7 Steps to Teach Theology in the Local Church

Evangelicals know that theology matters, and we’re quick to remind others of this fact. What we’re not so quick to acknowledge is the focus of this blogpost: we do a poor job of teaching the very theology we claim is so important. We think that our church members understand and believe our basic doctrine, even while those same members are learning their theology from TV talk show hosts, popular television preachers, or the latest religious novel. Do an anonymous survey of your congregation’s beliefs, and see what you learn. If the majority knows and believes basic biblical doctrine, your church is more an exception than the norm.

Consider these steps for teaching theology in your church:

  1. Don’t assume that your church members don’t care about beliefs. Too many church leaders give up on teaching theology before they even try. “Nobody cares about theology any more,” they think. Not only does this thinking ultimately question the power of the Word, but it also denies reality. It is precisely because people do care about beliefs that they turn to places and people other than the church for their belief system. Where the church fails, somebody else fills the void.
  2. Realize that attending worship and small groups does not automatically lead to doctrinal fidelity. Here, I am NOT suggesting that preaching and Bible study are unimportant to teaching doctrine; indeed, good doctrinal training does not happen apart from preaching and teaching the Word. I am simply arguing that our church members don’t typically hear our teaching and automatically connect the dots to form a biblical theology. Teaching good theology must happen intentionally.
  3. Include basic theology in a required membership class. In some ways, the best time to teach the basics is when a person first follows Christ or first joins the church—when he or she is most focused on a Christian commitment. Capitalize on that enthusiasm by teaching early the inerrancy and authority of the Bible. Show why the exclusivity of Christ is non-negotiable. Talk about the necessity of the death of Christ. Build the theological foundation early, and build it well.
  4. Take advantage of doctrine studies. Churches don’t need to “reinvent the wheel” to teach theology. Case in point, Lifeway Christian Resources has developed The Gospel Project (a journey through the basics of biblical and systematic theology over a three-year period), The God Who Speaks (a study of the doctrine of revelation), and Read the Bible for Life (a 9-session study that equips individuals and churches to understand the Bible better). If we believe that theology matters, why not take advantage of already-prepared material and teach a current study? Plan extensively, promote well, and prioritize this type of study.
  5. Raise the bar for small group leaders who teach the Word. These leaders have a great opportunity—perhaps one of the best in the church—to influence lives through teaching small groups. Few other leaders have such a ready hearing. For that reason, we must hold group leaders accountable to holy living, sound doctrine, and good teaching. We should not be surprised when members view doctrine as boring after lackluster teachers have taught it. There is simply no excuse for allowing untrained, unfaithful, or boring teachers to drain the life out of Bible studies.
  6. Begin in the home. Teach parents biblical doctrine, and then help them teach their own children accordingly. Because Deuteronomy 6:7 and Ephesians 6:4 demand nothing less from believing parents, our churches should work in cooperation with them—not replace them—in teaching theology to the next generation. Provide good resources that teach basic truths at a child’s level without compromising scriptural teachings, but expect parents to do the teaching.
  7. Be willing to start with the few. Just as Jesus did, focus on the few rather than the many. For example, invite a few men to join you in studying theology one morning each week. Give them the Bible and a basic theology textbook, and challenge them to study the week’s lesson. If you prepare and teach well, you will likely be surprised at how interested the men are. Those men and their families will be stronger because they are learning the Word.

What other guidelines or methods do you recommend for teaching theology in the local church?

19 Comments

  • raymond johns says:

    Good post. As a Pastor I have been taking about 25 people through Wayne Grudem’s theology. We have read other books with different views for discussion . One was Ken Keathley’s Salvation and Sovereignty of God and he was gracious to come and speak to u as well as the church. We read Dr. Lawless’s book on spiritual warfare and he too came to speak. We gave Bruce Ware’s book great truths for young hearts to every family at Eastet and he and his wife are coming in a few months. It is amazing at how passionate those who have read and discussed have become and it is catching. We are going to be looking at the Church in September and using Dr. Rainer’s book. Blessings!

    • Chuck Lawless says:

      Raymond, you’ve taken a great approach — and you’ve learned that people really are interested in theology. You’ll enjoy Dr. Rainer’s book on church membership. Thanks!

  • joshua doss says:

    I may have assumed people already knew basic theology if they attend evangelical churches. Do you have a good resource that lists these things out so that I do not overlook any basic foundations because of this assumption? Sometimes I guess we tend to move on to practical stuff without laying a foundation of sound theology

    • Chuck Lawless says:

      Joshua, thanks for the honesty. I think we often assume too much about what our folks believe. Because churches have not done a good job with discipleship, our theology is often misguided. You might look at a resource like Wayne Grudem’s “Christian Beliefs: Twenty Basics Every Christian Should Know” to see one approach to teaching basic theology.

  • Earl Wallace says:

    Hi Thom. This article strikes a chord with me, because in my opinion, most sermons are “loosely associated scriptures about how to live the Christian life,” rather than an exegesis of a passage that actually teaches what the Bible says specifically about that passage and the topics or theology expressed within them.

    in the past six weeks, I have been in three church services where scripture was read for the message, and then the preachers never even referenced it in their sermons.

    Teaching theology does not have to be boring. Teaching it by explaining scriptural passages from the perspective of who God is and what He is doing and why He is doing it, and how that relates to how God works in our lives today is relevant, meaningful and exciting!

    • Chuck Lawless says:

      Thanks, Earl. This is Chuck Lawless rather than Thom. You’re correct — teaching theology does not have to boring!

      • JW says:

        Dr. Lawless, I think you’re going to need to get your own blog site or ask Dr. Rainer to change the name of this one to “Rainer & Lawless”.

        • Earl Wallace says:

          Let me do a “Do-over.” Dear Chuck: Great article!
          My mistake for not reading from whom the article was from. You both have such good content that I mistake you for each other. (How’s that for diplomacy – I mean sincerity 🙂 )

          Thom and Chuck: Keep up the good work!
          JW – keep stirring the pot!

        • Chuck Lawless says:

          You’re kind, JW. I really appreciate Dr. Rainer’s willingness to invite me to join his team.

  • Arnold Torres says:

    Great and very useful article Chuck. Thanks.

  • Jeff Carney says:

    Chuck-it is so simple but yet so ignored. “And what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, commit to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” (2 Timothy 2:2) Thanks for the needed reminder that doing it right means starting small. While it is true that each number represents a person, it is equally true that focusing on mentoring/discipling a few is a tried and true method that reaches the multitudes “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here too.” (Acts 17:6).

  • I could not, in any way agree more. I can almost hear Jesus saying: “Many are called, but few are chosen.” Although, God is not a respecter of persons, and is a just God- it seems to me that the “few” was more than enough to star a fire from a spark. In other words, i find that in the church as a minister/Biblical interpretative teacher it’s no easy feat to teach the truth from God’s point of view when the leaders are determined to do the “preach them happy” type sermons. This type teaching and preaching has not ony polluted God’s word, but worse, it deceives Go’s people especially the lost/ unlearned.

    sometimes I just cry from the grief I can only imagine my Father God feels at this. My point for all this is that, I tool would like to start a home Or outdoor Bible class or small church. I’d settle for 2 or three as long as I can rest assure that these 2 or three will reach out to another 2 or three and so on.

    Of course this not supported by the church- but when God move in my favor concerning the greatest commission ever given man-kind ( to preach the gosple unto all nations), to everyone- I, Sis. Bronson will be ready to share all that He’ve given me for these last days for His many and few alike. I pray we all will be ready for His return. Thank you. please feel free to advise or comment. This “ole lady” will consider all a blessing. God bless and keep on, keeping on. it won’t be long now.

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