“If you just have enough information, then you’ll believe–and behave.” That seems to be the unspoken hope in the church today.

Helping others love and follow Jesus has become an academic exercise–an attempted transfer of information. Though we call our faith a RELATIONSHIP with Jesus, we attempt to sell it as an academic subject.

Stop and think about how the church’s academic approach looks to the uninitiated. You arrive at the church location that is called a “campus.” You enter a building that’s set up like a school lecture hall–rows of seating all directed toward the teacher.

After a singalong time, you sit quietly while a “teaching pastor” lectures on a “lesson” based on the “text” of the day. He urges you to take notes on a fill-in-the-blank handout. Your children are separated into age-graded “Sunday school” classes. Your teenagers are called, inexplicably, “students” by the “student pastor” who “teaches” in the “student ministry.”

Then, if you show interest in furthering your education, you’re asked to “register” for the membership “class.” If you pass that class, you graduate to a Bible “study” to be educated into discipleship.

It seems to be a calculated academic system designed to mass-produce homogenous classes of pupils. But, oddly, it seems to bear no resemblance to the building of a relationship–with another person or with Jesus. Actual relationships do not emulate an academic model.

Real relationships thrive on two-way conversation, sharing stories with one another, doing things together, and building trust. And the typical friendship-forming place is warm, friendly and non-institutional, such as a cozy cafe.

Learning about one another is a part of a healthy relationship. But think about a good relationship you enjoy. Did your real learning come through academic regimens? Or did you learn by doing?

Don’t get me wrong. Education has a place in the church. Learning about God is a very good thing. But we run into trouble when the form overtakes the function, when the rigidity of the system actually fights against the desired outcome.

When it comes to pursuing the most important relationship in life, perhaps it’s time to treat it as a real relationship.