Progress begins with God’s perspective.

“I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord,” Paul begins in Ephesians chapter 4, “urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called” (ESV). As Paul exhorts the Christians in Ephesus, he emphasizes the lifestyle indicative of faithful Christians—namely, one of consistent acceptable action. In doing so, Paul implies that it is possible to live in a way that is unacceptable, to walk in a way that is unworthy. It is because Christians cannot be faithful in fellowship with God and each other by default that such an objective requires diligent effort. Making progress, then, necessitates that Christians understand that progress is not about programs and projects but about cultivating a culture of the spirit of Christ within a community of Christians.

The community Paul describes is one characterized by Christians walking “in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called” (ESV). While Paul has already noted the reality of Christians called to a hope that is in Christ alone (1:18), he takes the time to define what such a living hope looks like when it directs Christians to walk in a worthy way (4:2). Paul paints a picture of a community in which Christians lower themselves to serve, where Christians are fair and temperate, where Christians suffer long and restrain themselves from treating each other harshly as they work through weakness, and where Christians demonstrate an observable affection toward one another. Since this is the picture of the church that pleases the Lord, it is the process by which the people of God strive toward this reality that produces what God calls progress.

As beautiful as this picture is which Paul paints, he urges his Ephesian brethren to make every effort to “maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (4:3 ESV). Again, the implication is that fellowship with God and each other is not the default, even for people who know the will of God. The bonds God created can fall apart due to neglect, so Paul admonishes Christians to do the hard work consistently of creating a harmonious spiritual environment, consisting of many distinct and diverse parts working toward a common purpose. Paul then lists seven things that all Christians have in common—“one body…one Spirit…one hope…one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father” (4:4–6 ESV). Among many observations that could be made about this list, the one principle Paul emphasizes is this: everything Christians have in common ought to bring them together.

No number of programs or projects amounts to real progress without God’s perspective in view. Progress is the process by which Christians diligently cultivate the culture of Christ in a united spiritual community. The applications of this truth are many, including teaching within the church. The goal in the church is not having the perfect curriculum, nor is it the targeted effort with which a congregation reevaluates and refines internal teaching efforts. These are merely means to an end. Rather, the goal in the church is working together in such a way that the effort unites members of the body, making them more like their head, who is Christ the Lord.

Two significant things follow from this goal. First, whatever plan for teaching that a congregation of Christians proposes must have as its ultimate goal the development of a united people. The curriculum constructed and the content and concepts covered ought to create bonds between Christians, and the very act of learning together ought to enable Christians to draw closer to Christ and to each other. And second, if the goal in teaching, as in anything the church does, is unity with God and each other, then everyone must be involved. Participation may not look exactly the same for everyone, but everyone must be involved in the teaching and learning that happens within the body of Christ. More specifically, everyone must be making every effort to solidify relationships with God and each other through the teaching that happens within that body.

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