Bible Class – Not Enough Time to Grow Mature Disciples

In my previous post, Bible Class – Throwing Away the Template, Paul wrote,

“One complicating problem is that so many people have such a limited understanding of the Bible, and we only have so many chances to really teach the text. I agree the old template may be flawed, but I do believe there must be a time for serious, reflective study of the Scripture.”

The context of his comment was my post that basically said our template for Bible class is broken and needs to be fixed. That was probably too strong but the point I was making is that often Bible class becomes one more “to do” rather than actually being an environment that encourages growth, authenticity and a real relationship with God. We have all probably felt like Paul at some point and maybe feel that way right now. I know I have many times over. However, I think it is a flawed way of thinking about the problem of and solution to people’s lack of biblical knowledge. I say that lovingly and humbly because I think that view is one that comes out of a sincere love of God’s Word and a desire to teach it. However, we have to be realistic about the need/problem and the solution.

First, we don’t study the Bible to memorize lists of facts. I am not saying that is what Paul meant. I am saying that is often how it approached. That doesn’t mean biblical knowledge is unimportant. It does mean that biblical knowledge is not an end to itself. It points us to a relationship with God that is informed by scripture. Second, people will never study enough in Bible classes (1-2 hours/week) to actually become a mature Christian. It is flawed to think we provide what they need in Bible class once or twice a week.

So what do we do? If we can make them hungry, they will eat. If we get them seeking God, they will find Him. If we provide environments that encourage the relationship they will spend more time with God. Growth has to do with what happens outside the building. What happens inside the building, like in Bible class, is just a catalyst. So I am starting to see Bible class more as a place that launches people to grow during the week rather than the fire hose approach of having a professional teacher fill them with biblical knowledge for the week to come back the next week and do the same. That doesn’t mean we don’t or won’t teach the Bible. It does mean that Bible teaching is going to take us beyond covering a topic or teaching through a book in 13 weeks.

This all boils down to using our time in equipping, launching, and catalyzing growth rather than seeing Bible class as a stand alone spiritual need meter.

I am going to do several more posts that will include details of how to create environments that can stimulate growth through Bible class. I look forward to hearing your thoughts, feedback, criticism (constructive of course!) and questions.

About mattdabbs
I am a minister, husband, and father. My wife and I live and minister in Saint Petersburg, Florida. My primary ministry responsibilities include: small groups, 20s and 30s, involvement, and adult education.

8 Responses to Bible Class – Not Enough Time to Grow Mature Disciples

  1. camary1996 says:

    I agree with you 100%. Your lips to other pastors ears. This why we are not overcoming more and this has been my prayer for changes in teaching and biblical study in church.

    I pray for the work you are doing in this area and that others will pick up the vision.

    God bless you and your family!

  2. What happens inside the building, like in Bible class, is just a catalyst.

    The sooner we can get this one idea, the better we will be. Too often, the class is the end within itself – and we dare not interfere with the class for kingdom work!

    I look forward to the rest of this series.

    Jerry

  3. Paul Smith says:

    Matt, thanks for interacting with my comment. I am in no way saying that the Bible class is the only way, or even the best way, to grow mature Christians. that is the flawed idea of “Bible class” that I agree with you. However, please note that I mentioned “serious, reflective” study of the Scripture. I think that maybe we are looking at the same elephant from two different ends. We both want to develop mature disciples, and I think we both agree that without study in the word this will not happen.

    One issue, as I see it, is the “13 week” paradigm as you mentioned. A second is closely related – the idea that we have to cover one book or major biblical theme in those 13 weeks. These are false parameters and need to be abandoned.

    My point is that the Scripture that we have is a complicated book. That is not to say it takes a professional theologian to explicate it, but it does take some effort. If we just say to 15 students, “read this text and go sit under a tree and listen to what God says” we are not growing disciples. Is there a place for meditative reading? Absolutely! I am convinced of the power of lectio divina. I am also absolutely convinced of the need to instruct our students in the power of devotional reading. But as teachers we must also be careful not to instill the belief in our students that the Bible can mean whatever they want it to mean at any one given point in time.

    Jesus said, “…make disciples, teaching them to observe what I have commanded you…” That places a heavy burden on us as teachers that (1) our teaching must actually result in the creation of disciples, something we both agree is not happening, and (2) that the disciple is grounded in the truth of Jesus’ words (and by extension I would include all of Scripture).

    Moving forward with our mutually accepted view that the present system is not doing what it was created to do, I look forward to your future thoughts. My only concern, and I hope I have presented it fairly and clearly, is that we do not substitute empty action for empty lecture. Somehow the truth of Scripture needs to be embodied – but just like a skeleton needs muscle and skin, so the muscle and skin depend on the skeleton or nothing moves.

    Blessings, and thanks again. Your response was very kind and appropriate.

    Paul

    • mattdabbs says:

      Paul…1000% agreement on your comment. There are two things I think we lack here that I am going to tackle in upcoming posts:

      1 – Balance. We have places to learn God’s Word but don’t have many chances to put it into practice in any kind of communal way (unless it is a study of corporate worship).

      2 – Relevance. Growth will come through a study of the Word. Any effort that is not informed by God’s Word will fail. But that doesn’t mean that as long as the Bible is opened the what we are doing is relevant. That is the piece I am trying to add…relevance to every day life. For most of us, the closest we ever come to application in Bible class is an application question. I no longer believe that cuts it. We need to be making plans on how to implement what we learn rather than just talk “what if” application questions like, “If this is true, how would this change your life this week?” That can be a good question but if it is all just a mental exercise then we have failed.

  4. Tim Spivey says:

    Matt, as one who recently started a church…one thing I’d love to hear your thoughts on is… if or when you might think starting Bible classes is a good idea. I’ve always loved Bible class, though felt it in huge need of overhaul. But, when it’s not already in place, it changes the way you see it paradigmatically.

    • mattdabbs says:

      Tim,

      That is a great question. I won’t have an answer for your particular situation but I can give some suggestions of thinkgs to consider. You don’t want to do something just to do something or do something just because that is what was always done. That is not news to you but I want to start with that thought. Don’t even think about “Bible class” on the front end. Instead think about transformational environments. I know that sounds very buzz wordy but that’s okay. To anyone who baulks there I would ask, “What do you think Bible class was supposed to be about in the first place, if not transformational?” Bible class was intended to be transformational but it has become informational. That was fine when Western society at least had the appearance of being broadly Christian. Information alone no longer suffices. If our purpose is to dole out information then lecture away. If it is to grow and mature disciples through spiritual transformation then it is going to take an environment where that is encouraged. Someone has to step up and create something here that is actually effective. I have my thoughts on what that takes and what we are doing to try to achieve it…more on that in a later post.

      So what you are doing here is not trying to figure out what type of Bible class to have or what topic to teach. You are crafting environments that encourage a relationship with God. One component of that environment is biblical teaching. No one would say Bible teaching alone is all one needs to have a relationship with God. So why don’t we provide more? Why don’t we teach and give examples of something more in the time we do have? I have another post coming in the next day or so about what components help make up an atmosphere or environment that promotes spiritual growth.

      I will go ahead and throw out the big question you need to ask. “What needs to happen during that time (Bible class time) for people to draw closer to God in ways they can take with them and implement on their own?” This question recognizes a few things. First, that information is not enough. Second, that experience and relationships are important. Third, that 60 minutes in not enough but that we are modeling things that they can take and do on their own.

      Hope some of that is helpful. I am curious to hear your thoughts as you are on the front lines on this as well.

  5. Pingback: Bible Class – Not Enough Time to Grow Mature Disciples « Kingdom … – Kingdom of God Worship Blogs

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