Last Sunday, July 31, 2011, our church had a guest speaker from Willow Creek Community Church. You know, that huge church with five campuses in Chicago. You remember that Wall Street saying from a few years ago, “when E.F. Hutton talks, everyone listens”. Willow Creek has become the evangelical version of E.F. Hutton, especially when it comes to building and creating “mega” churches. If your goal is “numbers”, you will listen to Willow Creek.
The visiting pastor gave an inspiring sermon on five reasons why everyone should be involved in serving in some capacity at the local church level. However, being the Berean that I am, a statement he made near the end of the message perked up my quizzical ears. Here is what he said...and it is a quote from another of the staff at Willow Creek: “It appears that “serving” experiences are more significant in spiritual development than organized small group Bible studies.” At the time, here is what I heard: “serving, in whatever capacity, is more important than studying God’s word”. How can that be? I thought about all those verses that encourage and even command a study of the Word: “thy word have I hid in my heart that I might just waste my time?”. In addition, “study to show thyself approved unto God a workman wasting time...when you could be serving?”. Something’s wrong here.
I went home from worship service Sunday determined to study this dilemma further. The statement seems to be the conclusion of a syllogism. He gave us only the "therefore" portion. He did not elaborate on the quote, therefore, we have only to analyze the basic statement. Is it fair? Is it true? Through the years, I have been involved in a few small group bible studies and rarely was the group led by a trained pastor/teacher. Most generally, bible studies are “facilitated” by one who is willing to facilitate...but not to teach. The goal of most small group studies is to get participation. The question most generally asked is “what does this verse mean to you”? A variety of answers may be put forth and no one is wrong, at least they are not told so. Participate...participate and participate are the only rules. Can the real truth of God’s word be discovered in this sort of setting and more to the question at hand can real spiritual development result?
So..how about “serving”? Is the Lion’s Club volunteer developing more spiritually for his service? Is the hospital volunteer gaining Christ-likeness by volunteering? How can they without knowing what Christ was like? That comes from Bible study and good pastoral teaching...right? So..here’s my conclusion.
To say that one will have more significant spiritual growth by serving as opposed to participation in a small bible study group is like saying: “one can learn more about automotive engineering by changing a flat tire than by talking to your neighbor about his new car”. Both sides of the statements lack the essential ingredient...”solid scriptural teaching or solid training”.