When I was a theological student at a liberal college learning—oh yes, I did learn some things there—but I learned by reaction; that is, I learned by asking myself after each lecture, why did I disagree with so much of that?, and making myself answer the question thoroughly. Well, there came a moment of joy from the elaborate acreage of rather dreary liberal instruction in this seminary, when a visiting lecturer said that in the pastoral ministry there are three priorities: the first is teach, and the second is teach, and the third is teach; and I thought that was a wonderful way of expressing a wonderful truth. It seemed obvious to me before ever I got into pastoral ministry that that has to be the case. Since I got into ministry, and my ministry has had a pastoral dimension over the years, I’ve had occasion to prove that yes, indeed, that’s the way it must be.
There are existing patterns of ministry that are intended to inspire and encourage and—how can I say?—warm the heart, and all that kind of thing, but without teaching, patterns where the truths that are handled are simple truths that everybody knows already, and they are just there in the sermon as a launch pad for the application. Well, I have in my hand the Bible. This is God’s lesson or series of lessons, if you like. I want to teach the truth that’s in the Bible. I want to teach the range of the books and the contents of the books that make up the Bible. I want people to thoroughly understand what the various writers of the Bible were concerned to convey, and I try to ensure that in every bit of ministry I do, whatever else the ministry is intended to accomplish, that there is real serious teaching at the heart of what I say. Teach, teach, teach. If you ask whether Packer supposes himself at this very moment to be teaching, the answer is, yes, he does. It becomes a mind-set and, seems to me, is the way of wisdom in church planting. You gather a little group of people, maybe, but people who are willing to be taught, and you work with them. You don’t have to set yourself up on a pedestal, indeed, you’re not likely to get very far if you do. You generate, rather, a sense of fellowship between you and them and them and each other, of course, and all together, you are moving forward into becoming a church. But your particular job as the church-planting agent is teach, teach, teach. Keep the people who are going to become the congregation learning, keep them aware that the Christian life really is meant to be a matter of learning, from the moment it starts to the grave, and ask for what in effect is a moral contract: I’m going to teach; I want you to agree that you’ll come along with me and labor to learn.
Christianity needs to be learned! It isn’t the religion that is instinctive to all good men, which is what liberals of the old generation used to think. It is a faith that has to be taught! Jesus knew what He was talking about when He said, “Go make learners.” So this is the really big thing that I would say, which I don’t find said in all the texts that I see—of course I don’t see them all, but I do see some—texts about church planting and wisdom for doing it, texts about this, that, and the other, and that’s my burden.
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