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11 Responses to “The Teaching Hospital Model”

  1. Robert Seiple says:

    this is a very useful, helpful analogy: the church as a teaching hospital. thank you. a great contribution!

  2. KCBruce says:

    This piece makes me think, as do many of your posts, Mike.

    OK, so if I get this, we might consider “teaching churches” with pastors being the ones trained.

    Or in another way, every church becomes a “teaching community” with each attendee being the one trained.

    Either way (and there are many ways to apply the model, I’m sure), the way we tell if we are succeeding shifts from ABC or just doctrinal purity and personal transformation to include demonstrated results in the community.

    I can immediately think of several reasons why this wouldn’t work (yes, I find I have that tendency, often much to my dismay), but I’m captivated by the thought of a cadre of Christians trained and effective at leading change in their communities–and in all aspects of those communities: the arts, sports, education, commerce, politics, law, families, child raising. And those involved in those networks overlapping in our churches.

    Stunning, really.

  3. MRMarten says:


    As always, great stuff! I love the hospital metaphor. And one can’t argue with the data – the model has show itself to work time and again, as you explain.

    So here’s a few questions…

    You say that the faith community “rarely measures how effectively they help practitioners with real-life problems.” You say we should be “measuring how effectively we help practitioners produce shalom…” Couldn’t agree more. So, what’s the right metric? Is it the tact that Willow Creek took in their REVEAL study – love for God and others? Or is it something else? And maybe too detailed, but I’d love to know… once we have the right metric how do we actually do assessments? I’m living where the rubber meets the road, in a congregation of 2000, and I’m looking for ways to put this stuff into practice.

    In their fantastic new book, “Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard,” the Heath brothers suggest we seek “Bright Spots” or local successes and analyze these to seek what works. Do you see any “Bright Spots” in the faith community where things are as they should be – where the faith-community is functioning as a teaching hospital? A parachurch perhaps? A local congregation?

    Also, What about Willard’s assertion that we should make “spiritual formation in Christlikeness the exclusive primary goal of the local congregation” (Renovation of the Heart p. 235). He then follows with an explanation of the Great Commission (Mt 28:18-20). Does this contradict the error of “Christian pietism?” Or more likely I’m misunderstanding something…

    Under His Mercy,

  4. David says:

    Very good article. I’m a law student at UGA and this rings very true to me. The law still heavily values clinical work to train law students (though not a required model per se), which is not identical to but has some similarities to the quality of a teaching model. I think the approach you discuss in churches would be great, especially dealing with real problems. I often hear too little thought based on too little evidence (research) coupled with too little experience that all results in a skewed view of what the world needs. Then I step into the courthouse and deal with the real hurting people while my church builds buildings the hurting will never see or use. Great article!

  5. Matt says:

    It is unfortunate that in the current church culture does not encourage the type of critical thinking that enables wholesale culture change of the type that you suggest is needed. The church in this country seems to be in what Fowler would describe as a stage three faith… meaning that faith is not something that changes life, but is something that you do on Sunday because other people do it.

    We in the church do a very good job of discouraging this type of critical thinking by labeling people as heretics and discrediting them as much as possible (see Brian McLaren) when they ask the questions that need to be asked.

    The question, in my mind, is this… How do we enable our people to have the critical thinking skills required to change the culture of our churches to the teaching hospital, instead of reverting back to Fowler’s stage three faith permanently?

  6. Mike Metzger says:


    Dallas Willard says the church needs to start in reality. The sad truth is that the institutions more closely aligned with reality today are in business, medicine, etc. – not the church. If a local church, for example, started with the top five businesses in their city and asked: “How can we lead the league in assisting them to flourish?” – a great many things would change, including church programming and staff (see my column from last week). Most of the CEOs I know never look to the church for assistance in having their business flourish. The church will never develop the “critical thinking skills” (as you put it) until it is faces the brutal reality of its present situation. Sitting around and gabbing about it or studying it will not result in change. Reality drives change.

  7. Matt says:

    I would agree with that… So, the question I have is what causes the pain that acts as a catalyst for a local body to re-enter reality and realize that change needs to happen?

    For too long I have seen churches that look around and realize that there are no “young people”… but are unwilling to do what needs to happen to include those “young people” into the body. They then fade off into oblivion. The city of Baltimore is filled with huge, beautiful old church buildings with solid endowments, but are empty on Sunday morning. What, or how, do we help people come back to reality?

  8. Bradley says:

    I often wonder if the current model of church as a business is becoming counterproductive to the commission from Christ. The teaching hospital sounds great, but how much good can the Hospital really do if it is hyper-concerned with meeting a quota of patients in order to remain operational? Also, I might be misunderstanding your comments about Christian Piety…you’re not saying that it isn’t necessary for Christians to have their hearts in a right relationship with God, are you? As for the “Culture War”, where does the Bible say we are to win the “Culture War”? Where does it say that we are to fight it? Doesn’t Peter call us “Strangers in the World”? Doesn’t 1 John tell us that we can’t love anything of this world and that the One in us is greater than the one in the world? I don’t read those passages and think “Wow, I need to make the culture of this world adhere to the truths revealed to me by the Holy Spirit.” I apologize if I sound cynical but I can’t think of any passage in God’s word that urges us to change THE WORLD. We need to share Christ’s love which will change individual hearts, but then that would mean that it IS the Christian Piety that changes the world. If those who commit atrocities come to know saving faith, would they not stop the atrocities? Will they stop because some Christians convinced them that what they do is wrong? Or will it be because the Lord has spoken to them? I’m not trying to be combative, but I think the Church is failing because it has lost the proper goals. Its not about creating a theocratic empire in this world, but about populating the Kingdom of God that IS and WAS and IS TO COME. Praise God!

  9. Mike Metzger says:

    You don’t help people “come back” to reality. Reality is reality is reality. Everyone lives in it; but not everyone perceives it accurately and aligns with it well. A great many businesses don’t, for example, including most of the leading institutions in Baltimore. But, of course, the same indictment applies to the empty churches.

    The work of the church used to be to make key culture-shaping institutions aware of reality and help them act on it. Don’t go after young people, go after leaders of these center institutions. Younger people will follow. People are looking for reality. If faith communities were “assist leaders,” helping center institutions define reality and achieve success, they’d be full of life.

    If that begins to happen, the pain is positive. It is helping T Rowe Price, to cite one center institution in Baltimore, take a biblical definition of reality seriously and act on it. To accomplish this will prove very, very painful for most churches and their staff who haven’t a clue on how to do this. Read Dallas Willard’s “Knowing Christ Today.” Start with the last chapter. Shalom my friend.

  10. ANDY says:


  11. Mike Metzger says:


    It’s likely a combination, but I’d put shalom (i.e., culture-making) at the top of the list.


    I applaud the Willow study. Yes, we start with the Great Commandment (why in the world would give God give a hoot about our attendance figures if we’re not loving our neighbors?). But I’d urge you to re-read “Why Institutions Matter,” a seven-week a series we posted last summer, beginning in July. Even when faith communities seek to enact shalom, they do it via a bottom-up, individualistic approach. That’s exactly opposite of how the Hebrew mind worked – but re-read the series and tell me what you make of it.

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