If you’ve been in several different group bible studies, you’ll notice a pattern. They meander around the text. The teacher, if there is one, will ask open ended questions like, “What do you see here?” or, “What sticks out to you?”
And someone will hop up on their hobby horse to parade showing that this text too shows us how we need to be more responsible.
The last few minutes will end with, “Now, how can we apply this text today?”
Pie-in-the-sky platitudes will abound. Be a better prayer warrior. Be a better husband. And let go and let God.
Does this sound familiar?
I’ve taught classes like this. I’ve seen those who’ve been teaching for longer than I’ve been alive teach like this. It’s a nice open ended way of teaching class that is hardly objectionable. But, we must object.
James and His Mirror
James, the brother of Jesus, gives us a piercing image of one who meanders through the Bible:
For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man looking at his natural face in a mirror; for he sees himself, and goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. –James 1:23-24
Do you struggle with your own study? Do you loathe going your church’s study only to regurgitate the same lines?
Two things could be at work here. One, the study is aimless. It may be a 13 week study on Grace, the Life of Jesus, or the doctrine of Baptism, but the edge of these subjects are so dull they cannot pierce the heart.
These studies are like those weekly meetings at your job. They go over what everyone already knows. One person reminds everyone about the fridge policy, another about the next company party. The workers are dismissed with platitudes based off of the company’s pie-in-the-sky mission statement.
Just reduce it to an email.
Some companies cancel their meetings, probably for the better. Should we cancel Bible studies and reduce them to emails? Mr. Pragmatist says yes, but Mr. Christian must say no.
A poor job is not an excuse to never do it again. Our studies must take aim at the heart for them to catalyze.
But he who looks into the perfect law of freedom, and continues, not being a hearer who forgets, but a doer of the work, this man will be blessed in what he does. –James 1:25-26
The second reason for a loathsome study is because you are the problem. The teacher prepared a banquet from the store houses, but you insist on phubbing. This gluten-free waffle recipe you will never attempt grabs your attention more than the biting rhetoric of Amos or the God-exalting Psalms.
The edge of the Word bounces off your heart of stone.
Bible study implies discipline on the part of students. We must maintain a focus on the text at hand or else we never let the Word work on us.
So, here are a few thoughts for teachers and students
To the Teacher
Develop an edge to your class. Take your text or topic to the whetstone. Remove the bulk. One idea for the whole class. When a class knows the idea beforehand, they’re more ready to engage.
Take the time to develop particular applications. Have 4-6 and leave at least 15 minutes to explain the applications and how it is grounded in the text. These applications are the crucial for transformative studies1.
Give the class direction on where you’re going before you meet. Don’t just give them the text2, give them the text with a focus. Let the idea simmer in their minds a bit before class. This will help the discussions.
To the Student
Talk to your teacher during the week about the class. Send them ideas or questions about the class before. This will help the teacher’s direction.
Study for the next class early in the week. Yes, you can spend 15 minutes before jumping in the car, or logging on, but it’s not sustainable. Studying early helps the material settle in your mind a bit.
Take a few moments after class and journal. Write what you learned and what challenged you. And yes, take action based on the texts you studied.
Do these and may your studies bear much fruit.