Our Teaching Ministry is Failing: Part 1
Hello Dear Brothers and Sisters,
It feels like it has been quite a long time since the last time I was able to devote my attention to an important topic like the one in the title. I'll fill you in on what I have been up to recently. A few weeks ago, I took a week-long visit to the campus of Abilene Christian University. It was a wonderful experience, and the focus for the week was teaching scripture in contemporary contexts. Since that time, I have been on a roller coaster of events: Helping friends move, celebrating my 5-year anniversary, and my son's 3rd birthday. As you can see, I have been quite busy, but one thing that has become apparent to me over the past month is the lack of efficiency and effectiveness of the typical teaching ministry platform that we typically use in the churches. Sometimes this is referred to as the "Sunday School platform"--when worship starts at 10, or 11, or whenever, but Bible class is right before (or after in some cases).
Why is this a problem?
For your individual context, this model may not be an issue at all, and I want to clarify that I am definitely NOT against teaching/learning Bible. However, there has been a general decline in church attendance, especially during the hour or so that we have labeled "Sunday School." This is the case for several reasons. The first reason, I believe, is that a drop in attendance is due to over working volunteers of the church. What is evident is that the same teachers are the ones leading classes for years at a time. Maybe this is because no one else is asked to do so, or maybe it is because there are just not that many people willing to do it. In any case, these repeatedly-used volunteers are becoming burned out on the overwhelming amount of study that goes into leading a class, mixed with working full-time, and potentially raising a family. What happens when the teachers are burned out? Well, I would say that if the level of interest from the instructor takes a hit, and when/if they take a motivational hit (due to a lack of participation or interest in those they teach), the class is doomed to be dull and irrelevant. If you are seeing a general lack of interest in your Sunday morning Bible classes, maybe you should consider implementing a different model (to be discussed below).
The second reason the teaching ministry, as a whole, is failing is because the content that is taught is also repetitive and often fails to confront the very-real issues that the members of the church are facing. Let's point out some facts: (1) Most members spend 164/168 hours of the week outside of the church building--these are the dedicated ones-- (2) 4 hours is generally split into 2 hours on Sunday morning, 1 hour Sunday night, and 1 hour on Wednesday evening (3) Half of the time spent during those 4 hours is during the evening, when most people are drained from work and family issues (4) At least part of the remaining 2 hours on Sunday morning is consumed with late arrivals and meandering in the foyer during class and worship. What does this reveal? This is the symptom of the disease, not the disease itself. People are generally disinterested in sitting for 45 minutes on Sunday morning listening to a lecture after working a full week and only having a short time to speak with their friends from church, but that does not mean the Bible itself is the issue. The problem we, the church, must face is how to switch up the norm and make classes interesting, appealing, encouraging, and desirable again. In reality, we have all of MAYBE 45 minutes to an hour to help someone learn something that could change their life! That's it! If that is all we get, maybe, just maybe, we should seek ways to make that 1 hour as meaningful as possible.
The second part of the previous paragraph is focused on the repetitive nature of the classes in terms of content. Due to a general lack of volunteers and the overwhelmed leaders in the church, the curriculum that is established for the 1 hour (being generous here) a week is the "same old same old." What do I mean? Is it an issue that churches focus on studying the Bible? NO, it is not. What is an issue is when that small window of opportunity is essentially ineffective in helping someone or changing their life. It is understood that churches are structured, at least in part, by the way they understand "church" in the Bible. There is no mandate for Sunday morning Bible class in the New Testament folks. Changing this model is not anti-doctrinal, nor does it jeopardize any of the member's status of salvation.
Instead of always using the same model--which is apparently not working--what if we decided to change the structure in way that promoted an atmosphere of people actually being a part of one another's' life? Here's one small way we can answer the question "Is Bible class being effective in changing lives?" When is the last time that a member that attended the Bible class was willing to share in a struggle with sin during that Bible study? Was it recently? Or, do you remember what the last class on Sunday morning was about? I would argue that the Bible study, classroom lecture platform is ineffective because it promotes an individualistic mentality to church time. Classes are divided by age or by phases of life. We establish our own little groups within the already smaller groups, and eventually, no one talks to everyone. The old speak to the old and learn from the old. The young hear from their youth minister and never hear about adult struggles from other adults. Young adults never learn from the elderly. It is simply not a solid idea to divide our time together when we only have such a short time (as was already established) in the first place.
Real Issues Are Not Being Taught or Learned
What happens when a youth member graduates high school and he or she goes off to university, work, or military? They are no longer under the umbrella of the church doctrine or its accompanied like-minded protection. Instead, they are out in the real world, where people are ever-so-quick to point out the "flaws" and "holes" in the Bible or the church. Who are we teaching our young people to be? How are we teaching them to live? What are we teaching them to believe, and why? You see, the best people at "de-bunking" the Bible are atheists. They know the Bible, and they know it well. They know the chronology that went into gathering the Bible, the fact that there are no original autographs, and can quickly point out the inconsistency of a congregation that says "the Bible is the only authority by which we live", otherwise called sola scriptura, yet does not adhere to the totality of the scripture which they claim to be their authority.
The next thing that happens when our young, unprepared students encounter these very real issues is a crisis of faith. They feel betrayed, lied to, and foolish. Now that they have discovered the church's "dirty little secret", why should they feel confident in returning to the ways they learned? How could they!?! They have just learned some reality of the scripture; a reality that the church never taught! Maybe, just maybe, we can open our young up to the truth and the real facts that surround our faith. Then, they will be better prepared to meet these things while they are adults.
As you can see, there are some strong feelings coming out in this blog. It is not because I do not care, that I hate the traditional structure, or that I think study is stupid. I am passionate about this because it is important. The church should be helping people and changing people. Our youth should be in a ministry that prepares them for the real world, not a glorified baby sitting session. As it stands, our teaching ministry is failing, and we need to react before it becomes obsolete.
As always, if there is anything I can do to help you, please do not hesitate to reach out.
Until next time...