Teaching Theology in the Local Church

Chuck Lawless
Theologian for the Churches

If you take look at virtually any poll, the signs indicate that most evangelicals (including Southern Baptists) are confused about theology. Of course, most pastors and other staff leaders understand (or ought to understand) theology because they’ve taken theology courses somewhere along the way as part of their theological education. Yet, most Christians, especially those of us who are Baptists, would argue that the teaching of theology shouldn’t be left solely in the hands of Christian colleges, seminaries, and divinity schools. Theology is for the church!

Fortunately, a growing number of churches are focusing more intentionally on teaching theology as part of their overall strategy for discipleship and spiritual formation. For example, in my church, First Baptist Church of Durham, I co-teach a nine-month Introduction to Systematic Theology as part of our Bible for Life (Sunday School) ministry. I’ve heard stories of other churches that have adopted a similar approach in their own Sunday School or small group ministry.  Other churches simply use one or more of the popularly written introductions to theology and take groups of members through the book as part of a theology discussion group.

Still other pastors will periodically preach a topical-expositional sermon series on a particular doctrine. My friend and former preaching professor Stephen Rummage has some excellent suggestions for how to do this in his book Planning Your Preaching (an excellent, practical resource that every pastor should own). Another fine book on this topic is Old Wine in New Wineskins: Doctrinal Preaching in a Changing World, by Millard Erickson and James Heflin.

Perhaps you are a pastor (or future pastor) who is pondering possible ways to teach theology in a local church setting. Earlier this week, my colleague Chuck Lawless published a helpful guest post at Thom Rainer’s blog titled “7 Steps to Teach Theology in the Local Church.” Many readers will know that Dr. Lawless joined Southeastern Seminary this past year as Dean of Graduate Studies and professor of evangelism and missions. If you haven’t read his post already, you should take a look at it over the weekend. He provides several helpful tips on teaching theology in a local church, as well as links to resources to help get you started.


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  1. Shawn   •  

    At Providence in Raleigh I have taught a Sunday School class for over 15 years now. It began as the Theological Roundtable and has followed that track with various subjects. My students are hungry and eager for in depth teaching and discussions–discussion is the key! My suggestion is that pastors should teach the Sunday School teachers. The Sunday School teachers are the ones who have a much more intimate encounter and discussion. That way, issues are broached and hashed out.

  2. Aaron   •  

    Hey, I am interested to hear your thoughts on how you incorporate this into small groups, especially those focused on sermon-based discussion.

  3. Nathan Finn   •     Author

    Hey Aaron. I think this can be done by looking at the text of Scripture being preached and ask, as one additional application question, “what does this verse teach us about theology?” The small group leader could think about the different loci of systematic theology and determine if the text is helpful in addressing one or more of them. For example, let’s say the text and sermon are primarily about prayer. In small group, you could have a discussion about what the passage indicated about the Holy Spirit, either implicitly or explicitly, and perhaps connect that discussion to other, complementary passages.

    I hope this helps.


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