By design, the Brookside Institute is a classroom environment. Our focus is on equipping adults with knowledge, values, and skills that they can take and apply in places outside of our classroom environment. And, to be honest, our classes can tilt towards the academic. We want to wrestle with the big questions people are asking. We want to introduce theory that should inform practice.
In my opinion, an equipping, academically-oriented classroom environment plays an important role in the life of a healthy, growing church. But we also need to be aware of dangers that can go along with this sort of environment. A few weeks ago I talked about core values we want to be leaning into every way we can. In this post, we need to talk about "academic vices" - things that can creep into this sort of environment and destroy what we're trying to do - so together we can guard against them in every way we can.
Here are four "academic vices" we need to guard against together:
1. ELITISM: "We're most important."
This academic vice flies directly in the face of emphases we find in the New Testament - emphases like the value of humility and service (Mark 10:42-45), the need for love to infuse everything we do (1 Corinthians 13), and the value of every gift God has given His church (1 Corinthians 12). The classroom environment should never foster elitism or arrogance; rather our classes should cultivate humility, and launch us into eager and informed service alongside others for the cause of Christ.
2. INTELLECTUALISM: "We know it all and you don't. We'd explain it to you but you probably wouldn't understand."
Knowledge gained in the Institute should never create distance between class attendees and others, or be used as a club to intimidate others. Knowledge gained should lead to corresponding personal growth in virtue, and be a means by which we can teach or guide others - whether formally or informally - with "great patience and careful instruction" (cf. 2 Timothy 4:2).
3. IVORY TOWER-ISM: "We like to talk about things that don't really matter."
Yes, the classroom environment can introduce topics that are weighted towards the "theory" side of things. But let's remember that theory informs practice. (In other words, theory is very practical!) Where things get out of whack is when theory is divorced from practice, or when practical questions are given no space for consideration. So yes, Institute classes are a place where adults can "Dig Deep." We want that. And we also want to make sure that this first catchphrase is ALWAYS followed by our other two - we also want to "Learn Good" and "Launch Well." These latter two ("Learn Good" and "Launch Well") protect "Dig Deep" from becoming merely theoretical or overly abstract.
4. CRITICAL SPIRIT: "We're not involved or invested in anything else, but we like to criticize stuff anyway."
One of the benefits of the Institute is that it can help us grow in discernment - our ability to "sniff out" right and wrong, true and false, wise and foolish. Unfortunately, discernment too often becomes coupled with being quickly critical, skeptical, and/or cynical. Instead, I want to promote the value of discernment and combine it with a continuing sense of wonder and awe at all the ways God can and does work in and around us. Let's pursue a discernment that opens us up to all the ways God is at work, instead of a discernment that shuts us down to anything God might be doing.
What other "academic vices" might a classroom environment like the Brookside Institute need to be on guard against? What practical things can we do to avoid these vices?
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