I am a college president. In some ways, college ruined me. In other ways, it made me better and deeper. Now, as I enter into my 5th decade of formal leadership roles, I am concerned for what I often see missing in my own life, the lives of people I’ve led, pastored, and parented. I’m speaking about the seeming conflict between education and training.
Education, at its most basic form, is equipping learners with knowledge and tools to help them see and understand the world most broadly. Training, at its most basic form, is about mastery and being able to learn, grasp, and become proficient at reproducing a skill in a narrow sense. And therein lies the seeming and apparent conflict. I have to confess that at times my education caused me to be broad and unfocused. I had great training when I was younger and at times my education caused me to reject the narrowness of my training. Today, in our diffused and unfocused culture where I lead a complex Christ centered university, I wish that I had been able to better navigate the tensions between my education and training.
Education broadens, deepens, grows, enlarges, and removes barriers to understanding in a world of diversity of perspectives and worldviews. Training develops, deepens, sharpens, refines, equips, and has reproductive capacity built in to its disciplines. I’ve been reflecting on grace and truth a lot lately. In some ways, I think Education is like grace and Training is like truth. Which is better? In this brief article, I’m going to make a specific argument about spiritual life. But, I think the applications are for parenting, organizational leadership, and cultural influence. Join me in the journey and let’s figure out how education and training work spiritually and then you can apply it in other realms as well. I’m still figuring it out, but hoping these reflections will encourage you in your leadership and influence journey.
The Miracle of “And”
I believe in the “miracle of and”. Many years ago, as I was in the process of educational endeavors, I learned about the “dichotomization fallacy”. That is the tendency we have in human experience to think “either/or”, and to believe that any issue we are facing has a singular answer in the form of an “x or y”. The truth is often more likely “both/and”. Rarely is there a single “silver bullet” to what ails our family, organization, church, or ministry. So, I’ve learned to look for multiple factors that may be contributing to the overall culture or blockage that is preventing success rather than assuming a singular point of blockage. The seeming conflict between education and training is one such area where I have come to believe that the “miracle of and” is imperative.
When pastors are surveyed about whether they are making reproducing disciples in their ministry, a shockingly high percentage of 99% say NO! (https://discipleship.org/blog/what-makes-you-a-disciple-making-pastor/). This is a crisis of epidemic proportions in the American Church and simply must be addressed in prayer, repentance, and Jesus honoring leadership for the future health of the people of God and our witness in the community. In ministry contexts, I think that discipleship (helping a learner become a follower become a teacher/trainer) is BOTH education AND training. When we are growing people from infancy to adulthood, there is both a content aspect to our faith and a conduct dimension to our faith. Beliefs and Behaviors are intertwined, organically related, and should automatically and robustly result from great spiritual environments. Healthy churches and leaders want to see both evidenced in the lives of those who come into relationship with Christ. But, I think we have sadly seen the separation of content and conduct and therefore often produce followers of Christ who are either full of grace with very little truth foundation in their lives, or followers of Jesus who have strong truth content to their faith, but live with very little grace. Healthy followers of Jesus are full of grace and truth, as He was and is (John 1:14).
Education in Spiritual Formation
Discipleship is about forming Christ in the life of a believer through the spiritual transformation of the mind (Romans 12:1-2). Obviously, the Holy Spirit is the only one who produces genuine growth for a young man or woman, but the “seedbed” of that growth is an increasing understanding and application of God’s Word into their thinking and living. Churches across America and the world are grappling with how to teach, transmit, and reproduce the content aspect of our faith. It seems clear, upon reflection of the church in the US these past several decades, that we simply must have increasingly systematic, reflective, and relationally mentored truth streams in our churches.
I’m very sure that there is no “silver bullet” in the form of a class/seminar/workbook process for every new believer in Jesus. But, I am equally sure that baby Christians do not become mature and healthy reproducing disciples of Jesus without being discipled in relationship and learning that comes from “fathers and mothers” in the faith. Sadly, too few churches are arranged around the principles of fathering and mothering that we know produce strong spiritual sons and daughters.
Training in Spiritual Formation
Discipleship is about forming Christ in the life of a believer through continual surrender of our will to His will (Colossians 2:6-7). Most parents know Proverbs 22:6, “Train a child in the way that he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it”. Study of that text reveals that one of the meanings of the word “train” is to “make narrow”. Discipleship is about training in that we are helping men and women to become more and more like Christ in the way we think, the way we feel, and the way we live. The Apostle John is clear that if we know Him (Jesus), then we “must walk as Jesus did” (I John 2:3-6).
Discipleship training is the aspect of spiritual formation where we cultivate surrender of our will to the power and presence of the Holy Spirit and learn to follow God with our mind and with our heart, and with our feet. In my experience, this never happens until we are in relationship with others where we allow genuine and grace filled accountability; in essence, that we allow other people to speak truth into our lives. So much of our modern experience of Christianity is full of anonymity, crowds, and lack of any real accountability. I have led churches that were structured to take people from anonymity to intimacy and we had some really awesome experiences with success. My burden is that I think far too many get accustomed to and remain at the point of anonymity and therefore are never trained in righteousness, but believe they are “Christian” because they have been exposed to the environment of the church without an encounter with God.
Using retail terms, I’m very concerned that we have sacrificed much of the American church to a very “low barrier to entry” and “low cost” orientation. The gospel, as seen in the pages of the NT, clearly is a “high price” strategy with a “low barrier to entry” (there is that “both/and reality again!). As church (and family and organization) leaders, we simply must find the pathway to lead our people into deeper encounters with Jesus that produce a deeper desire to follow Him on the “narrow” path (Matthew 7:13-14)
The End Result
My prayer is that Christ is shaped into our hearts and we progressively learn to surrender to His Spirit as we learn to speak the truth to one another and grow up to maturity as disciples of Jesus (Ephesians 4:29-32). When we think like and act like Jesus as the result of education and training that comes from organic and healthy relationships, we will reproduce health in the lives of those we are able to impact for the sake of His kingdom.
Your church, your family, and your organization need fantastic education and fantastic training. Educating and deepening the people in your life by teaching them how to think well, believe well, discern between truth and error, and understand worldview will hold them in good stead for the course of their lives. Training and equipping the people in your life by helping them to master skills and life application content will enable them to reproduce life and health in others. I pray that you experience the “miracle of and” in your church, your family, or your organization so that those you love and lead will be BOTH educated and trained towards greater fruitfulness and reproductive health.