by Myron Williams
Are those who call themselves Christian today less biblically educated than previous generations? Our observations may lead to such a conclusion, but is there research evidence to support it? In a 2010 survey George Barna found 67 percent of those who attend church are likely to read their Bible during the week. The same year the Center for Bible Engagement conducted a survey that found 33 percent of Americans read their Bible any given week. When asked to define spiritual maturity in this survey only 17 percent said reading and understanding the Bible was part of maturity. If these two surveys are indicative of the American church then we might conclude people are less biblically educated than previous generations.
If this is true, the greater question is, why are Christ followers less biblically knowledgeable? In the last 40 years the American evangelical church has engaged in small groups and other forms of Christian teaching, including adult Bible fellowships, and men’s and women’s teaching. A plethora of videos are available for people to watch on the Internet, in their homes, or with their small groups. Have churches and para-church organizations failed to make Bible study options available? Probably not, but there is, I propose, a disconnection between teaching and biblical knowledge.
Teaching = Learning?
The American educational system is presently concerned with assessing student learning. Does a teacher talking, or students listening or reading, mean learning is occurring? The debate will continue for years to come.
This article suggests teaching and learning are tied together; one does not happen without the other. How can we be sure teaching and learning from the Bible is accurate? Jesus said in Matthew 28:19, 20, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Jesus’ command is to make disciples who make disciples, who make disciples. Disciples are made when believers follow what Jesus taught his disciples.
Over the years churches have used a variety of training methods for teachers and small group leaders. Classes, mentoring, apprenticeships, and observation were used with varying degrees of success. As an educator I find methods easy to teach, but teaching lesson preparation requires far more time and effort—though over the years I found many teacher training opportunities filled with methods and few with lesson preparation. All Christians are called upon to teach, some in more formal settings than others. But how do we ensure teachers are teaching truth?
One Possible Solution
Teaching begins with sound biblical knowledge, which begins with accurate biblical interpretation, or hermeneutics. Some congregations are within driving distance of Christian or Bible college faculty who teach a class on biblical interpretation. Other congregations are too far from such faculty members. There are also a number of excellent textbooks on biblical interpretation available for people in our congregations. However, few people are willing to invest the time and money to purchase and then study such texts.
At Southland Christian Church we knew we wanted fewer “formal” classes on our campus, and more people studying the Bible in their homes, at work, or wherever people gather. We have faculty members close enough to teach biblical interpretation for us, and so we asked and they came; but we found the majority of our people still did not attend these classes. We knew we wanted people to be disciple makers whose disciples would in turn be disciple makers. And to do this we decided to try a simple teaching structure that helps people learn to read and interpret the Bible faithfully. We began by selecting a pilot group to equip, and then asked them to assist in a mid-size teaching setting, and finally encouraged them to begin making disciples by teaching in their own settings.
We began by selecting the Gospel of Luke for our study. We looked at the context of the book—historical and socio-political, linguistic, and where the book fit with the larger collection of Bible books. Biblical genres were also taught so teachers would know the importance of context. We taught these teachers how to use Internet tools we recommended. They learned to use these tools and then to pass them on to their students.
Once the context was established our next step was to get people simply to read the Bible passage for information, aware of the context, so they could begin to look at the information through a clarifying lens. At this early stage we did not seek an interpretation of the Bible passage, just collection of the facts.
Step two examined the text for principles congruent with the remainder of Scripture. Once these principles were identified in a group setting so future teachers were learning to assist others in their learning, we asked the learners to make application of these principles in a relevant setting for their lives. Here again the teacher and the group had opportunity to ask questions about how the principle was chosen, and how the application is congruent with the truth taught in Scripture. As we worked through the various sections of Luke our people became excited that they were really studying the Bible on their own, though they were a bit anxious about taking the next step of trying this elsewhere.
By the end of the six-week study the class had worked through the major types of writing in Luke, though the entire book was not studied. People began to question how they could continue to learn from Luke. Our pilot group of new teachers offered their time to meet with groups of people who wanted to continue the study. At first this pilot group was anxious, but soon found their skills were adequate for leading people to find biblical truth. Of course our staff leaders provided a safety net for these new teachers in case they ran into something where they felt they needed help.
We then taught the prison epistles with a new group of leaders, who when the formal study ended also offered their time to small groups who completed the book. People told us this new approach allowed them to discover Bible truths they always waited for someone else to unpack for them.
Does this method assure biblical truth is taught? No. We added one more piece to prepare people to read and study on their own, or help others study. We rely on the Holy Spirit to guide each person studying into “all truth.” No matter how well we train people, there is always the possibility that on their own they will misunderstand Scripture. When we believe in the power of the Holy Spirit to guide people, we provide simple steps and then ask the Spirit to work.
Myron Williams is Discipleship Anthropologist at Southland Christian Church in Lexington, Kentucky, and Adjunct Professor at TCMI. He and his wife live in Versailles, Kentucky.
Standard Reference Library
If your church is seeking to develop biblical teachers or if you desire to expand your biblical knowledge in order to grow and make disciples, take a look at the Standard Reference Library series.
This Through-the-Bible Commentary series provides a thorough yet concise look at the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. With three Old Testament and two New Testament volumes, the Standard Reference Library is ideal for lay Bible teachers, small group leaders, or any student of the Bible who wants to combine solid exposition of the Scripture text with practical application for today.
Old Testament Volume 1: The Pentateuch
Old Testament Volume 2: The History of Israel
Old Testament Volume 3: Poetry and Prophecy
New Testament Volume 1: The Life and Ministry of Jesus
New Testament Volume 2: The New Testament Church
Find out more: www.standardpub.com