Christ Ed. Part 3

Teaching Adults in Church

By Jerry Smith

The term "Christ ed." gets to the heart of what many call Christian Education. Christ ed. focuses on going beyond superficial mentions of Jesus Christ and a little Scripture peppered here and there in spiritual teaching. It is a term I coined as a result of what I personally observed in local churches over the past years and what I am observing until now in others. Specifically, Christ ed. is a guideline for education practices in the Christian church. Spiritual teachers include pastors, ministers, reverends, Sunday school teachers, and the like: anyone who would stand (or sit) before members of an organized Christian assembly and teach members are included in the term spiritual teacher. Christ ed. is a term that inherently asks two fundamental questions: (1) are spiritual lessons centering on, exalting, and glorifying Jesus Christ (2) are spiritual lessons that are centering on, exalting, and glorifying Jesus Christ anchored to the Scriptures?

Christ Ed., The Series

Our Need for Jesus
The Importance of Scriptural Teaching
Teaching Adults in Church

Although we live in a corrupted version of God's original "very good" creation (Genesis 1:31), we can still see relatively predictable patterns in the space sciences, earth sciences, and human sciences which reflect the order in which God does things (1 Corinthians 14:40). For us to advance in God's revealed truths, God has ordained the process of education toward (1) seeing His general revelation so man can understand the existence of God until (2) in His grace, He opens one's spiritual eyes to see their dreadful condition, then sets them upon Jesus Christ for salvation (i.e. special revelation), and (3) to build us up further in Christ (i.e. edification). This is the pattern we can discern from Matthew 28:19-20 when the Lord tells us to (1) teach, then (2) baptize (an outward sign of an inward new creation), and (3) teach again.

When we look at Jesus Christ during His earthly ministry, we see that He approached teaching in a manner reflective of what we understand in modern pedagogy. The Lord not only showed us what to teach but also how to teach. To accomplish this goal, we need to consider that God designed people (c/w Psalm 119:73) and in that design ordained that people grow, learn, and mature through different stages and in certain ways. Paul alluded to this when he wrote "when I was a child I spoke as a child, I thought as a child, I reasoned like a child" in 1 Corinthians 13:11. Since the Lord spent the majority of His recorded time teaching adults, it would be wise for us to observe His practices in how we teach them in church.

The lecture method has been the comfortable, controllable, traditionally-preferred method of delivering spiritual lessons, where the teacher stands before the students and presents the lesson (message, sermon, or exhortation). However, the Lord varied His teaching methods to accommodate the people He was teaching. At times the Lord would be on a boat speaking to a multitude standing on the shore listening to Him. At other times He would use examples and visual aids for them to see. And at times He sent His disciples out to get hands-on experience then use their experience as an opportunity to teach. One temptation teachers face is to overuse their own particular favorite method because it is more comfortable for them. Lecturing allows teachers to control a predictable lesson that they have designed, when facilitating a discussion where adults may participate may be more beneficial. The Lord obviously considered this and is now our pedagogical example in the church two thousand years later. When teaching is repeatedly and exclusively limited to one method alone, optimal learning may be restricted. One writer (Jacobsen) puts it, "learning takes place by, and is hastened through participation, discussions, brainstorming, etc." Lecture alone, tends to stifle learning and is not consistent with what we know about adult educational psychology.

Malcolm Knowles, a proponent for adult learning practices known as andragogy, recognized the need to consider adult principles of learning when he theorized that adults are internally motivated, self-directed, bring life experience and knowledge to learning, are goal oriented, relevancy oriented, practical, and like to be respected. In other words, adults do not like to be spoon-fed, like to be acknowledged, and like to be involved in their learning. Adults are a rich source of information, knowledge, and experience, often untapped resources that can enrich the typical one-sided lectures of teachers today. Each adult member has something to bring to the table that can be tapped by teachers to facilitate a dynamic learning environment where adults can learn from one another.

Erik Erikson's Stages of Psychosocial Development show us that there is a natural human conflict throughout our lifespan. Unless these conflicts are resolved in a positive manner a negative character trait or maladjustment may develop. Teachers are in a position to actually help improve learners' mental hygiene. With particular emphasis on the Generativity vs. Stagnation stage, one can theorize that roughly speaking, adults between the ages of 25-64 want their lives to count for something. If that desire is not met, a resulting sense of worthlessness or stagnation may develop within the psyche of the individual. It is therefore crucial for the teacher to allow adult learners to participate in lessons for them to have some part or input into the learning and promote healthy development of the individual. This principle is exemplified by Paul in 1 Corinthians 14:31 when he writes, for you may all prophesy one by one, that all may learn, and all may be comforted. Here there is a mutual benefit and fulfillment in each brother being allowed to share. How many interactive discussions have been witnessed in a typical church service? In Acts chapter 20, verses 7-12 indicates through the Greek word [dialegomai] a dialogue between Paul and the people present in spiritual matters, not the one-way communication so prevalent in churches today.

Abraham Maslow's Hierarchy represents levels of human needs, where the basest and most critical needs for a human being are physiological (food, water, shelter, warmth). At the highest level of Maslow's Hierarchy is self-actualization, meaning that people want to use their talents and knowledge to help others. Relating this to the church, we read for example in passages like Matthew 5:16, John 7:38, and Titus 2:3-4 that our light is to shine, that out of us will flow rivers of living water, and that aged women teach the younger. The Lord wants His people to be able to share.

In 1 Corinthians 14:26, Paul asks the church, "How is it then, brethren? when you come together, every one of you has a psalm, has a doctrine, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation. Let all things be done unto edifying." Notice Paul's use of "every one" here supports a need for every (male) member to be able to share in an assembly. Hebrews 10:25 also gives indication of interaction between brethren during assembly times by use of the words "encouraging one another," which would not be possible if members were sitting quietly listening to a message. Sadly, this New Testament practice is quite different from what can be commonly observed in churches today. Ignoring this principle is a deviation from God's design. Anything less, is less than the abundant life in Christ (John 10:10), and a departure from what we know about teaching adults.

There are even more considerations when teaching that space does not permit such as seating organization, the physical environment, motivation, correction and feedback, attention span, and the like. All should be taken into account so that spiritual teachers can follow God's design for education as we understand it. This is the essence of Christ's manner of teaching all while establishing His spiritual kingdom here on earth. If they are applicable to modern-day schools and in universities where budding teachers are taught these ideas as mandatory courses, then why would they not be considered in the church? Just as a missionary spends time learning the language, customs, and culture of their mission field, so too must the spiritual teacher practice the most effective way to teach the adults who attend their classes.

Terms Used

Classes is a reference to the assembling of brethren whether for a worship service or a Sunday school lesson — any activity where a spiritual teacher is positioned to teach a group of adults.

Spiritual lessons is a reference to such activities as Sunday school or the worship service message or sermon.

Spiritual teachers is a reference to any person who teaches others in the church whether by sermon or in Sunday school for example.


Atkerson, Steve. House Church: Simple, Strategic, Scriptural. 2008. New Testament Reformation Fellowship, Atlanta.

Clark, R. E., Johnson, L., & Sloat, A. K. (1991). Christian Education: Foundations for the Future. Moody Press, Chicago.

Gines, A. C. et al. (1998). Developmental Psychology: A Textbook for College Students in Psychology and Teacher Education. Rex Bookstore, Inc., Manila.

Jacobsen, H. (1986). You Can Teach Adults. SP Publications, USA.

Linder, P. (2007). Acts 20:7, Preach. PowerBibleCD. Online Publishing Inc. Bronson, Michigan, USA.

Pappas, C. (2013). Adult Learning Theory Andragogy of Malcolm Knowles. Retrieved 2016 from

Price, J.M. (2004). Christ the Teacher. Classroom copy. Patriot Bible University, Colorado.

Richards, L. O. & Bredfeldt, G. J. (1988). Creative Bible Teaching. Moody Publishers, Chicago.

Victor, S. 2015. Adult Learning Theory and Training Design. Obsidian. Retrieved 2015 from

Image Credit: nikolayhg; untitled; Creative Commons

TagsBiblical-Truth  | Christian-Life  | Ministry-Church

comments powered by Disqus
Published 5-9-17