoken in His Word. We want to know what God is saying and how God wants us to respond in any age. He has spoken in His Word, but He hasn’t spoken directly to Chicago in 2017. He has spoken [first] to somebody else. Again, with our view of inspiration, He has moved an author to write what he writes. We must first understand what the passage meant in the original context before we apply it to ourselves today.

An Example from the Entire Book of Ephesians

In Ephesians, Paul is in a prison and the gospel is being threatened. All through the book of Acts, you’ve seen the unbelieving Jews rise up and stir trouble from the very moment the gospel goes out to the Gentiles. They don’t want Gentiles to become equal heirs and share in the equal blessings of Christ that God has promised Israel.

In Acts 15, it is said that unless someone is circumcised according to the custom of Moses, they can’t be saved. Move into Acts 21, and the situation is even worse. There are thousands of Jews who have been convinced that the gospel Paul is teaching is wrong. Their solution again doesn’t work, they end up arresting Paul. They want to kill him. Paul appeals to Caesar. He always wanted to go to Rome, now he’s in Rome with the Gospel. He wants these churches to stand firm in the gospel. The very last chapter, that’s his command: to stand firm. Love Christ with a love that is incorruptible (Ephesians 6:24). What would corrupt it? Going back to Old Covenant ways—that would corrupt the New Covenant. Paul is writing to this church to talk about the blessings they have received and how God has transformed all of humanity. He has reconciled the Gentiles with the Jews, humanity with Himself. He’s building a new temple with the people of God. Paul’s intent is that they would stand firm in that truth.

An Example from Philippians

Paul writes another letter to Philippi, to a church that has supported him from the very beginning. They had fellowship with him and his gospel. Paul wrote to thank them for a gift he received in this prison cell. He knows there’s a problem in the church with Euodia and Syntyche (Philippians 4:2). They have the potential to cause division in the church that is similar to the division between the Judaizers and the true gospel followers. He is wanting to help this church get along. He has a lot of build up to that point in that letter (chapters 1-3). He’s writing them to maintain this joy of partnership in this gospel and not let it be divided in the church. There’s intention in everything that these authors write and there’s a response that they want.

Kevin: One thing that I appreciate about the way LRI talks about transformational intent is that pastors should shepherd their people with the transformational intent. Can you explain what we mean by that?

Tim: It comes down to application. Once you understand the intent, why Paul or Mark or why any author is writing a book to an audience, you can now shepherd your church and bring the Word of God to today by asking a few questions.

The weakest part of most preaching is application. But in looking for intention, you need to ask, “What would that look like in my context today?” “What are similarities?” “How would that response look like in my context in my city with my people?” “What would God want us to do?” That’s the way you begin to shepherd with the author’s intent.

The weakest part of most preaching is application.
Kevin: Tim, you shared once about transformation in the life of one pastor in the Philippines when he finally got what it meant to preach the transformational intent. Would you mind sharing that story?

Tim: I’ve known this guy for about ten years. He was a representative of one of the large ministries in the United States in the Philippines. His preaching for many years was to transpose commentaries, preaching chapter-by-chapter out of them. He realized it was doctrinally driven and that he wasn’t doing his own study. We’ve worked with him and he has gained confidence seeing the Word of God clearly himself; he doesn’t need to rely on commentaries to make sure he had a good message (even though commentaries can be useful conversation partners)—he can now see what God is saying and bring that to his people. Most importantly, he sees that he used to give a lot of information to his people and not transformation.

When he saw the difference in how these principles help you get to transformational intent, he got rid of all those commentaries he was using as a crutch and has been preaching on his own. It’s interesting; his congregation has responded quite favorably. They have constantly remarked on how his preaching has changed. He even had one lady in his church who wanted to sponsor one of his trainings on another island. He’s going and multiplying what we’re doing in the Philippines—part of what we are seeing as a movement start over there. She wanted to pay for work to go.

When he was chatting with her, she had an unsaved husband and asked her what his thoughts were about sponsoring training. The husband had actually said this, “If this type of preaching can bring about this change in my wife, it’s worthy of my financial investment.” The nonbelieving husband was seeing such transformation in his wife that he wanted to invest.

Kevin: Tim, thank you for your time. It’s my prayer that this conversation spurs many pastors and leaders to be transformed by God’s word themselves and also to preach in a transformational way.

Related Links:

Top 10 Blog Posts of 2017

The end of the year is a good time to reflect on what God has done in the year. Here is a smattering of the posts that God used to edify and empower pastors we train and friends of the ministry in 2017.

Top Blog Posts

1. Eight Reasons Why Consecutive Expository Preaching is Needed: An interview with LRI’s Tim Sattler. Also: Three Ways to Keep Consecutive Exposition Fresh.

2. Free Video Bible Overview Course: God’s Big Picture by Vaughan Roberts

3. An Interview with Your Favorite Preacher’s Favorite Preacher: Dick Lucas of the Proclamation Trust.

4. One-to-One Bible Reading: A Simple Way to Fulfill the Great Commission. An interview with LRI’s Sean Martin on a powerful, but neglected, discipleship tool for every Christian.

5. Fighting the Prosperity Gospel in Africa through Bible Training: An interview with LRI’s Doug Dunton.

6. 10 Hindrances to Transformative Expository Preaching by Kevin Halloran

7. How One Man’s Heart for Discipleship Became a Worldwide Movement of Biblical Exposition: The Story of Leadership Resources: An audio interview with Bill Mills testifying to God’s amazing–and surprising–grace over 40+ years of ministry. You may also enjoy this interview with Bill: Adequate: How God Empowers Ordinary People to Serve.

8. Tim Keesee calls TNT “Nation Shaking” on Dispatches from the Front. Several years ago, LRI’s TNT program and Doug Dunton was featured on the popular missions DVD series Dispatches from the Front. This post shares the video and transcript of what was said. What a privilege we have to serve God in the way we do!

9. How a Biblical Theology of Work Can Transform Your Life: Interview with Dr. Jim Hamilton.

10. 10 Subtle Ways to Abandon the Authority of Scripture in Our Lives (D.A. Carson)

Bonus: Preaching the Bible’s Transformative Intent: The Why and How

Stories from the Field

Here are a handful of the stories how our training in biblical exposition is impacting pastor’s lives and ministries throughout the world:

Thank you for your support of LRI! We wish you a wonderful and blessed 2018 in Christ. If you would like to make a year-end donation to help support this blog and the work we do, donate here.

Rejoicing in the Promised Shepherd-King

The Shepherd — Ezekiel 34

One of the scary facts about life is that a bad leader can greatly damage to a nation and its people. People don’t want their lives in the hands of people who don’t know their needs and seem only out to help themselves!

The book of Ezekiel chronicles the horrific consequences of Israel’s bad leadership. Israel had been taken captive by Babylon. Jerusalem had been pillaged, and many began to doubt God’s care for His people. God’s promises to bless Abraham and to crown an everlasting Davidic king in seemed like wishful thinking, or even a lie.

Ezekiel 34 diagnoses the leadership problem, lambasting Israel’s leadership for failing to care for God’s flock and only being out for themselves (Ezekiel 34:2). Instead of caring for the weak, sick, injured, or stray sheep, leaders ruled violently and with cruelty, leaving Israel to become food for the wild animals. This selfish and corrupt leadership kindled the anger of God enough to say, “I am against the shepherds. I will demand My flock from them and prevent them from shepherding the flock.” (10).

When God’s appointed leaders fail, He took matters into His own hands and promised a future leader, His “servant David”, to make a covenant of peace between God and His people (25), bring “showers of blessing” (26), create peace and prosperity (28–29), and usher in God’s glorious presence for His people (30–31).

Oh, how we need such a shepherd!

The Coming of the Promised Shepherd King

Six centuries after the initial promise, the Davidic Shepherd-King finally arrives in the person of Jesus Christ, and His coming couldn’t be better news for a vulnerable world longing for a good leader.

With the words of John 10:11, “I am the good shepherd”, Jesus identifies as the promised Shepherd-King who would feed His sheep lasting food, care for and protect the sheep entrusted to Him, seek out lost sheep (John 10:16), and know His sheep intimately (John 10:14). Far from fattening Himself by feasting on the sheep, this Shepherd provides spiritual nourishment to the vast multitudes that draw near to Him (Mark 6:30–44) and loves them so much that He laid down His very life (John 10:11).

Jesus Christ: Our Good Shepherd

We all have moments where God’s promises seem too good to be true. But as we ponder how Christ cares for us each day, we will see just how great and glorious His coming into the world is.

  • When it seems like God has abandoned you, trust that Christ, “God with us”, has sought you out and signed a covenant with His own blood, bringing peace with God and His comforting presence.
  • When you don’t know what to think in our truth-starved, relativistic world, listen to the Good Shepherd who speaks eternal truths to His sheep.
  • When you feel like no one cares for you, draw near to Christ your shepherd who knows you intimately and loves you enough to lay down His life for you (John 10:15).
  • When the world’s many dangers bring fear, rejoice that He will protect you from the worst spiritual assaults, bring perfect justice to the false shepherds and that He will not let anybody or anything separate you from His love.
  • When you feel like you can’t go on spiritually, the Bread of Life will satisfy your hungry souls by leading us beside still waters and green pastures (Psalm 23:2–3).

God has not left us helpless!

The Good Shepherd Jesus Christ, through His Word and Spirit, and through the care of faithful pastors and leaders, provides for us more richly than we could ever imagine. Let us give glory to Him!

Tracing Theological Themes Through the Whole Bible Story

The Bible is one main story with one main focus, sharing what God has done and will do through His Son Jesus Christ. Like any epic story, there are many threads that run through it. Understanding those threads and how they develop aids our study of Scripture. LRI’s Kevin Halloran interviewed Tim Sattler, International Training Director for Leadership Resources, on the importance of tracing themes throughout the whole Bible.

Kevin Halloran

Kevin Halloran

Kevin: Tim, can you explain the importance of tracing Biblical Theological threads?

Tim: Sure. The Bible’s one story, and like a story, there are multiple threads that develop and are involved. These threads hold the story together all the way along. We don’t have a series of disconnected stories. There are threads that pick up early on.

Example 1: Comparing Genesis with Revelation

Tim Sattler

Tim Sattler

If you have ever looked at the beginning chapters of Genesis and the ending chapters of Revelation, it’s interesting how many of those threads come together. We see the heavens and earth being created in Genesis and the new heavens and new earth being announced in Revelation 21. We see land and water and sea at the beginning, and land and no sea at the end. We see a garden in the presence of God and God dwelling with man—the great announcement of Rev. 21 is the dwelling of God is with man again.

Example 2: The Promised Seed

There are these different threads that pick up through the storyline. One key thread would be the promised seed that is going to conquer Satan and overcome sin (Genesis 3:15). The whole genealogical structure of Genesis follows this thread along. Abraham it picks up again. Later in the Davidic promise focused more specifically so that we would know who we are looking for in this king that would come.

Example 3: The Temple

One great thread is the temple, the idea of God dwelling with His people. They were pushed out of that dwelling because of their sin. They were pushed out of that place of His presence but the tabernacle, the temple—all these symbolic images where God comes and dwells among His people. Interestingly, both the tabernacle and temple are filled with God’s glory, but the third temple after the exile isn’t. You don’t see that glory come back to the temple. There’s something missing.

But then you have Jesus standing and the Spirit descends on Him like a dove. We understand that He came and tabernacled among us. This is God Himself tabernacling. It’s not an accident that John uses that terminology in John 1:14. All along we see that God is wanting to restore His presence with His people.

In Ephesians, Paul says we are being built up into the true temple, the dwelling of God in the Spirit. You can follow the theme of the Holy Spirit from the garden all the way through the book of Acts. It’s God’s presence restored through Christ that makes us the indwelling of God.

Example 4: A sin-atoning sacrifice

The strand of sacrifice goes along right from Genesis 4 all the way through to the cross.

These stories ebb and flow in the overall story but they are all pulled together like the strands of a rope. As a rope has many different strands, so the story of the Bible has many different strands.

Kevin: It’s rich to see how the story develops and those threads develop, how the Old Testament points forward to Christ. Also, as we understand who Christ is for us, we can look back at the Old Testament and see the build-up and appreciate Christ all the more.

Tim: You can. That’s right.

Kevin: You’ve mentioned to me in the past that you prefer to say tracing Biblical Theological threads rather than themes. Why is that?

Tim: It’s not a big deal to me frankly! I would use theme and thread interchangeably except for this: As we have been training pastors and sometimes use the word ‘themes’, it gets confused with thematic preaching. Instead of telling the story or understanding the development of Biblical Theology in a storyline, it becomes a topical proof-texting of a theme in the Bible—which really doesn’t help. That is more systematic theology (which is fine) rather than biblical theology.

As we are talking about tracing a thread or a theme, we are really trying to unfold the natural development of each part of the story. The tabernacle isn’t as great as the temple, is it? One’s a more permanent place, there’s been a development from one dwelling place to another. It’s there to show us that God wants to be in a permanent place with His people. In Genesis the dwelling place was lost, but it will be restored. We find out that that the tabernacle and temple were never intended to be the permanent place—the permanent place is the New Heavens and the New Earth.

What we’re trying to do is keep it in language that helps us understand the development of a storyline. Not simply tracing thematic theological ideas.

Kevin: How do you recommend tracing Biblical Theological themes?

Tim: Read the Bible.

Kevin: Good answer.

Tim: We need to know the Bible.

Kevin: There’s no shortcut. We shouldn’t want a shortcut.

Tim: If you really want to know what David Copperfield is about, read David Copperfield. You need to read the whole book; you need to read the whole story. Dickens put a marvelous story out there for us and the Bible is an even greater story. We really do need to read the Bible. We need to know how each book fits with the unfolding of the story, which books are really mainline in the story, and which are commentary on the main story. We need to know what’s happening.

Kevin: Which biblical books are main-line verses commentary on the main story?

Tim: Genesis and Exodus would be mainline. Leviticus would be commentary into the story because it’s not moving the story along, it’s bringing more depth to the story. It’s the whole sacrificial system. Numbers is moving the story along, in the wilderness. Deuteronomy at a point where you are getting ready to transition, but is at a moment in time as Moses is giving his last words. Joshua moves us along. Judges moves us along. 1 & 2 Samuel move us along. Kings does as well. Ezra and Nehemiah coming back from the exile carry the story along. Most of the prophets would be voices spoken into the people and the times. The Psalms speak into the times. Basically, Psalms are songs about the times that are put together in kind of a symphony looking back, the last compilation of these is looking back over Israel’s history from Moses all the way to after the exile coming back into a temple that’s been rebuilt. It’s a commentary into how God has been working among His people and that it’s God’s king meets God’s people through this valley to God’s grace. There are books that carry the story along; there are books that speak into it.

The storyline is contained in fewer books than we think so it’s easy to get that storyline.

Kevin: You had mentioned before that you recommend four key questions for understanding Biblical Theology as it pertains to a passage.

Tim: Yes, they are questions a friend Phil Wheeler from Sydney, Australia, put together. I think they’re really good questions:

  1. What’s the story so far?

Wherever you are in the Bible, you need to know what the story has been leading up to that point in time. What’s happened so far?

  1. What’s this story about?

Now we are looking at what a particular story contributes. What is it about?

Take Judges, for instance. What is Judges about? It’s about everybody doing what’s right in his own eyes. That’s commentary. It’s also about a leadership gap after Joshua. There’s a question, who would be king? The more you study these judges the more you see they are trying to fill a leadership void. But they are going about it the wrong way. We find out the end in the next story, not Ruth, but Samuel—God provides a king. He wants it to be His king and His way: David.

  1. What do we learn about how God does things?

Before we even look at leading us to Christ there are lessons about the way God works. The way God is accomplishing things in the world.

  1. What do we learn about the way God does things through Jesus?

Not every story is on a major highway towards Jesus. We need to learn about the way God does things. But there are major stories; every book is contributing to the major story of Jesus. So, what do we learn about how God does things through Jesus.

Often times we miss true Biblical Theology because we don’t get it on the book level first; we are looking for Jesus in every little detail. A lot of preachers look for Jesus in too many places and make too many wrong connections. We need to understand what the book contributes to the story first.

What we learn about how God does things through Jesus and then how pieces unfold that. There may be more than one strand in a book, but at the same time, we want to be with those major strands as we are talking about Christ.

Rejoice in God’s Life-Giving Word this Christmas

Dear Friends & Partners,

Snowflakes dusted Chicagoland this past weekend. These first flurries are always a bit of a shock for me, after a mild, fragrant Midwest autumn. But then, just as suddenly, the snow reminded me of why Leadership Resources exists.

“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” (Isa.55:10-11)

Isaiah 55 shapes our ministry, and we hope that these words shape your life as well.
This year, we’ve seen God’s Word accomplishing God’s purposes as we and our partners equipped and empowered more than 5000 pastors to teach God’s Word with God’s heart, in 40 different countries.

How effective is our ministry? Here’s what one mission researcher said after evaluating our work in Russia:

“Your training is like a slow, soaking rain that softens and saturates the ground over a long period of time.” Like the rain and the snow, His Word always succeeds in accomplishing His work.

Through our partnership with you, together, we bless the nations with the written Word that points to the Living Word, our Lord Jesus Christ.

This Christmas, might you rejoice that 2000 years ago the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, fulfilling all of God’s good purposes in Christ.

Filled with much gratitude,

Craig Parro

PS: Would you please remember us in your year-end giving? We’ve been s-t-r-e-t-c-h-e-d this year financially as we’ve done more ministry on fewer dollars. Your generous gift would help us finish the year strong and begin 2018 with great confidence. Donate here.

Back to the Future Pedagogy: Discovering the Power of Experiential Learning

A co-worker and I were ensconced in a hotel room for several days in an Asian country that is hostile to Christ and His Church. Every morning, seven tribal pastors arrived one by one, stayed into the evening, and then left one by one, a few minutes apart.

Together, we were wrestling with 1 and 2 Corinthians. One particular aspect of these letters gripped us: Paul’s passionate, personal engagement with these believers.

He had spent 18 months with them, in their homes and their synagogue. After his departure, Paul sent coworkers to further serve and encourage them. He also sent these long, detailed letters. In every way, Paul embraced these dear saints even though they had caused him great heartache.

He praises them, “I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you wee enriched in him in all speech and knowledge…” (1 Cor. 1:4-5). He pleads, “I appeal to you brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree…” (1 Cor. 1:10). He chides, “But I brothers could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ…” (1 Cor. 3:1). He admonishes (see 1 Cor. 4:14) and boldly rebukes, “And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn?” (1 Cor. 5:2).

And so the letters continue, full of pointed, even harsh critiques, yet at the same time, selfeffacing vulnerability, even more surprising given his strained relationship with the church: “For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself” (2 Cor. 1:8). Paul admits to struggling with deep discouragement, perhaps even depression. We looked at 2 Corinthians 12 in which Paul boasts of his weaknesses: “So the power of Christ may rest upon me… for when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:9-10).

But this embrace of weakness is only expressed after Paul is driven to boast at length about his accomplishments and apostolic credentials in order to counter the sniping criticisms of the so-called “super apostles” (2 Cor. 11-12).

Paul engages them at a heart level, his emotions never far from the surface. “For I wrote you out of much affliction and anguish of heart and with many tears…” (2 Cor. 2:4). He pleads with them to reciprocate. “We have spoken freely to you Corinthians; our heart is wide open. You are not restricted by us, but you are restricted in your own affections. In return (I speak as to children) widen your hearts also” (2 Cor. 6:11-12).

What is this strange amalgam of emotion and reason, boasting and humility, warnings and affirmations, sarcasm and love? And to what end? What is Paul’s larger purpose? What shepherding intent is he pursuing? For Paul is not merely transmitting information or theological truisms; he is seeking to provoke Spirit-empowered, word-mediated transformation in their lives.

These observations from the Corinthian letters led our small group into a profound discussion about pedagogy. The educational model in their country is typically Asian: information download from the all-knowing professor to the uninformed student. Rote memory, repetition, and regurgitation of facts are standard educational fare.

But how do we break through this cultural model? “It’s impossible!’ some would say. “The top-down model has been used for millennia. The country’s educational system is too deeply engrained to change. The overweening respect for the honorable teacher would never allow for a more engaged, more egalitarian approach to learning.” We all soon discovered that the standard educational model wasn’t so standard after all!

I had remembered that one of the pastors was also a carpenter. “Please stand up, Kueyo. Would you be willing to teach me how to build a chair?” I asked him. His look of puzzled embarrassment spawned a gaggle of giggles. But Kueyo soon warmed to task. “Would you just lecture me?” I asked. “No, of course not,” he answered. “Well then, how would you teach me? And remember, I know nothing about carpentry.”

Kueyo began to describe the process he would use to educate this uneducated westerner. First, he would show me a well-crafted chair. He would have me sit in it and then study it…by lifting it, turning it, feeling it. Next, he would show me the various tools and explain the unique purpose of each. He would place each tool in my hand and cover my hand with his in order to show me the proper way to hold and wield each tool. He would have me practice using some of the tools on scrap pieces of wood, until at last I had demonstrated a minimal level of competency.

The real work of building the chair began with Kueyo, the master craftsman, demonstrating the process. After measuring and cutting the first piece of wood, he would shape and refine it with rasp and file and sandpaper. My turn. “No, that’s not quite right. Try this. Yes, that’s better. No, no, you’ll gouge the wood. Yes, much better. Ah, notice which way the grain runs. Good, you’re getting the hang of it.” Thus, the chair would slowly take shape, with the master providing less direction and more encouragement over time.

What just happened? This man, steeped in a traditional education system, intuitively knew that the most effective way to teach me to build a chair was the classic apprentice-training model. It came naturally to him, for it was the way that he was taught. It was the way that he had learned. This conversation prompted a question which seemed to float about the room: “What does this suggest about how you as pastors might better teach, shepherd, and equip God’s people?”

I then asked another pastor, “When I go back home, I want to tell my wife ‘I love you’ in your language. Please teach me to do that.” Again, there was more embarrassed laughter, but then a revelation came: “We never tell our wives ‘I love you.’ Instead, we communicate love with our eyes and with our tone of voice.” These tribal men already understood the priority and the power of non-verbal communication. It was already rooted in their culture.

“Please, help me learn,” I responded. After a few more bemused twitters, one of the pastors stood up and demonstrated the ‘love look.’ “Like this?” I asked after my pathetic attempt to mimic his facial expression. More laughter. “Is this better? How about this?”

Finally, I asked, “If you catch a thief in one of your villages, how do you teach him to stop stealing?” Another revelation came: in the old days, the village elders would prepare a bed of hot coals and force the offender to walk over them barefoot. Yikes! Nowadays, the elders are more likely to sit the thief down and give him a “talkin’ to.” If necessary, they castigate him publically with the hope that he will bow to the pressure of the community. This tribal group had long ago discovered the power of experiential learning and small group dynamics.

“Think about what you’ve just told me about your culture,” I told them. “You use a wide variety of teaching methods, don’t you? To be sure, your formal educational system tends to be uni-directional with little or no personal engagement. But in the rest of life…in your real world…your teaching process is highly relational and hands-on. It’s full of praxis: action followed by reflection and correction followed by more action and reflection.”

These oral-preference tribal leaders realized that passionate, personal, experiential teaching and learning were already embedded in their culture. They already embraced an adult-education teaching model in the everyday outworking of village life. They discovered that a life-on-life teaching approach is congruent with both their culture and with their Bible.

Previously published in the Orality Journal.

    Never miss a post!

    * indicates required

    Choose a Frequency