Thursday, April 30, 2009

Just how badly are BIble classes failing at spiritual formation?- Part 1

I confess to you that I have always loved teaching. It is the first spiritual gift that I discovered. I can remember in college teaching my friends material that they missed in our biology classes. I started in ministry by going down to the jail and studying with inmates. Then I began teaching the college class.

I love the dynamic of a Bible class. I enjoy the exchange of ideas, the exploration of the biblical text, the give and take of discussion.

But a couple of years ago I began to notice something. People would nod their heads in class. Acknowledge truth. And then do nothing of what we talked about.

Classes on prayer that changed no one's prayer life. Classes on evangelism that did not result in people sharing their faith. Classes on marriage that did not result in changes in behavior in the marriage. And when I discovered this, quite frankly, it was despressing and disappointing.

Last Sunday we had a lesson that was exploring the goal of Bible study. One of our teachers asked his class filled with 30 something families (my age group) to raise their hands if they thought that our Bible classes changed behavior. No one raised their hands. Then he asked them to raise their hands if they thought these classes did not change behavior. Virtually everyone raised their hands.

Wow. Pretty shocking. If these classes do not change behavior, then why do we do them? And yet, I'm really not surprised at the results. Surveys of Christians have for years shown that Christians often live lives little different from the rest of the population. I have witnessed the lack of change in behavior myself, including my own at times. What is happening?

Why is it that Bible classes are not changing behavior? What needs to be changed, added, or done differently?


Lantz said...

James you have hit a very good topic.

The last two times I have preached I have made a point to restate James 1:22 at the end of each lesson..

"Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says."

I think many of us have fallen into our modern thinking that if we can quote and defend the truth than that is what matters.

However, there are many people that are leaving churches because we often deceive ourselves and not apply the truth.

Anonymous said...

I attended 2 wonderful groups this week (I attend a ladies Bible Study group at my previous church and a connection group at my current one, but both left me feeling empty. I went to thinking that we should be doing, not sitting. Serving in the community, not learning in a room somewhere. Why do we need classes as well as the sermon as well as private study?

James Nored said...

Lantz, thanks for your reply. Yes, modern thinking has infected us. We have believed that information=transformation, when it does not.

We need do need to preach and teach more about doing. How do we make sure that this preaching and teaching is enacted?

James Nored said...

Hi Wendy. Thanks for sharing your thoughts here. Welcome to this blog.

Someone very close to me recently expressed the same sentiments that you did about thinking "we should be doing, not sitting." Maybe this is the Spirit prompting us to action. What do you think?

gimpygoo said...

I think the message is being presented in a softer way than in years past. More like "here are some good ideas" and not presented as commandments from God. I sometimes stop and watch speakers on the BYU channel. As nutty as some of their beliefs are, they are serious about teaching and upholding those beliefs. There is a stark difference in the way they are taught and the way mainstream Christians are taught nowdays. Interestingly enough, they are the only "Christian" denomination still growing in numbers, and the vast majority of their youth remain faithful.
They also speak of God as their "Heavenly Father" almost exclusively...and they are his children and must act as such. (We know this in our heads, I think, but rarely speak in these terms.) Have we lost our edge in our determination not to offend anyone?

Tim said...

O.k. I’ll add in something provocative. Maybe members (and I include myself at times) aren’t more active because discipleship (i.e. imitation) of Jesus is not emphasized and expected. Perhaps it’s not even modeled by most or all of the leadership. As we know the membership rarely, if ever, rises above its leadership. Maybe it’s not talked up in the fellowship, preached about from the pulpit, or celebrated when it happens.

Possibly, we’ve sown the seeds of inactivity from the very beginning of someone’s walk with God. Are we converting people simply by helping them understand the plan of salvation or are we helping them make a lifelong commitment to walking like Jesus walked by being his disciple because of the grace he has shown us?

I believe that most Christians are good-willed people that fundamentally want to actively serve God. However, have we inadvertently created a climate where Christianity = “coming to church” rather than impacting each other’s lives as well as those around us? Insert answer here _________. :-)

lkayr52 said...

I believe people need to be committed before they can go out instead of just sit and listen. I don't think a great deal of us have that now. How we get that committment is another issue. It has to come from the heart.

James Nored said...


It is interesting that you mention the Mormons. What I see that we can learn from them on this topic is their linking of discipleship and mission. Mormons are required to go on a 2 year mission trip. They go out two by two and knock doors. What this does is solidify their faith.

Discipleship is the goal, and mission is the means, not only for others but for our own transformation.

James Nored said...

Tim, I do think that we have often left discipleship out of the conversion process. We cannot present the gospel as merely a get out of jail free card, where a person receives his or her forgiveness and then moves on.

Jesus calls us to a way of life. That is what the confession "Jesus is Lord" is all about. It is not mere intellection acknowledgment, but a decision to make Jesus the Lord of one's life.

anneyse said...

I thank you for this blog. I find in myself that there is apathy... go with the same rut for different reasons. Sometimes it's very hard for a person to change even 1 tiny habit much less something that is more life changing, which is what we're all supposed to be doing.