II. THE PRACTICE OF TEACHING
Evangelism and Teaching: Training in a New Way of Life
My wife and I love to cook. I love to experiment, and she loves to explore new recipes. She has had a subscription to Bon Appetit magazine for years. She often lays in bed reading the recipes aloud. After a few minutes, I’m so hungry I want to lick the magazine.
So, what do Bon Appetit magazine, the United States Constitution, a musical score, a set of blueprints for a new house, a trail map and the Bible have in common?
If you said they are all documents, you would be right, but notice that there is something that this collection of documents has in common that is different than a novel, a newspaper, a blog post or a textbook. The purpose of those documents is reading. Pure and simple. The transmission of ideas, the communicating of thoughts. And indeed, when my wife and I are reading Bon Appetit out loud, we are learning some ideas. But what if we never actually made the recipe? What if all we ever did was read and not cook?
What a cooking magazine, the Constitution, a set of blueprints, a score and a trail map all have in common is that they are performative documents. The purpose of performative documents are to help someone do something. They are documents that help you cook a meal, govern a country, perform music, build a home, hike a trail … and wait …
If blueprints are for building, cookbooks are for cooking, maps are for traveling, and scores are for singing, what is the Bible used for? What does the Bible do?
The Bible is for living. The Bible instructs us in building our lives on the revelation of God; the recipe for life as a feast of God; for singing the songs of God, and most especially for directing our paths in the ways of God. The Bible instructs us how our ways can be aligned with the ways of God.
Happy are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the Lord. Happy are those who keep his decrees, who seek him with their whole heart …
Happy, blessed, fortunate. How to walk, how to be, how to live — what the Scriptures declare is the “good life.”
If you want:
• plans to build a happy life,
• a recipe for the good life,
• the score to sing a blessed life,
• and a map for the joyful life,
Psalm 119 tells us that the Scriptures are the document that helps us do that.
The New Testament writing of 2 Timothy says that the God-breathed inspiration of the Scriptures is for the purpose of being useful, particularly for helping every believer live proficiently — “equipped for every good work,” it says.
All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.
(2 Timothy 3:16 –17)
And what the Bible calls people who trust the good news that Jesus brings and build their lives on the words that Jesus teaches (Matthew 7:24) are disciples.
What this means for you and me is that if we hear and believe the good news that Jesus is the loving, just, and rightful ruler who is restoring creation and making the world right again — including forgiving our own sins and making our lives right again — then we must build our lives on this good news, proclaim it to others, and instruct others in this way of life (Matthew 28:19, MSG).
Evangelism includes teaching. But teaching the faith is more like teaching someone to cook than it is teaching someone to pass a class. It’s more “know how” than “know what.” It may start in a good recipe, but there is more to becoming a good cook than subscribing to a food magazine.
III. SCRIPTURAL REFERENCE
The Scriptures in Two Voices
Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Jesus, undeterred, went right ahead and gave his charge: “God authorized and commanded me to commission you: Go out and train everyone you meet, far and near, in this way of life, marking them by baptism in the threefold name: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Then instruct them in the practice of all I have commanded you. I’ll be with you as you do this, day after day after day, right up to the end of the age.”
(Matthew 28:18–20, MSG)
The very last passage in the Gospel of Matthew is often called “The Great Commission.” It records the words of Jesus charging his disciples with the task of proclaiming the good news that would “make disciples.” What we learn from this passage, especially as we read it in two different translations, the New Revised Standard Version and The Message, is that evangelism (the proclamation of the good news of the inbreaking presence of God’s loving and just reign in Jesus) must always result in formation. Preaching must always be paired with teaching. When we “make disciples,” baptism must always be combined with teaching and training in the way of life of the baptized.
What we learn in this passage is that teaching is also more than knowing truths about God, the world and ourselves, but is also training in a way of life; a practice of life that is modeled after Jesus. What this reminds us is that biblical truths and spiritual renewal must lead to a way of living, to “obedience” to the teachings and commands of Jesus.
Additionally, because this teaching is offered to those who are being “baptized,” we know that the intention of evangelism and disciple-making is to create a community of disciples, a people who live by — and live together — as followers of Jesus, embodying the Jesus way of life.
So, what does that teaching, disciple-making, training, instructing look like? To me, it looks like my grandmother’s kitchen.
Learning to Cook in Mary’s Kitchen
My grandparents were named Mary and Guido Evangelisti. My grandfather was an immigrant from a little village outside of Lucca, Italy; my grandmother was the only child in her family born in the United States after her father emigrated with his wife and older children from Italy in the early part of the 20th century.
My grandparents owned an Italian restaurant surrounded by redwood trees in the most northern part of California. When I was a little boy, my grandmother would watch me during the day at the restaurant while my parents worked and finished grad school. I grew up surrounded by the smells and tastes of delicious food. I love my Italian heritage. I really love Italian food. I used to tease my grandmother that when she got to heaven, God would put her in charge of the Wedding Feast of the Lamb (Revelation 19).
The recipes that my grandparents cooked in their family-style restaurant were not fancy; they were the recipes from my grandfather’s hometown. They were the tastes that he grew up with, the food that he was fed by his family back in a tiny village in Italy. My grandparents built a business on a family heritage of good food passed around big tables, family style. Today, years after my grandparents have passed away, my cousins and I make the food, and teach the family recipes, and try to pass on a deep love of family meals to our children and their children.
It’s worth noting that my grandfather died before I was born. While it was my grandfather’s family recipes, it was my grandmother who passed them down to us. It was at Grandma’s table that we developed a taste for our family food; it was in Grandma’s kitchen that we learned to cook alongside her. While we played at the restaurant, we ate at Grandma’s house. My grandmother’s raviolis are still the best food I have ever tasted. They taste like love to me. Cooking was Grandma’s love language. When Grandma was getting up in years, my cousins and I all asked if she would please make us a cookbook. My grandmother didn’t give us a cookbook, she just fed us (and we ate a lot!) and let us cook with her. We all wanted the family recipes, but she didn’t really have any written down. So, my cousins cooked with her, watched what she did, wrote down the recipes and passed them down to us. Nothing special. Just a Word doc on all of our computers. And we cherish it.
But when I talk to my cousins, my nieces and nephews and my own kids, here is what we all agree:
We love the recipes, but we all love cooking because we first loved the food, and we all learned to cook from being in the kitchen. For my cousins and me, it was sitting at Grandma’s table and being in Grandma’s kitchen; for my kids and my nieces and nephews, it’s been eating at their family table and cooking alongside their parents (and later together as cousins and with their friends) that they became the next generation of Italian family cooks.
When I think of teaching (whether it is cooking or faith!) it starts with:
• loving what you “eat” (“taste and see that the Lord is good” Psalm 34:8),
• learning while being loved, and
• finding ways to pass on the learning to others so that they may join the feast.
Recipes can get you started and good recipes can keep you from making really bad mistakes, but learning to cook is more about being elbow-to-elbow with a good cook, lots of practice with both the experienced cook and the recipe, and enjoying a good meal with loved ones. Could learning to teach, especially teaching in such a way that “makes disciples” and “trains (people) in a way of life” be more like that?
Let’s consider some teaching and learning lessons from my grandmother’s kitchen.
V. HABITS FOR TEACHING
Kitchen Practices for Training in the Way of Jesus
Before you cook for people, eat with them.
One of my favorite memories at Grandma’s house was knowing that whenever we visited her, the first meal we would have would be a big platter of her homemade raviolis. Because she knew us, she knew those were our favorites. And she would make our favorites so that we knew that she had been thinking of us. It was always a profound act of love and attention. Teaching should be no less. Start with discovering the hungers of our neighbors and friends. Learn what those with whom we are sharing the good news long for; know what they love. Pay attention to the pain points in the world where the good news is actually good news. If teaching is going to be part of the work we do to proclaim and demonstrate the good news, then let our listening be part of the demonstration. Be a listener before you are a teacher and when you bring your teaching you will be joining them in the shared experience of being disciples of Jesus.
Follow the recipe, but apprentice with a great cook.
One of my favorite parts of being a Bible teacher is that it requires me to be a Bible student first. I love to teach because I first love to learn. But the more I studied the Bible, the more I realized that I wanted to not just read it for myself but read it as apprentice to really good teachers. In the same way, learning to cook is always more than following a recipe, learning to teach people the ways of Jesus requires that we know more than information. We need to learn from good, experienced and wise teachers who remind us that discipleship is always a profoundly relational activity. Love the learning and love the people with whom you learn and the more you’ll teach with love.
Let them taste your fingers.
My cousins and I used to always complain that no matter how much we tried, we just couldn’t make any dish taste quite like Grandma’s. One member of our family said, “It’s because the taste is in her hands. The food tastes like Grandma’s hands!” Years later, I learned from my friend and fellow pastor, the Rev. Dr. Theresa Cho, that this is a key belief in Korean cooking also. She described the difference between the taste of sauce when she dipped her finger in the bowl, and when she tasted the same sauce from her mother’s finger.
“The taste was different. From my finger, the taste was plain, but from my mom’s finger, it tasted full of flavor. I tasted the bitterness through the sweet marinade — the bitterness of her father who abandoned his family; of leaving her mother and sisters to join her husband’s family; of marriage to a man who was ambition-oriented; of leaving her first-born daughter in Korea while she moved to the United States with my father so that he could study; and of working many days and nights at the dry cleaners to support her family. The taste from my mother’s fingertips is key to Korean cooking Koreans call this son mat ( 손맛 ), which means the taste of one’s hands. Korean dishes are made and mixed by hand. Son mat is not just a cooking technique; it is a communal experience.” 1
For the Rev Dr. Cho, this is the reason why all teaching is communal and why teaching that is meant to reveal the gospel should be both transparently personal and — as often as possible — accompanied by the Lord’s Table. In the same way that bread is passed hand-to-hand, the teachings of Jesus should be passed around with each person adding their unique history, experiences and flavors.
Don’t just pass on recipes; cook with as many people as possible.
Lastly, if we are going to fulfill the words of Jesus to “make disciples of all nations” or “train everyone you meet, far and near, in this way of life,” then it’s not enough to send Bibles, write books or broadcast teachings on the internet. We have to walk with people as they learn to be followers of Jesus. Discipleship is both completely relational and profoundly practical. It’s about learning to perform the good news, to “practice the instructions” of Jesus, to live in a manner that demonstrates our personal trust in Jesus as both Messiah and Savior. And that teaching, that instruction, that training is not just for some select group. It’s for everyone — far and near.
1. With thanks to Theresa Cho, this section is from her unpublished Doctoral project, 2018. Used with permission.
VI. DISCUSSION QUESTIONS
- Psalm 34:8 says, “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” What is your earliest memory of “tasting” the goodness of God? Who was with you? Who helped you to know that this experience was from God?
- What difference does it make to think of the Bible as a “performative document”? What does that demand of us as readers of the Scripture? Then, read James 1:22. How does this verse help us think about the way the gospel should be shared with others?
- If “making disciples” is “training in a way of life” or “practicing all that (Jesus) commanded,” how does that change the way we think of evangelism? How does it change the way we think of teaching the gospel?
- Review the “Kitchen Practices.” Which one of those, if you added it to your life and practiced it regularly, would help you as you share the good news of Jesus and make disciples?