Today I attended a workshop on evangelism and church growth sponsored by the Texas Annual Conference Division of Evangelism and committee on small churches. Dr. George Hunter, professor of Evangelism and Church Growth was the speaker. He’s written piles of books, several of which I’ve read, and thought it beneficial to go and take some of my leaders with me.
In the midst of teaching mostly on evangelism, a question arose that allowed him to share some thoughts on spiritual formation. He warned that his opinions would likely be seen as heretical – I can see why, but still think they’re worth sharing.
1. The “daily bible reading” model of spiritual formation is vastly over rated. Not only has it not produced the fruit we’re looking for, but it presupposes Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press, high literacy rates, and the wealth and leisure necessary to owning and reading books – a modern and still localized possibility.
2. Memorization is more historic and works better to interiorize the Word and to incorporate it into all aspects of our lives.
3. Obedience precedes and leads to growth in faith. The “daily bible reading” model tends to value knowledge over obedience, and can even be a subsitute for obedience.
Whew! That’s interesting and good stuff. It seems that the most formative stuff for us theologically is what we memorize and internalize, which, most often, is what we sing! How many times have we been frustrated that someone’s living according to the poor proverbs of bad lyrics that are stuck in their brains, wishing that we could substitute something better?
This ability to memorize large amounts of information through song and what I’ve seen in (especially) youth boys who can memorize huge amounts of information about sports (thank you ESPN Sportscenter), any suggestion that kids/people today don’t want to concentrate and learn is false–it’s the what and how that is the issue.
Yesterday we had a hymn sing Sunday. I made some comments at the beginning about the function of hymns in the Methodist tradition and about Wesley’s Directions for Singing (esp. #7). I notonly highlighted Wesley’s theory that hymns are one of the best ways to teach theology, but also that hymns that are a reflection on Christian experience (I used And Can It Be as an example) can become a precursor to experience in others.
One thing people have commented on over the years is that they see me singing with the hymns, but don’t see me looking at the hymnal very often. I tell them that if you sing a song 30-40 times one frequently comes to know the words. But many people DON’T learn the words. While many attribute this lack of learning to some mental defect (actually they say, “I just can’t do it.”), I’m inclined to think their failure is mostly due to not trying. I’ve been thinking that I ought to encourage peopel to try to wean themselves from their hymnals. If they start with even a quarter of a stanza at a time, that’s progress.