I remember a time when I would get together with people and study the bible. I recall doing this in college. We did have social Navigator meetings, but we also were taught how to do bible studies with others. We even were encouraged to read our bible daily. They called it a quiet time. We were to study the bible, and dig into the word. Often there would be a workbook with questions for a guide, but it really was about looking at the text. I had one of these yearly while in college, if I recall right. I even led one, though I felt very ill prepared. Still, we did study the bible, and did go through it. When a challenging person I met in the dorms would say, “you have to be baptised in my church to be saved” I could often dig with the group for verses to counter this person. We could prepare for our daily lives, and could be encouraged by the scriptures.
When I got married, we were friends with a seminary student. We got our own little bible study together. We studied John for a year, and it was a great time. We brought in a few other young people, and a few were unsaved. It was a great time of fellowship, and a great time of digging into the bible. We continued to study with this couple and a few others until we moved away from each other across the country.
When we lived in Seattle, we attended a bible study group. I don’t recall it being called “small group” but bible study. We did find it a bit frustrating because we’d go through a guide book and often it would be very simplistic. However, we did stick to the text. We socialized, we supported each other in illness, job loss and in gain, miscarriage, one woman had a drug addicted spouse, in new babies, and in moves (many of us moved and helped each other). We did study and talk about the bible, we never focused on a book that had bible verses in it, but instead did studies on books of the bible. We might also do a topical study but it was all pointing back to a block of scripture.
We moved back to Kansas and found a church with the word “bible” in it’s name. We got involved in a small group. I still called them bible studies, because that’s what I thought of when we would get together with a group of people with pens and bibles. We began with the simple books on books of the bible or a topic, all focused in studying the bible and what it said. However, after a few years, we began to do topical study and it wasn’t really about the bible. We’d study things like marriage, our personal gift inventory, finances, or how to witness effectively. We’d take personality quizes, financial inventories, study our love languages, or our spiritual gifts. We’d discuss these findings outloud in the group. It was very self focused, and yet it was also a time when we’d reveal personal things in a group. We’d have projects during the week which took time.
Always, my husband and I would fight for studying a book in the bible. We felt so good one year because we were able to get into the book of Acts. We kept trying to get back to that kind of thing. It was so wonderful to just dig, to hear scripture read aloud every week. It was a growing time.
Small group for us was really mostly about the friendship. We did have great relationships, and I believe our friends in those groups were mostly Christians who really desired to study God’s word and fellowship in Christian brotherhood. We wanted to pray for one another, that was always a point that showed really what the groups were about for the people in them, the prayer support. That’s where the caring came in. People also did things to help each other in times of need. There was nothing wrong with this, in fact it was one wonderful aspect of the groups that made up for all the books we went through.
The group would often get together and decide what we were studying. This is how we ended up eventually pushing for bible study in the actual bible. It became the desire of the leaders of our group (we eventually became leaders…with another couple). We wanted to get into the meat. However, there was always a pull to books like “The Five Love Languages.” I was even one who suggested we do Max Lucado studies, partly because I felt these books got you into the text.
One thing kept happening that was annoying to us personally, and I believe maybe others in the group though I cannot be sure. The church would, at least once a year, have a series. Usually it was a Rick Warren, Bill Hybels, or some other book. It was not biblically focused although it did contain bible verses. This series would run along side sermons. I believe once there was no book, but the pastors had a topical study with their own studyguide for the group (though I believe this wasn’t manditory). The manditory church wide study also involved a DVD…easy to pop in, easy to run right through.
The group would meet, go through the DVD, discuss it, have a prayer and snack time. These were very simplistic, and annoying. I never objected outright, I found though we made comments at times during the DVD to keep ourselves entertained because we were bored. One time my husband lead this and did feel some sense of accomplishment, he’d not lead the group alone before. We did still get annoyed with the book and DVD though, it just was not very deep in biblical information. It was more poor entertainment than anything. The most entertainment we got actually, was making fun of the DVD in subtle ways. We usually also spiced up these times with personal testimonies and other activities rather than just plugging along in the book and DVD.
I recall getting less and less satisfaction from small group. Not from our friends, but from the bible study part. There were people in the group also who said they really desired to study in a book of the bible rather than in these men’s books. We recalled our time studying Acts, and the comment was that it was a great year.
So, what happened? I believe churches in this trend of church wide study of books by men, and even topical study books, are in a cycle of immaturity. These churches have leaders who want to reach the seeker, and are refusing to even call themselves Christians but want to be Christ followers instead. They’ve substituted men’s wisdom (which is foolishness) for God’s word. They’ve substituted a focus on the living Savior for a focus within the man.
It’s all about five steps, or if that gets old, about finding the mystery. I almost feel these churches actually run in some sort of cycle. First they entertain you, then they talk about how entertainment shouldn’t be what we’re about. You feel guilty because you realize you’ve been entertained, and you agree, more should be happening. So you are told you need to find your spiritual gift, and another small group theme begins. Later you’re told it’s easy to become selfish or self foucsed in sermons, that we focus too much on busy life and on ourselves, then you’re challeneged to find your purpose, and another church wide study begins on Purpose Driven or whatever. Then you go along happy for a while, and you’re told you need to reach out to your neighbor, and Hybels study comes along when you learn how to witness.
The next step in the cycle is discussing the youth, and how we’re missing them. We’re also studying too much. Youth like action, boom…you’re out picking up trash in a park or painting a school yard in service. Eventually, you begin working on going deeper in your relationship. You need to get closer to God, so we’ll discuss spiritual disciplines. There you go, you’re deep.
Far, far away is the church life you had to begin with. Sunday school with bible study, or some midweek bible study is impossible. No longer offered at church. Sure, you might get your group to go along with studying a book of the bible, but likely not for long. People hear how good so and so’s book is, and they suggest it. If you become the leader, which is encouraged, you need to let the group decide what to study until the church leadership decided to invade with an all church study.
Where did bible study go?